Saturday, September 28, 2013

Character First and Bill Gothard

Truthfulness: Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts

The Character First program has silently glided into numerous places where Gothard's other materials would undoubtedly raise alarm: public school districts, city government, state government agencies, law enforcement, and prison systems. When journalists or concerned citizens have challenged adoption of the Character First materials--by their local schools, for example--Character First has been quick to deny association with religious extremist Bill Gothard or his Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

I believe the official statements are deceptive. Yes, Character First is no longer financially connected to the IBLP organization. However, its links to Gothard's Institute are undeniable. This post will describe Gothard's original character program and trace its evolution into what is now the Character First curriculum.

Gothard's Character Quality Chart

49 Character Qualities

According to one of his many websites, "Bill Gothard is the founder and president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which is a non-profit corporation established for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is dedicated to giving clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture." Theologically, the Institute promotes many Christian fundamentalist beliefs. IBLP posts its corporate statement of faith on its website, including assertions that "hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for... all unbelievers" and that Adam "did not evolve from preexisting forms of life".

My parents attended Gothard's Basic Seminar in Houston in late 1979 or early 1980. They were enthusiastic about applying the content. After they attended an Advanced Seminar, I remember them showing us illustrations from the textbook giving us a quiz to help determine what our "motivational gifts" were. Gothard's teaching on spiritual gifts (influenced by Bob Mumford, John Rea, and Arnold Bittlinger, among others) amounted to a kind of personality test. There were seven possible labels, corresponding to descriptive terms used by St. Paul in the twelfth chapter of Romans.

Gothard has always loved the number seven (also God's favorite number, according to him--with twelve and forty following in order of divine preference). Seven is supposedly the number of completion, of perfection. So there are seven "gifts" or motivations, each with their own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. In a perfect world, everyone uses their gifts for the good of everyone else. So far so good.

But spiritual "gifts", which made up a large part of the vocabulary used by IBLP insiders, were only one of the towers of the IBLP edifice. They rested on the wider base of the 49 Character Qualities. Gothard wrote "operational definitions" for these qualities, and assigned seven to each motivational gift as its unique values or strengths. I am unable to determine which Gothard came up with first, the seven gift types or the forty-nine character qualities, but he combined them very early on, settling on the final definitions sometime after 1976. Each quality is contrasted with its opposite, a negative character trait which must be overcome.

The Gift of Teaching
  • Dependability vs. Inconsistency
  • Diligence vs. Slothfulness
  • Patience vs. Restlessness
  • Reverence vs. Disrespect
  • Security vs. Anxiety
  • Self-Control vs. Self-Indulgence
  • Thoroughness vs. Incompleteness

The Gift of Exhorting (encouraging personal development)
  • Creativity vs. Underachievement
  • Discernment vs. Judgment
  • Discretion vs. Simplemindedness
  • Enthusiasm vs. Apathy
  • Faith vs. Presumption
  • Love vs. Selfishness
  • Wisdom vs. Natural Inclinations

The Gift of Giving
  • Cautiousness vs. Rashness
  • Contentment vs. Covetousness
  • Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness
  • Generosity vs. Stinginess
  • Punctuality vs. Tardiness
  • Resourcefulness vs. Wastefulness
  • Thriftiness vs. Extravagance
  • Tolerance vs. Prejudice

The Gift of Organizing (administration)
  • Decisiveness vs. Double-Mindedness
  • Determination vs. Faintheartedness
  • Humility vs. Pride
  • Initiative vs. Unresponsiveness
  • Loyalty vs. Unfaithfulness
  • Orderliness vs. Disorganization
  • Responsibility vs. Unreliability

The Gift of Serving
  • Alertness vs. Unawareness
  • Availability vs. Self-Centeredness
  • Endurance vs. Giving Up
  • Flexibility vs. Resistance
  • Generosity vs. Stinginess
  • Hospitality vs. Loneliness
  • Joyfulness vs. Self-Pity
  • Endurance vs. Giving Up

The Gift of Prophecy (speaking warnings about sin)
  • Boldness vs. Fearfulness
  • Forgiveness vs. Rejection
  • Obedience vs. Willfulness
  • Persuasiveness vs. Contentiousness
  • Thoroughness vs. Incompleteness
  • Truthfulness vs. Deception
  • Virtue vs. Impurity

