Pentecost, Bill Gothard, and Raising a Daughter By The Rules

by Ross Decker Sr

It was Pentecost Sunday yesterday. The birthday of the Church. It was also the anniversary of the day when I dedicated my daughter to the Lord.

The church I was attending at the time was a small inter-denominational church. They didn’t believe in infant baptism so they substituted “baby dedications.” The thinking was that, since babies could not assent to Christianity, the weight of the decision would fall upon the parents. While the baby could not desire to live for Jesus, the parents would commit to raising her in such a way that the baby would have no other option. So, the baby dedication had very little to do with the baby and had quite a lot to do with the parents. It was their day. Like everyone else, we invited our closest friends. We invited friends from out of state. They were to be not only spectators but future finger pointers when we went wrong. In fact, part of the service was the pastor charging our friends to keep an eye on us.

Having our baby dedicated on Pentecost Sunday proved to be a mistake. The good part about this mistake was that we were not to blame. Like many independent churches, the pastoral staff was a family. The assistant pastor was the son. The administrative pastor was the brother-in-law. The facilities manager was the son-in-law. The church secretary was the pastor’s daughter. And, it was the pastor’s daughter/secretary through whom we scheduled the dedication.

Unfortunately for her, the Church planned a big day for Pentecost. It was, after all, the birthday of the Church! There were special songs. And more special songs. The service began to drag on. Kevin, one of the assistant pastors (not related) sensed that there was a problem. And, that’s when it got really wild. He whisked my daughter from my arms and held her up like the scene from the Lion King. He wanted to get the pastor’s attention. And, when he did, the problem became evident. The pastor had no idea why my daughter was dangling aloft. He wasn’t forgetting my daughter’s dedication. He hadn’t been informed. He had no idea. His own daughter had forgotten to add the dedication to the calendar.

Kevin acted swiftly. There was only one course of action. He dashed down the side aisle to the second row and spoke directly to the most powerful person in the church. My pastor’s wife! She walked immediately up to the pulpit, interrupting the Scripture reading, whispering into her husband’s ear. The dedication was back on.

Being a parent in that church was often nerve wracking. Being a father in that church was worse. The pastor taught that the full responsibility for child rearing was with the father. He stressed a complete patriarchal system. Bolstering this thought was a name we’ve seen lately in the news – Bill Gothard. Gothard devised a morality system from the patching together of scripture and seduced many conservative christians to follow his teachings. The Duggars did. He was their moral teacher when their son famously got into a bit of trouble. Never mind that rumors of inappropriate behavior dogged Gothard. My pastor followed him, taught from his material and continued until the evidence just overwhelmed. All church activities shut down for a week each summer when the Bill Gothard caravan rolled into Ocean Grove, NJ. The congregation was urged to take their family vacations at that time and go to Ocean grove to be at the “seminar”.  Often, my church congregation filled several Bed and Breakfast style hotels on in that Jersey shore town. We were totally insulated and quite happy about it.

During the year, the men of the church were expected to attend the twice monthly “Men’s Institute.” The pastor facilitated it using Gothard materials. Even older teenage boys and college age single men were expected to attend this teaching in order to learn God’s way for men to lead their families. Often, on Sundays, parents were cautioned to not let their daughters marry a man who had not been a faithful attender of this Men’s Institute.

So, with that responsibility upon my shoulders, there were few things as scary as raising a daughter. The message I absorbed was that it would be my fault if my daughter “slipped.” What if she kissed a boy? What if a boy “touched” her before marriage.  What if they held hands? What  if, what if, what if? It would be on me if she did. Not the boy. Maybe his parents, but not the boy. He could repent and be “restored.” If my daughter slipped she would be “that girl” for the rest of her time in that church.

That whole church identity was built on that. Fathers protected their daughters from the sons of fathers who shirked their duty. Fathers steered their families. Wives humbly obeyed. So, is it any surprise that Bill Gothard, the architect of the pure family, tumbled from his perch amid rumors of his own sexual abuse? Is it shocking that he felt he could counsel young Josh Duggar?

Here comes the spoiler alert. My daughter grew up as a princess. Yes, she made it to the altar pure. She’s a great mom to two children. She picked a fantastic husband. But, the irony of it is that she did it on her own. Turns out that her values were inborn. They were her own, not mine. And she fashioned the life and value system that worked for her.

Looking back, I’d have it no other way.