Out of a Bill Gothard Cult, and Finding Jesus: Podcast with Emily Elizabeth Anderson

by | Apr 7, 2022 | Podcasts | 27 comments

Emily Elizabeth Anderson Bill Gothard Cult Podcast
Merchandise is Here!

One of the things I enjoy most about working online is meeting really cool people.

And one of those cool people is Emily Elizabeth Anderson from Thriving Forward. 

We met on Facebook, and it took me a while to connect the dots to realize that I had already heard of her. I enjoyed what she wrote about finding Jesus after growing up fundamentalist, but then one day I made the connection that she was one of the girls that Bill Gothard, from the Advanced Training Institute, had sexually harrassed and groomed. 

Bill Gothard ran a hyper conservative homeschooling program and conference circuit where the focus was on being under the right “umbrella of protection.” You may have seen the Gothard Umbrellas before:

According to Gothard, your main role was to live under the right authority. (Of course, these diagrams make no sense because if God has the bigger umbrella, why is there a need for any other umbrella?)

Anyway, ATI largely fell apart when a number of women came forward to say that he had sexually groomed and harrassed them as teenagers (and some much worse allegations). Emily was one of those.

Today she joins us to tell her story, and to tell what she’s passionate about now. And especially how she found the actual Jesus after she left what she now sees as a cult.

Or, as always, you can watch it on YouTube!

Timeline of the Podcast:

0:10 Intro
2:50 Emily joins the podcast!
4:30 Emily’s childhood in Fundementalism/ATI
9:45 Not ALL homeschooling is the same
11:20 The early grooming process
16:00 When Emily finally went to headquarters
21:15 The aftermath of coming forward/the lawsuit
27:00 Specifics about the organization… or cult?
39:15 Not giving up on God
45:25 Emily’s take on the state of things now
51:00 Thriving Forward
56:15 Closing encouragement

And even though this is a podcast about the problem in fundamentalist homeschooling circles, we’re not anti-homeschooling! I homeschooled my girls all the way through, and my kids are planning on homeschooling as well (as is Joanna). But we have to be aware that there are a lot of pockets of homeschooling that are not safe. 


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Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

Emily Elizabeth Anderson and Homeschooling Cult

Have you ever found Jesus after getting out of something fundamentalist? Let’s talk about it!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. A2bbethany

    Our pentacostal family friends used gothard’s homeschooling material. But my mom always said it was too expensive, but that she also wasn’t comfortable, with the level of actual math and science in the booklets. So we used other brands of homeschooling material, almost a different brand for each subject. Saxon math, abeka for reading and Young math(til 1st grade), and S.O.S. for several topics on an old computer.

    I think the reason why we never became Amish, or dove deeply with the pearls or the duggars? My father wasn’t interested in going any deeper than ankle deep. He told me that if it was up to my mom, we would have become Amish and left the real world.
    I found that interesting, especially considering the later disagreements about child raising and how marriage works.
    Another large organization that isn’t cult-like but does emphasize large families as normal and a blessing, Above Rubies! They just put out stories of testimony about God and something family related. I believe they stayed healthy, because they stayed focused on Jesus and his love for mom’s being mom. (I’m curious if anyone else grew up with their little magazine?) Don’t agree with everything, but they’re material seems to emphasize individuality and the kids seem much healthier!

    • Katy Didd

      I used to be totally into the Pearls, Vision Forum, Western Conservatory, Amish stuff, and Above Rubies. Above Rubies is better than Gothardism, but still culty and not properly trauma-informed. Their magazine added to the damage in my own faith walk and life, and some of their articles definitely had similar flavors to Created to be His Helpmeet and Vision Forum and Gothard’s Dominionism.

      But, I could never afford any of the homeschooling programs. Not even Abeka or Rod and Staff. So, I gathered from secular sources that I could afford through suggestions from Well-Trained Mind. Ultimately, I’m glad I did. It always bugged me when belief systems try to shoe-horn themselves into every aspect of education rather than just letting education be. This is a reason why social justice and what it coined as “wokeism” gives me the same vibes. It’s a “type of religion,” so to speak, that is also getting shoe-horned into curricula rather than just letting reason and philosophy and wise thinking and evidence and experience be the educating and formative factors. I’m certainly not opposed to social justice, but I am opposed to the shoe-horned, saccharine religiousity that muddies up real academics.

      Having left the evangelical church for the Catholic Church, I am facing the unhealthy tactics of fear, anger, and even a level of ostracizing and distance from some in the my family. There’s manipulation in language and “random” conversations brought up at family gatherings. The opportunity for real conversation and being open to at least listening to other beliefs is non-existent. It is the evangelical mojo to manipulate people into coming to the faith…and staying there.