The Gift of Mercy
  • Attentiveness vs. Unconcern
  • Compassion vs. Indifference
  • Deference vs. Rudeness
  • Gentleness vs. Harshness
  • Justice vs. Fairness
  • Meekness vs. Anger
  • Sensitivity vs. Callousness

Along with the seven "universal, non-optional life principles", these forty-nine character qualities form the central core of Gothard's teaching because of his belief that "one of God’s primary goals for believers is to transform them into the image of His Son so that they may be a reflection of the character of Christ." Gothard teaches that these qualities express God's character and that we become more Christ-like as we train ourselves and each other to demonstrate these characteristics. "Life will take on a whole new meaning as you begin to understand the importance of character and see the lasting rewards of a life that exhibits the character of God." (IBLP website)

Character Clues

Character Clues Game
For decades, Gothard's Institute sold a game called Character Clues. It consisted of a stack of laminated cards, each with the name of a character quality in different decorative fonts. The other stack contained Gothard's definitions. Each card also had a code in the upper corner, to distinguish which "spiritual gift set" it belonged to, as shown in this chart.

Playing Character Clues was a two-step affair. For the first few minutes, we would frantically swap cards with other players, trying to collect one complete set of seven. The rest of the "game" was to memorize the definitions and be the first to call out the quality as the definition was read aloud. We used to play it at home, and later on Game Nights with the staff at the IBLP training center on Main St. in Oklahoma City. It was impossible to play with friends outside the Gothard cult, as we could spit out the definitions in seconds and anyone else would be lost trying to understand how we could jump to "Obedience!" from "Freedom to be creative...".

Character Sketches

Another of Gothard's character projects were the Character Sketches nature series. He originally envisioned seven volumes, but the project ran out of steam after only three (published in 1976, 1978, and 1985). Each handsomely-bound and beautifully-illustrated volume presented nature stories in which the featured species demonstrated an aspect of the highlighted character quality. The story was followed by a biological sketch of the animal habits, and then by an interpretation of a some Bible story in which the character demonstrated either the quality or its opposite. Gothard's younger brother Steve was heavily involved in the creation of these books in the 1970's.

ALERT, another of IBLP's spin-off programs, is a year-long character-building course for "Christian young men" that kicks off with military-style basic training in Big Sandy, Texas. ALERT also sells the Character Sketches series and lists their author as Larry Guthrie.

Dr. Larry Fields Guthrie earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 1971. Before becoming an Associate Professor of Education at Indiana University Northwest, he taught high school science for seven years. After the university fired him in the late 1970's, he found employment at Gothard's Institute as a staff writer and research assistant for twenty years. A natural storyteller, Guthrie likes to spin the termination of his employment positively, saying that he had recently given his heart to Jesus and willingly gave up academia to serve Christ elsewhere.

Dr. Larry Guthrie
According to IBLP's Embassy Institute: "One day, while teaching at Indiana State University, Dr. Larry Guthrie was informed that his book publishing record was insufficient and they had to terminate his teaching. However, God had given Larry a keen understanding of the world of nature and a remarkable ability to capture the attention of audiences as he explains life principles from the world of nature. Larry wrote the nature sections of the Eagle Story, Character Sketches Series, and other books." However, since Guthrie's appointment at Indiana University continued until May of 1979, it is unlikely he authored any part of the first two Character Sketches. Other sources indicate he wrote for Volume III of the series, and also for Volume IV, which was never completed.

In addition to whatever nature studies he penned for Character Sketches, Guthrie "also wrote science and medical curriculum materials for the Institute's home education program, the Advanced Training Institute of America. Dr. Guthrie is the former director of the Children's Institute which offers character training and instruction in basic Biblical principles to children ages 6-12. Over the past 10 years, these week-long children's seminars have enrolled over 175,000 children in 50 cities and eight foreign countries. Dr. Guthrie also served as Director of Curriculum Development for Character First! Education, a national non-profit character training program for public schools with headquarters in Oklahoma City." Described in 2010 as a "vital part of the IBLP ministry for many years", Guthrie is still a popular keynote speaker for regional homeschool conferences, presenting lessons about obedience to parents, attentiveness to instructions, and escaping the temptations of Satan.

In 2009, Guthrie became the chairman of the board for IBLP's Verity Institute:
"Verity Institute exists to develop leaders who love Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Established in 2001, Verity Institute was founded to disciple college students to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ as they pursue higher education. Verity helps students avoid the pitfalls of traditional college campuses such as non-Christian professors, secular humanism, and loose campus morals. In our innovative, 21-month program, Verity students complete a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree through an outside, fully-accredited university at a fraction of traditional costs for higher education."

