Five years ago I wrote:
But the question of cults has really hit home to me in recent years as I have watched a cult forming before my very eyes--perhaps several of them; they are all still in such early stages that it isn't yet possible to definitively describe them as such, but they share with other movements the seeds that generally develop into cultic behavior.It's taken me this long to finally pin down just what about the Insitute in Basic Life Principles qualifies it as a cult. In the aforementioned post (by the way, all my posts on this topic now carry the label 'cult'), I also wrote:
Every cult starts out small, focused on a single individual who brings his followers a never-ending stream of fresh messages directly from God. The lure of new revelation is a temptation to so many that Small Cults, in the normal progression of things, always grow rapidly. At this point the Leader needs to decide whether to keep his flock small enough to manage, or to share some of his authority with deputies who will hopefully carry on his vision. Should he choose the first option, his cult will eventually expire, but usually not until long after he is removed from the scene. Should he choose the second, his cult will go on to evolve into something so far removed from the original structure that even the word 'cult' will no longer adequately describe it as a sociological phenomenon. It will have become a religion.I actually had Bill Gothard in mind when I wrote this. Since starting Campus Teams fifty-four years ago, Bill has remained both on the board and at the helm of his organisation through all of its iterations into The Institute in Basic Life Principles with over thirty corporate divisions. Well, that is, all except for a 17-day period in 1980, when he was forced to resign over a sexual scandal but brought back on through the influence of his father, another board member; and for the past few weeks, when it emerged that the pattern of sexual misconduct first identified in the mid-1970's has continued into the present century.
IBLP prides itself with the mission of "Giving the World a 'New' Approach to Life." And indeed, for half a century the Bill Gothard machine has continued to churn out one new revelation after another. Now granted, these are never advertised as new revelation, but are marketed as rediscovered insights revealed to Bill Gothard through meditation on the Scriptures and faithful application of basic principles. Nonetheless, the particular recipe is unprecedented in Church History:
- The Umbrella Principal, in which staying under authority protects a person from spiritual attack
- A revival of the Levitical Code for ritual cleanliness in relation to menstruation and childbirth
- A revival of circumcision as a religious ritual
- A new definition of Grace
- One novel interpretation after another of the Sermon on the Mount, as revealed in the 52-volume set of Wisdom Books.
- A fantastic retelling of American History
- Bizarre psychosomatic diagnoses and treatments
- The spiritual necessity of shaving off facial hair on a regular basis
And so on. A typical cult leader never runs out of new revelations, and although the output from Bill Gothard has slowed in the past decade, he has never slowed his pace, continuing, almost at the age of 80, to run his organisation like a one-man show. At one point he constituted a third of the Directors, needing only one of the other two votes for a majority. What probably doomed him faster than anything else was bringing in a bunch of new board members last year, who constituted enough of a majority to outvote the remaining incumbents and remove him from the Presidency.
But now that its guru is gone, can the cult survive? According to material newly posted to its website, its programs are all still in full swing, and the man appointed to 'investigate' the scandal is on the roster of speakers at the next Family Gathering. But the deadline is fast approaching for renewing membership in the organisation's flagship department, The Advanced Training Institute. How much of the 'ministry' will be left when the numbers are finally crunched?
Here is a link to 100 marks of a cult. No cult will have all of them but all will have at least ten of them.