      I had a thought just this morning: “Your church isn’t healthy just because you managed to eliminate everyone who doesn’t fit your culture.” I could add, “or manipulate into your culture.”

      (and I haven’t even listened to the podcast!)

      • Mara R

        Speaking of home school curriculum, does anyone remember the Elijah Company home school catalog?

        I loved that thing and ordered most of my stuff from them.

        I loaned out some of my things and they never came back, some of which I wish I still had. But I believe Elijah Company has not existed for a long time, now.

        • janey

          I remember them, too. They did have great stuff!

    • Jess

      Above Rubies is very quiverfull, so more Dugger. There was a big scandal over their adopted grandchildren- it was a very foolish idea in the first place when they had no idea what they were getting into.

      • A2bbethany

        From what I understand they simply created a place to tell your story of why(or how) the big family. As a result, I’ve seen a very wide selection of beliefs with only Jesus and childbirth/adoption at the center. Their own family is more private and I know they came from new Zealand originally. Large families usually feel isolated and misunderstood…in the family size aspect anyway.

        Sometimes they run articles that are a bit preachy and unaware of the abuse potential in marriages. But equally I’ve seen stories of abused spouses. Some who stayed and it got better and some who left and got healing. So I don’t know that they’re unhealthy and close minded like other organizations.

  2. Jane Eyre

    I really hate when people make graphics and act like the graphic is truth. A graphic that is presented a Truth is simply propaganda: you build the foundation for why your beliefs are accurate, then summarise in a graph, not make a cute picture and act like anyone who disagrees with you is Satan. (Here, literally.)

    Emily’s account is chilling. There’s so much of what she says that, as an adult, I see as grooming and perversion, but couldn’t have known or explained it when I was younger – just as she was unable to really see it.

    It is true that in a healthy family, fathers/husbands protect their wives and their children. Often, people have more insight into when members of their own sex are misbehaving than when members of the other sex are. Men also fear physical violence from other men more than they fear it from women. This isn’t always the case, but generally, men are able to see when someone is trying to groom their daughter or harass their wife, and is willing to put a stop to it by any means necessary.

    That doesn’t mean that we are obligated to be under the aegis, both physical and moral, of a man; it just means that perps like easy targets (News at 11). In fact, “you shall be under the protection of a man” is exactly the sort of b.s. that groomers use. It’s not about a man; it’s about a good man who is willing to stand up for his family.

    • Laura

      I am all for a man protecting his family from danger. Unfortunately, Gothard uses this umbrella as a way to manipulate and control women and children.

      • Jane Eyre

        Exactly. He takes something that we all know to be true and good, then distorts and stretches it into evil.

  3. Laura

    I am in complete awe of Emily’s testimony! This podcast has blessed me and really got my day off to a great start. I follow Thriving Forward on Facebook and I admire the work Emily is doing. I just cannot stomach reading “Married Sex” or some of those other “Christian” marriage books that she’s brave enough to tackle and critique. I think it’s awesome that she found healing in her relationship with her husband. Right now, I cannot imagine finding healing in a romantic relationship but I’m not looking for that kind of relationship these days. I want Jesus more than ever and I have noticed throughout the years of attending church that His Name is not mentioned, unless the pastor is preaching from the four Gospels or around Christmas and Easter.

    I totally agree Sheila, that when a church hardly mentions the name Jesus that something may not be right. People can easily say, “God said this..” but to say “Jesus said that,” they cannot get away with it. Whenever there’s been talk about gender roles, I once mentioned, “Jesus never said any of that.” Well, I was met with dead silence. Either it was because these people knew Jesus never said that and their agenda to prop up gender roles was now tumbling. Or maybe, these same people believe gender roles are God-ordained because of Old Testament teachings and Paul’s letters to specific churches (all of these churches came from different cultures).

    As for that Gothard-invented umbrella of protection, I see this illustration taught in women’s Bible studies and marriage conferences at mainstream American churches. I still would like to know where in the Bible it says that women always have to be under the protection of men. If they’re single, they’re under their father’s protection. If they don’t have a father, then their pastor or another male relative stands in as their protector. It sounds like an Old Testament teaching and since Christ came to fulfill the Law, why do many Christians think they have to abide by that man-made umbrella of protection? I am a single woman who’s father is deceased. A friend of mine told me that my mother is my spiritual head or protector. Again, this is not found in the Bible. I am covered by the blood of Jesus! I think that’s protection enough, so I don’t need an umbrella unless it’s raining outside.

    • Mara R

      Laura: “I once mentioned, ‘Jesus never said any of that.’ ”

      Hhm. Lucky you.
      When I said something along the lines of, ‘Comp doctrine doesn’t use the words of Jesus as the foundation for their beliefs on gender and family,’ the guy responding didn’t skip a beat and basically said that Paul’s words WERE God’s and Jesus’s words, indicating that the part about the Holy Spirit coming and teaching us all things covered all the words of the epistles.