Character Booklets and Children's Institutes

In 1991, Bill Gothard made connections with the Russian government that resulted in a partnership with the Department of Education in Moscow. In 1992, the Institute hosted an official delegation from Russia, including a young Boris Yeltsin, grandson of the Russian president, at its headquarters outside Chicago and at Gothard's retreat center in northern Michigan. In 1993, I was one of the homeschooled Advanced Training Institute (ATI) students invited to represent the Institute in Moscow's public schools, private schools, and orphanages. I was seventeen and it was my first experience outside the U.S.

Strict IBLP rules applied within our group: there was to be nothing even resembling dating, no music with a rock beat, no foolishness or loitering, no chewing gum. Males wore ties for most activities; females had to wear dresses, skirts, or loose culottes. On Sundays, we fasted from food until supper. As a student enrolled in Gothard's homeschooling program, these rules were quite familiar to me and did not seem burdensome. In our training meetings at the outset of the trip, we were urged to "clear our consciences" for our own protection, not holding any secrets from our parents. I dutifully wrote a letter home confessing to my parents that I had masturbated when I was younger. Dad faxed back a reply: "We forgive you!"

Our team was directed by George Mattix, now Director of IBLP's International Department. On our way to board the Aeroflot jet, we were handed brand-new booklets defining the character qualities we were about to teach and offering suggestions for activities. Each week we presented lessons in "character" to Russian schoolchildren, using illustrations like the inner workings of an ear, or Abraham Lincoln's honesty, or even the seven days of creation from Genesis. We invited the teachers and older students to evangelistic meetings with hymns, skits, and personal testimonials about how well biblical principles work.

We also helped put on Gothard's Basic Seminar at a cavernous Moscow stadium. To make attendance as convenient as possible, we served sack lunches and improvised special activities for children. This very first "Children's Institute" was deemed such a success that Gothard announced a similar conference for children during the summer ATI training seminar in Knoxville that year.

Soon Children's Institutes, under the direction of Dr. Larry Guthrie as noted above, were being held in conjunction with IBLP Basic Seminars around the country and internationally. At the one I participated in with Dr. Guthrie in Detroit in 1994, we taught the children that Satan could gain access to plots of "ground" in their souls if they were not obedient. Clearly, the Children's Institutes taught more than just the character curriculum, but since many of us had already been trained to teach those first character qualities and the activities were already packaged, the children always got a heavy dose of Attentiveness, Gratefulness, and Obedience.

Gothard himself later attributed the Character First Education curriculum to the earlier program used in Moscow.
"I originally created the materials for the program in 1991, for Russia," explained Gothard. "After I presented a seminar on Basic Life Principles in Russia, President Boris Yeltsin contacted me and asked if I would create a character program for Russia's public schools. So I created a program for them, which they still use."**
"I revised the materials we did for Russia, and they tried them out in eight Oklahoma City schools," said Gothard. "By 1998, 33 Oklahoma City schools used the program and in 1999, 50 use it. Across the nation, over 700 schools in 40 states are using Character First!"
(Source: "Staying In Character: Program Helps Promote Admirable Qualities"
Chicago Tribune; April 23, 2000)

Gothard advertised his new "universal" character materials to pastors, homeschooling families, community leaders, international contacts, and anyone else who would listen. "Character explains why things happen to us," he taught. God is continually working to mold our character into perfection ("to conform us to Christ"). Recognizing people for their achievements only breeds competition and conflict. The better way to motivate people to do good is to praise them for displaying good character instead.

**After falling out of favor with Moscow's Dept. of Education, due in part to their abusive discipline of Russian orphans, IBLP was pressured to abandon the Russia ministry. But hundreds of IBLP followers, including Texas Republican kingmaker James Leininger and his wife and daughters, got to cut their teeth on character education there.

Character Training Institute

Character First would dispute Gothard's claim to have created the program. Six Character Booklets were eventually marketed to IBLP seminar attendees and ATI families, but before another set could be completed there was something new growing on the horizon.

