Yesterday I received this comment from a reader:
"Thank you for sharing your story. I found it searching for the testimonies of those who have been through the ATI program. After watching the Duggar show, I started considering whether I should homeschoool and use the curriculums they recommend for my child. Reading this and your other insider accounts of life in ATI and the Gothard circle have put a real face on the smiling Duggar children as seen on TV. I will not in any way become involved with ATI or Gothard."
There will always be those who think we should be silent, that we should "move on", that we should forgive and forget, that the good outweighs the bad, that we should be grateful for what we gained and ignore the rest. But the paragraph above explains what compels some of us to keep speaking.
Because though we escaped the IBLP/ATI cult, the cult lives on, making parents a deal that is good to be true, offering them a magical solution to a problem they may not have even known they had. "Commit yourself to this lifestyle and you too can have smiling and obedient offspring!"
The radiant young people the Institute dressed in navy suits and paraded on stage at seminar after seminar to testify to the wonders of the "Life Principles"--they were real people, but we were often only permitted to see the mask. The obedient smiles and the testimonies scripted according to Bill's four-point formula covered up the messy humanity of us all.
Our parents saw the smiles and the articulate, clean-cut teenagers and they wanted that outcome for their families, too.
Of course they did.
How could they have known... That a girl teaching attentiveness ("Showing the worth of a person by giving undivided attention...") had been molested by her father the week before? That a young man teaching English to Russian teens had been exiled from his home with no recognition of his high school graduation? That a bright-faced teenager harmonizing "Holy Father, Grant Us Peace" was being savagely beaten at home? That a young woman's IBLP paycheck was paying the mortgage for her deadbeat stepdad? That children in some ATI families were getting no education but what they taught themselves, and no adults were checking on hundreds more? That those fresh-faced children were being hit on by the very adults on the Institute staff who kept talking about "moral freedom"? That since only one sexual orientation was acknowledged, a request not to be assigned to share a hotel room with a crush would be denied? That their guru himself was a pervert and shyster, making up rules for his followers to keep, while obsessively indulging his own lusts--not unlike the hypocrites Jesus denounced in Luke 11:46?
"Alas too for you expounders of the Law!" replied Jesus, "for you load men with cumbrous burdens which you yourselves will not touch with one of your fingers."Gothard knew some of the families he led were dysfunctional, yet in his twisted mind, it was more important to protect his "ministry" from being discredited than to protect children from physical, verbal, or sexual abuse in their own homes. So he encouraged mothers to stay with abusive husbands, and teens to submit to abusive parents. He even paraded some of those same families at conferences and ATI training centers. Those who dared tell the "emperor" (Gothard) that he had no clothes were quickly sent where they would not be a threat to his institution.
Our parents were sold a glossy lie. There was no real magic, only plenty of sleight-of-hand. And even as we their sons and daughters began to notice the fetid mold under the facade, it sometimes took years for us to find words to express how what we experienced left invisible bruises deep inside.
Sociologist Janja Lalich found the words,
When you discover one day that your guru is a fraud, that the "miracles" are no more than magic tricks, that the group's victories and accomplishments are fabrications of an internal public relations system, that your holy teacher is breaking his avowed celibacy with every young disciple, that the group's connections to people of import are nonexistent when awarenesses such as these come upon you, you are faced with what many have called a "spiritual rape".As attractive as it sounds to simply "move on", it does not solve the nightmares or insomnia, the fatigue, the flashbacks triggered by the most ordinary activities, the days of trembling or numbness, the brittle relationships. It doesn't heal our damaged bodies or our wounded hearts. Recovery becomes a sometimes daily challenge, a long-term investment for our selves and for the people who love us.
There are too many of us survivors already. I want to do all I can to keep that number from growing.