The Chicago-based megachurch leader with serious ties throughout Florida and in Broward has lost his flock due to a sex scandal. Since the '60s, Bill Gothard has been preaching a submit-to-authority brand of Bible that excoriates rock music and free thinking: Listen to your parents, obey your husband, toe the line, etc.
From his perch at the Institute in Basic Life Principles, the preacher has given millions of seminars across the country on his value system. Red-state poster people Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin are fans, not to mention the walking birth-control advertisement known as the Dugger family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. And a decade back, Gothardism was pretty popular across Florida.
In the Gothard cosmos, divine authority is a trickle-down setup. We suckers on the bottom, we've got to obey our parents, husbands, bosses, political leaders and such because they derive their moral juice from God himself.
This was the ethos behind the Character First! programs that became controversial around the country in the early and mid-2000s. The program basically was moral education marching orders dripping with evangelical overtones -- fine for your home, but not so much in a public school setting.
But former Gov. Jeb Bush and former DCF honcho Jerry Regier both pushed legislation that would put Character First! in public schools across the state. Both were fans of Gothard's. The former governor implemented the Character First! program at his own charter school in Liberty City.
The man responsible for introducing both Bush and Regier to Gothard's worldview was Hamilton C. Forman, a now-deceased Broward County millionaire who funded a number of conservative causes and campaigns, including Character First!.
Now, Gothard is in hot water. According to the Washington Post, an anti-Gothard activist website called Recovering Grace has found 34 women who previously worked or were around Gothard who claim they were sexually harassed and four who were allegedly molested.
Once the allegations went public in early March, the evangelical was placed on administrative leave from the Institute in Basic Life Principles. He has since resigned, saying he plans to follow the tenets of the Gospel of Matthew.
"Mr. Gothard communicated to the board of directors his desire to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have 'ought against' him," a letter sent out to the families in the ministry says. "To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard resigned."
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.
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