Thomas Hill
Tom Hill, an Oklahoma City businessman who was not only a longtime supporter of the seminars and a personal friend of Gothard but was also serving as chairman of the Institute's Board of Directors, launched the Character Training Institute (CTI). In 1992, Hill took Gothard's 49 character quality definitions and sanitized them for secular use at his company. In most cases, removing the religious component from the definitions required only some deft excision. The result was simply an ambitious self-improvement program. Hill saw potential in selling this character training package to other corporations and non-profit organizations--including government offices.

What employer wouldn't want to emphasize to their employees the importance of Availability ("Making my schedule and priorities secondary to the wishes of those I serve") and Thriftiness ("Allowing myself and others to spend only what is necessary"), or want their staff to exercise Self-Control ("Rejecting wrong desires and doing what is right")? Subscribers to the Character Bulletins got a fresh character quality sheet each month with stories and motivational tips.

The CTI office was run  from the Oklahoma Training Center, owned by Hill's Kimray Inc. and provided to IBLP as a base for multiple programs. Character First Education was also stationed at the center and operated by IBLP/ATI staff families and students. Technically two separate offices, there was a lot of overlap between the two Character Firsts. Many Character First materials were prepared by homeschooled students selected from Gothard's Advanced Training Institute.

The center in Oklahoma City began offering week-long training for "Character Coaches". Teens and adults could become certified to pitch and/or teach the Character First program in their own communities, carrying it back to their local churches or school districts. In July of 1997, my dad took the whole family to Oklahoma City so four of us could take the course with him. I was in my early twenties and had zero interest in being there, but as a "stay-at-home daughter" I believed Dad was my "authority" and the trip was mandatory. As consolation, I tried to convince myself that God was somehow going to use the rather unpleasant week towards my perfection. 

Dr. Joseph Ahne is a certified CTI trainer. At a training center conference in 2005, he had this to say:
“They don’t tell you this here, but it’s all biblically based,” Dr. Ahne says. “They use the animals to illustrate the points that are all from the Bible. You see, it’s about becoming like Christ. Through teaching the character, we’re teaching people how to be like Christ. We could all use that.”

“We use this,” he says, pointing to the Character First binder in the middle of the table, “because we can’t take religion into schools and government. But it’s all based on the same thing.”

Character First Education

Character First Education launched its pilot project in February, 1997 in Oklahoma City. Teams of homeschooled teenagers (recruited from Gothard's ATI program) would be brought to the Oklahoma Training Center at 520 W. Main Street, provided to IBLP by Kimray Inc., to spend months at a time teaching the new Character First curriculum in the public schools under the direction of Kent Fahrenbruck. These "Character Coaches" paid for their training and for their room & board while they were at the center. For many of them, Character First was their first experience entering a public school. They were expected to be at morning Bible study before school and to help with chores around the training center after dinner (usually housekeeping or kitchen cleanup). And the strict IBLP dress code applied: no blue jeans, and women could not wear slacks of any kind.

Robert Greenlaw
Robert Greenlaw's family was enrolled in Gothard's ATI homeschooling program. Robert attended his first "life principles" seminar before he was 14, learned about the natural tendencies of his "spiritual gift" at the Advanced seminar, spent time at IBLP's Moscow Training Center, and led Children's Institutes at Gothard's seminars. In 1996, he helped develop the Character First Education program. Today, Greenlaw manages all Character First publications and training development.***

Many Character First Education materials and artwork were simply borrowed from other IBLP programs, especially from the Children's Institute curriculum developed by ATI students and staff to teach children the seven "life principles" Gothard claimed to discover in the Bible. For example, the Attentiveness song from the Character First Education program is identical to the Attentiveness song taught at Children's Institutes:
"When there's someone else who's saying something that I need to hear,
If I'm easily distracted, it will not be very clear.
I must listen very closely to the things they have to say;
I will choose to be attentive ev'ry hour, of ev'ry day!
"I'll be attentive, so very attentive!
I will show the worth of what they have to say!
And when I am tempted to not be attentive,
I will choose to be attentive anyway!"

The Oklahoma Training Center became a veritable labyrinth of different jurisdictions with varying expectations, codes of conduct, and dress codes. My roommate was an intern for the CTI, other friends were there as volunteer teachers for Character First Education, some teens were sent by their parents for character-building "life experience" training (usually kitchen or maintenance jobs), a team of young adults had an outreach project to at-risk kids in local shelters, and I was working (as a volunteer for six months, and then as a minimum-wage employee) for the IBLP Chicago office from my desk in Oklahoma City. Whether or not we personally endorsed Character First (I sometimes referred to it as Karachterfurst), we were all expected to support the character effort. I helped package many more Character Cards than I cared to count in the training center dining room after work. Despite my misgivings about the CTI, I enjoyed the bustle of helping with Character Bulletin mailing projects because the flurry and rhythm reminded me of my previous volunteer work for political campaigns.