      Crazy stuff.

      Still only in the first few minutes of the podcast.

      • Laura

        A lot of people think Paul was God’s mouthpiece, but what they do not realize is that Paul was a flawed human being who lived in a culture rich with patriarchy. I’ve pointed that out as well and people just don’t know what to say. Some of them think I’m discounting what the Bible said. That’s the problem with the Bible. It has become an idol and takes more precedence over Jesus’ teachings which was only a small part of the Bible, yet the foundation we should stand on.

        • A2bbethany

          That’s an Issue I’m slowly chewing on. I believe that all scripture is inspired by God (that new testament verse)
          But not everything in scripture is straight from God. The humans writing, and or being in the stories recorded, are human. The example that made me understand and see this: Job’s friends take several chapters to explain and press into the belief: “you’re being punished for something you did” a concept that most Christians understand ISN’T true! Bad things happen and it’s not because you sinned.
          And when God starts speaking in Job, he takes it a very different direction to humble them all.

          And when you apply an author’s personal opinion to the writings of Paul….it changes perspective. In Corinthians, for example when he states that he personally rejects marriage.
          And that means context matters alot.

        • Cynthia

          It wasn’t merely just that the culture was rich with patriarchy. It was the fact that the patriarchal Roman culture was also the dominant empire, which didn’t hesitate to brutally suppress any threat to its power.

          If you ever go to Israel, you can visit Masada – the desert fortress where the Zealots withstood a Roman siege for as long as possible, and then engaged in a mass murder/suicide as the Romans were finally conquering them. THAT is the context in which something like the book of Titus needs to be understood, IMHO. Sure, there was neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, etc., but a new religious group suddenly telling folks that slaves, subjects, wives, etc. didn’t need to answer to any authority would have been seen as a threat to power, and the Roman authorities had made it clear that they would kill or enslave those who opposed them and the failure of the Jewish revolt showed that they couldn’t defeat Rome. So…the advice given was to go along with the existing power structure, show that anyone would be happy to have Christian wives, slaves, subjects, etc. and stay alive long enough to gain influence.

        • Andrew

          Its important to note that likewise flawed human beings recorded and wrote the books of the gospels. Its dangerous territory to parse out some favored scripture as fully true and other as written by Paul as less inspired. The Bible is the Word of God from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation.

          • A2bbethany

            I agree that it’s a fine line and you shouldn’t do it carelessly. Just because you don’t like or understand a particular chapter, isn’t a good enough reason. You need more evidence that it’s not right. How to do that? I don’t know….I do know that if taken too far? You’ll end up throwing out the baby with the bath water. (Losing your faith)
            Prayer and studying for yourself is how to get answers. And there’s no rush. God doesn’t expect us to live perfectly. Only honestly and with integrity.

  4. Katy Didd

    Ok, I listened to the podcast and there’s a million things I could talk about, but all I am going to say is that Emily’s testimony has convinced me to seek counseling.

    • Angharad

      I don’t know why you have made this decision, and I don’t need to know, but I’m praying that this will be the first step in a journey of healing & transformation for you xxx

  5. Jo R

    From the article linked at medium.com:

    “it is also normal for us to look back over our lives with the grief question, “Who am I now?” Now that this has been revealed, who am I? Am I a phony? Is so much of my life a waste? Am I a fool? Do I have to abandon everything I learned, disavow everything that came during those years? What of my identity is left? The wonderful truth is that our identity is safe in our relationship with Jesus.”

    Except that it’s these same pastors, teachers, and authors who have completely screwed up who Jesus is, who I am, what it means to be in a relationship with Him, and what that relationship looks like. Men like this have also been heavily tilting the way the Bible has been translated, so how can I be sure what God has actually said?

    NOW what????

    • Katy Didd

      It has taken me about 5 years to start putting the pieces back together. I spent years being unable to read the Bible because all I heard were the old tapes playing in my head. I even considered asking my husband if we could move away. Deconstruction takes time. Ultimately, I knew I believed in and loved Jesus, so I knew my end-goal was having a healthy Christian faith life. But where and how is taking time. I had to live in very basic beliefs. For 2 years I pretty much mostly just prayed a few rote prayers and quoted the Apostles’ Creed.

      It takes a while. Be patient with yourself. Jesus is patient with you. For years it felt like my face was buried in His feet, but I finally feel like I can look up at Jesus and smile.

      • Jo R

        Thanks, Katy Didd.

        “I spent years being unable to read the Bible because all I heard were the old tapes playing in my head.”

