Hobby Lobby, Bill Gothard, and the Submission of Women

Mother Jones’ David Corn and Molly Redden report on the relationship between the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and the disgraced former leader of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, Bill Gothard.

Gothard, now 79 and never married, was recently forced to resign from the IBLP, following allegations of his widespread sexual harassment of young women and girls affiliated with his ministry.

As I reported in 2011, a central tenet of Gothard’s authoritarian teachings is that wives should submit to the spiritual authority of their husbands. His organization and its teachings made national headlines in 2010, after Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) aired them in a campaign advertisement criticizing his opponent, now-Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), calling Webster “Taliban Dan.” In the ad, Webster is shown saying, “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.”

Although many evangelicals adhere to what is known as complementarian marital roles, Gothard’s critics, including evangelical theologians, say his patriarchal views of gender relationships are particularly distorted and dangerous, with theologian Ronald B. Allen calling Gothard’s teaching “the basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context…His view is basically anti-woman.” But Gothard has tried to minimize these criticisms:

“It’s not a harsh thing,” he insisted, “it’s a matter of perfecting the goal God has for every one of us.”

Vyckie Garrison, who runs the website No Longer Quivering, “a gathering place for women escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse,” told me that she and her now ex-husband, although they lacked the money to attend Gothard’s seminars, followed his teachings through his homeschool curricula. She said her husband had believed, based on Gothard’s teachings, that he was responsible for his family’s salvation through the authority he exercised over his family, a role which turned him into a “tyrant.”

While many evangelical couples follow complementarian theology, Gothard’s twist on that teaching, said Garrison, is that “the man has ultimate responsibility with eternal consequences,” meaning that it “gives him the authority over every aspect of family’s life and thoughts.” In Garrison’s family this meant her husband exercised control of her and the children’s every move to ensure compliance with Gothard’s 49 character traits.

The husband provides an “umbrella of protection” or “spiritual protection from Satan.” The wife needs to be in submission, because the husband is “going to answer not just for your own life and your own walk before God but for your wife and children,” said Garrison.

While she was attempting to live up to the unattainable expectations imposed by her husband’s adherence to Gothard’s theology, Garrison was “mesmerized” by the Duggars of 19 Kids and Countingfame, who are possibly Gothard’s most recognizable followers. The matriarch and star of the TLC reality hit, Michelle Duggar, “was like my hero,” said Garrison, who found raising her own seven children overwhelming. “She makes it all look so doable.” In spite of Gothard’s controversial status, religious right activists fawned over the Duggars at last year’s Values Voters Summit, where they were honored with a “Pro-Family Entertainment” award.

Corn and Redden report:

The Green family, according to Gothard, also “bought a training center in New Zealand and gave it to us.” He says that by providing the institute with these facilities, the Greens and their company “really helps with the bottom line.”

The Greens became involved with his ministry, Gothard says, after members of the family attended an Institute seminar. David Green, Hobby Lobby’s CEO, provided anendorsement for one of Gothard’s books that noted the impact the session had on his clan: “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God’s Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends.”

The Greens are not alone. Although in recent years attendance at IBLP seminars has reportedly fallen off, Gothard has left his mark on many prominent evangelical figures, including the Duggars, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

  • DKeane123

    “patriarchal views of gender relationships are particularly distorted and dangerous”. Thank goodness for evangelical theologians letting us know which views are and are not dangerous.

  • Collin237

    To someone who believes in hell, the fear of going to hell is the most important thing in the universe. The view that hell exists is infinitely dangerous, because it prevents all other views, allowing only blind faith. The other dangerous views evangelists seem to have are just role-playing.

    Everyone who claims that hell exists is committing a mortal sin against their own faith. They will face an eternity worse than they can imagine — a heaven populated by people of all faiths and none, all races, all genders, and all orientations. People good, bad, and everything in-between. They will face their victims and their worst enemies as equals.

  • Andrea

    Most evangelical Christians, many of them very well-meaning, view the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory without fully grasping who the players are behind this ruling and the role of the Christian patriarchy movement. Thanks for this very helpful and illuminating article.