During my year at the Oklahoma Training Center, no staff women were permitted to wear jeans or slacks, all families residing at the center homeschooled their children, student volunteers were expected to fast on Sunday, kitchen workers were harassed for using white flour, and playing "contemporary" worship songs like "As the Deer" on the grand piano was frowned upon. We had a group Bible study before breakfast, corporate prayer time before lunch, and Gothard's Basic Seminar was shown on video some evenings.

***Ken Pierpont, another personal friend of Bill Gothard, describes Robert Greenlaw as "an absolute poster-child for IBLP. Mr. Gothard should be proud of guys like this."

Character First for Law Enforcement, Prisons, and Cities

Ray Nash for Congress
The Character First program has infiltrated city governments and law enforcement across the country. By 2006, 160 cities had passed "character resolutions", adopting CTI programs or materials. Ray Nash, former sheriff of Dorchester County, South Carolina is also a Character Training Institute instructor:
Nash has conducted "Police Dynamics" training for numerous U.S. and international police departments. "Really, what Police Dynamics is, in a nutshell, is biblical wisdom that’s been packaged into a law enforcement message," Nash told Rev. Mark Creech in a November 2004 article for Alan Keyes’ RenewAmerica Web site.  (Cult of Character)
Through Police Dynamics, Nash says he has trained over 10,000 government and business leaders from dozens of countries. Nash retired from law enforcement following a scandal in 2008. He went on to serve as Criminal Justice Adviser for the US Embassy in Kabul. He has a private investigation company and ran for a seat in Congress earlier this year.

Character First's prison curriculum, which contains stories from the New Testament and numerous teachings from Gothard's Basic Seminar, was developed in cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. According to an investigative report by Silja Talvi in 2006, in Oklahoma City,
"...even the local county jail’s elevators feature Character First posters in Plexiglass displays, and juvenile detainees study character concepts with the jail chaplains. Each employee receives a Character Bulletin with his or her paycheck, explains Chaplain Argyle Dick. “We hire for character, and we fire, most of the time, for lack of character. … We are always looking for new ways to saturate even more of our employees with character.”
The Character Council of Central Oklahoma has even entered into a “covenant” with the regional career tech programs, covering 12 campuses. “That’s our plan for getting character qualities into the hearts and minds of all students,” explains Dr. Earlene Smith, the Education Committee chairman for the council.
The Arkansas Dept. of Corrections uses Character First with its employees. Inside Arkansas prisons, a revision of the Character First program has become the more religious "Principles and Applications for Life", also led by "character coaches". Ohio added Character First to their offender education curriculum. The city of Conway, South Carolina has Gothard's 49 Character Qualities posted on its municipal website.  A news article earlier this month featured a photograph of Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Doak speaking in front of a CharacterFirst poster.

Lisa Sorg reported in 2006 for the Texas Observer,
“Burleson heralded as city of character,” boasted the headline in the April 28, 1999, edition of the Burleson Star, the town’s newspaper. The City Council, school board, Chamber of Commerce, and Ministerial Alliance Auxiliary had signed a resolution making Burleson a City of Character. “I do think it’s a religious deal, and I’m not afraid to say it,” Jeff Turner, then-superintendent of the Burleson school district, was quoted as saying.

Sorg's article goes on to observe:
"Obedience figures largely in the Character materials. In the book, How to Build Character as a Family, obedience is mentioned no less than 10 times in a 68-page discussion of character traits, and is described as a protective force. Security: 'I will look to my authorities for protection.' Flexibility: 'I will respect the decisions of my authorities.' Honor: 'I will obey cheerfully.' Justice: 'I will respect the authority of the law.' Loyalty: 'I will not mock authorities.' Obedience: 'I will obey my authorities immediately.' Enthusiasm: 'Not only does enthusiasm brighten the face and give light to the eyes, but it also acts as a natural medicine that builds strong and thick bones.'
"Each character trait also has an opposite. The opposite of obedience is willfulness..."

Why Character?