        THIS. What is the point of reading the Bible or praying when the false messages and meanings are all I know and are all I will “hear”? I can’t trust what I read because so many of the key passages have simply been mistranslated (i.e., wrapping certain spiritual gifts in a penis) or misunderstood because the translators and teachers did not take into account the social situation in which it was written. That’s exactly why I asked “NOW what?”

        All the praying and reading I did for almost thirty years just made me feel worse and worse, and frankly it made God seem farther and farther away. I’m a perfectionist, so I had no doubts about my utter inability to ever be good enough, and all the messages I was hearing just kept making things worse.

        Sheila keeps saying to just chase Jesus. I thought that’s what I was doing all this time! But I was chasing a lie, so again, NOW WHAT???? No idea how to chase Jesus. 😥😢😭

        • Hiraeth

          Jo R (and Katy Didd),

          Right there with you both. It’s been quite a journey for me since pursuing counseling a few years ago; my old world, my life, my identity began unravelling quickly. I see now that this was a gift and a blessing that God would use to begin building real, truth faith for the first time in my life.

          Like you, every time I picked up the Bible, the old tapes started playing in my head and I couldn’t figure out what to do or where to go from there. What was the Gospel truth (literally) and what was mere manmade culture? I didn’t even go to church for two years, which made me feel so much sadness and guilt. I felt some agency in doing so, but I also felt sad. I had lost everything I had known and I no longer knew who I was.

          I’m leaving lots of details out, of course, but one day while listening to the song “The Real Jesus” by the band Downhere, I started weeping. I seized that moment as being genuine and I just prayed the song lyrics back to Jesus as a prayer. It felt true and real and that alone brought relief and a dawning of hope. For a long time, I just prayed that song to God, kind of as a hope and a wish. I trusted He was seeing and hearing my true heart. My performing and pretending days were over; I didn’t even have the energy or desire to do so anymore. Then I branched out to a short verse or two. Then I found a Tim Keller sermon or two that helped me begin to grasp the true meaning of the Gospel a bit better.

          Long story short, I’m still inching my way back, but I’m doing it. I feel like a little baby learning to walk, drinking milk while trying to grasp the real Gospel, but I think THAT is true faith, and it lines up with what I find in both the Gospels and the Epistles. My old way of living and being in the world had been given to me before I had a chance to choose for myself. My journey to choose it for myself is taking some time and has been painful and stumbling, but I find the more I focus on the wisdom and tenderness of Jesus, the more I cling to the bit of hope I have now, the true Gospel, the more that actual gratitude and love inspires my daily walk, not just duty and fear and guilt and a bunch of “shoulds”. THIS is the Gospel!

          God sees. I pray that He will lead and guide you, and that He will grant you some breakthrough moments along the way, too.

          • Jo R

            Thanks, Hiraeth. ❤️

  6. Bre

    I recently attended a weekend theology seminary on the book of Romans and something the teacher said really struck me and it just came back to me after hearing Emily’s story. We were at the end where Paul is talking about his coworkers and the teacher went on a rant on women belonging in ministry. He brought up that we need to logically string things together; a verse in Timothy doesn’t mean as much as we think it does when we stop and realize that Paul worked with women and encouraged their ministry, said “they is neither male nor female”, and was all about Jesus, who never said anything about male headship or females not being able to teach (he even brought up Junia and how her name and gender was a hot potato!)

    Here’s the interesting part. He talked about “I don’t permit a woman to teach a man” and brought up the big business of Artemis/Diana worship in Ephesus and that, in general, the city was a hub for pagan cults and ground zero for the creation of kooky gnostic heresies. The city was very culty and women lead some of the biggest ones; the speakers assertion was Paul was prohibiting women from teaching in that specific church because they were the ones teaching heresy, syncretic ideologies, and controlling and abusing church members (specifically the men).

    I’ve believed those same ideas for a while, having dug into scholarly research and books, but just having this older man lay it out so bluntly and matter-of-factly just really made the tragic irony hit home for me. Paul was literally calling out false-teaching, cult behavior, and controlling/abuse of church members. Yet, somehow, we’ve latched onto those few verses and created whole cults like Gothard’s out of verses literally saying that people who are abusive, sexist (many of the ex-goddess worshipers likely struggled to let go of their hate for men, hence the abuse), and creating strange doctrines SHOULD NOT be allowed to teach and guide a church. We’ve done the exact OPPOSITE! I’m more hopeful, seeing survivors coming out of these groups and more people speaking up and fighting these ideologies, but the shear foolishness of us Christians that let this happen and pass for normal and healthy for so long just breaks my heart.

    • Anon

      THIS. 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

  7. Jess

    Yes also homeschooling too while wary of the extremes! There are so many excellent options now!


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