| If there’s
one thing you can say about Bill Gothard, he knows a good opportunity when
he sees one. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, millions of American
parents were basically scared out of their wits at the prospect of their
daughters bringing home Jerry Rubin or a member of the Black Panthers for
dinner, or their sons joining the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)
and blowing up college administration buildings. (Actually, more
realistic worries consisted of their kids having babies while tripping-out
on LSD.) Meanwhile, Gothard had been working on his project of making
himself into a youth-problem answer-man, and by the late ’60s the demand
for such services had never been higher.
People worried that all the crime and violence might not be temporary, and that if something was not done about it all quickly it would only get worse. Of course, as the Baby Boom population hit middle-age in the mid-’90s we saw the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Crime rates dropped and families rebounded. But 30 years earlier the outlook was grim to many people.
Gothard promised that his Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts seminar would not only straighten out young people, but it would also help older people deal with unresolved personal issues left over from their youths. That helped him get adults into his seminars and fill out his audiences, but as the ’70s progressed high school, college age, and recent college graduates made up the majority of his audiences. Parents jumped at the opportunity to get their kids re-programmed according to “God’s principles,” and local churches would fill entire busloads from their youth groups and, along with some adult chaperones, send them to pack-out huge auditoriums. A lot of tickets also went to newlyweds and new parents as gifts.
Gothard was the classic opportunist, taking advantage of the anxieties (and even semi-hysteria) that many parents felt. He also took advantage of the pervasive ignorance of the Bible most people had. He knew how to make the situation look even more dire than it actually was, and to make his “solution” look like it was sent directly by God. He was also a master of over-inflated hype, as shown by the early handbill on the right.
And just what was the magic cure he would administer to millions of young people across the country ... ?