According to Gothard's website:

  1. Every quality personifies Christ. Jesus Christ is the full expression of every positive character quality. He is truth, love, forgiveness, gentleness, generosity, patience, kindness, and every other quality.
  2. Character explains why things happen. God promises that all things work together for good to those who love God, because they conform us to the image of Christ. (See Romans 8:28–29) If we are lacking in a particular character quality, God will often allow circumstances and even tragedies to develop that quality in us. David said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71.)
  3. Qualities are needed to praise others. We are commanded to encourage and exhort one another on a regular basis. One of the most effective ways to do this is to recognize positive qualities exhibited in the life of another and praise him for it. In order to do this, we must be able to identify specific character qualities and give their definitions.
The emphasis on Gothard's 49 character qualities made the IBLP environment incredibly toxic. We were "saturated with character" and we could never live up to the impossible standard of perfection held in front of us. We were encouraged to overwork ourselves to please our authorities and win praise for diligence and endurance. We were constantly on guard against temptations to choose "foolishness", "extravagance", or "slothfulness". Not surprisingly, many former ATI students are now in therapy for deep anxiety issues and stress-induced health problems.

Additionally, as numerous former Gothard followers have discovered, developing character traits like meekness and obedience can set individuals up for abuse. Gothard has long been criticized for counseling victims to give up their personal rights, to remain in abusive relationships, and to look for how their own poor choices (lack of character) could have caused the abuse. He is also known for habitually blaming victims of sexual violence. The secularized Character First approach does little to correct that imbalance in favor of abusers.

"Clearing the record of those who have wronged me and not holding a grudge."

"Confidence that actions rooted in good character will yield the best outcome, even when I cannot see how"

"Accepting others at different levels of maturity"

Today, I still wince when I drive past a public school sign announcing the character quality of the month--unless it happens to be "RESPECT", a virtue Gothard failed to recognize. To its credit, Character First has replaced Gothard's subservient Reverence with Honor, which it now defines as "Respecting others because of their worth as human beings". The sentimental Love has become the more office-appropriate Benevolence, and the antithesis of Justice is now "Corruption" rather than "Fairness".

Though Gothard may believe perfect character is an exact representation of God, Character First, now owned by Strata Leadership LLC which counts the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the Virginia Department of Social Services, and Hobby Lobby among its clients, is less committed to the original 49 qualities. Good character is not set in stone, after all, and society's values need room to evolve. The Character First website states"We reserve the right to change qualities and definitions as needed..." 

I praise the CTI team for this display of a trait long demanded of Bill Gothard's supporters: the character quality of flexibility.

READ MORE about Bill Gothard's political connections, his educational philosophy, and about growing up as an ATI student.


  1. Yea I'm with you. I have always known the connection, and it's funny now that people deny it.

  2. Thank youfor the historylesson. As an alummi of mamy seminars and a six year ati alimni, I appreciate the perspective you shared.

  3. Not sure what point you're trying to prove. I think everyone knows the CF!E and IBLP connection. Our family was in IBLP/ATI for many years, lived at many Training Centers, etc., but it doesn't help anyone to bash things like not using white flour (which isn't true anyway).

  4. As an addendum to my last comment....Good character never hurt anyone. And, God will deal with the misuse of character that many of the IBLP/ATI people displayed.

    1. A few things to keep in mind:

      A church is a hospital for sinners.

      The same idea applies to the character school.

      The value of an idea is determined by how well it works, and no other criteria.

      The value of an idea (or the truth) is not determined by authority, or beliefs or by opinions, or by political correctness, or by who wins an argument.

      The truth is nothing more or less than the right knowledge to solve the problem at hand.

      Everything man has ever learned was by making mistakes and spilling of blood.

      He who has not sinned throw the first stone.

  5. I don't see anything wrong with these character qualities. We are to aim for being like Christ, continual growth and sanctification, grace covering where we fail. If these are abused, then that should be addressed, but only that - not the character qualities nor the personal growth in reaching for them.

    I am actually doing research to write a book on character and I am astounded at the weight of internet space devoted to tearing down ATI.

    We attended one once, when I was a teen. Never went back, as it was a bit authority-heavy. But the way everyone talks, you'd think anyone who likes ATI must be into child and wife abuse. You find abuse in every sector of society, including the most liberal and atheistic.

    As for driving kids away - I have found just as many kids turning from the authority of God in their lives on both sides of the issue. It's a heart thing and if you are going to love the Lord you are going to do it no matter what. If you are going to turn from Him, you are going to do that no matter what as well.

    I can't see people standing before God after turning away from Him and getting a pass with, "God I would have loved you, except for this whole Bill Gothard thing!"

    1. If a character-loving god exists, s/he must be deeply saddened by Gothard, whose ATI program is responsible for the physical and psychological abuse of hundreds, even thousands of children. All I can say is, look at the fruit of this "character". I knew Gothard, and his character qualities did not work for him. :(

    2. Character qualities are great UNLESS your striving to build character apart from the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if Bill Gothard believes if he produces character in people that this will turn them to their need for Jesus. It doesn't as only those who are convicted of the Holy Spirit can see that they are dead in sins and trespasses and all their righteousness are as filithy as rags to God. It is Jesus Christ who MAKES one righteous and Holy and changes people.

    3. I think character qualities should be descriptive of a person, not prescriptive. It is the height of arrogance to define 49 words to describe the god you've created, and then demand that your followers match the same description!

      I used to think good character was only possible with Jesus, but I am happy to report that I have found more goodness outside of faith than within. Parenting is also a much pleasanter experience when you no longer assume your children are "dead in sins" and their best qualities are like used maxi pads ("filthy rags", in the KJV).

  6. Wow, I think whoever made this site needs to focus on channelling their time and energies into something more important rather than criticising other Christians and character programs!

  7. Interesting. I actually suspected a strong connection after trying to use the program in my local church. Discovered this website, actually, after googling to see if there was a connection. I grew up in the Gothard era (member of ATI, went to countless seminars...) I'm frustrated to discover that these lessons are saturated with Gothard.

    1. Rachel and Eric: Your comment is pretty stupid. The value of something is not determined by the author. The value of something is determined by how well it works. How many problems it solves and how well it solves them and for how long it solves them. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. God's ways are beyond knowing. God does not have favorite people. It is Christians with attitudes like yours, that cause the most problems for Christianity. He who has not sinned throw the first stone.

    2. I just ran into the character first program and was looking forward to imolementing this for our homeschooling family. I am clueless about all the talk here. Do you think that I should avoid this program or it can benefit if imolemwnted with grace.Again I do not know much about it but I do know my children and even us as parents need to know what each character trait means and to have a system in place for learning and applying. Woyld appreciate your insight. Thank you

    3. Based on my experience with Gothard, CharacterFirst, the 49 qualities, and the IBLP cult, I would run screaming in the opposite direction. But maybe the Duggar family is exactly the vision you have for your family, in which case I recommend a savings account for therapy down the road!

  8. I have attended the Institute many times and when I was 21 it saved my life the acceptance of self and way God makes us in the lst night. The Character Qualities are also quality. Used them to teach in the public schools. One student said I wish my parents were like the eagles when we studied that unit...the eagles pick a partner for life. Anyone who disagrees with the institute would do good to do what it's founder teaches: Don't quote me study the bible and quote what God says. He never wanted to be followed. He wanted people to follow the Lord. Acutally he currently writes books and meets with 300 men to pray for our nation. Praise God that I was able to attend his seminars. I currently have the Anger Seminar and has loved the beautiful teaching that has helped me see where I have been angry.

  9. I would steer clear of any character curriculum developed by a sexual predator. There may be some good truths buried in the curriculum, but it is mixed with lies.

    “ Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

    —C.H. Spurgeon

  10. The mind, nucleated by the inventive and adaptive human brain, “creates” your entire personal experience. Speaking cognitively, God inheres in the intersection of universal understanding and personal identity. Deviations from the maximally utile behavior of truly universal knowing are ubiquitous.

    What if no room is mentally given for universal understanding? This is equivalent to holding that the universe itself has no coherent structure and prima facie absurd. Perhaps then, personal identity is held to be intractably separate from it. Where can this separation lie except for in the universe? If real, it inhabits the real universe by definition and comprises in some real part the object of universal knowing (precluding any “ultimate” or total separation).

    Thus, mathematically speaking, there must be a God who cares about your character. Additionally, unless you are in possession of an astonishing anomaly, we all fall unfathomably short of the maximally utile behavior entailed by universal prescience. The figurative language one prefers to express this undeniable point is not of serious concern.

  11. I'm an Evangelical maybe even fundamentalist...🤷🏻‍♀️ I would completely use these. But Gothard himself - no way. A number of bright talented people produce great products... but you'd never leave your children alone with these people. Yuck. Glad he's not making money off it. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I don't think any good personal qualities will hurt us vs. not having them.