We are diamonds in the rough, spiritual-advice lecturer Bill Gothard tells his audiences. God uses others, he goes on, to chip away our rough edges and thus accomplish his purpose. Gothard illustrates his point on page three of the “Chain of Command” chapter in the big red loose-leaf notebook that is the heart of his six-day, thirty-two-hour “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.” On that page parents are depicted as one version of God’s hammer and chisel.

Last month Gothard found himself cast in the painful role of the diamond as The Wittenberg Door, a 2,200-circulation evangelical bi-monthly, chipped away in a fifteen-page spread.

Actually, its critical views aside, the Door scored one of the journalistic triumphs of the year in the evangelical scene simply because the press-shy Gothard is one of the hottest stories around. Editor Denny Rydberg, 28, a Seattle Pacific College graduate and former youth and Christian-education director, says his small part-time staff worked months to nail the story down. (The magazine, less than three years old, is published by Youth Specialties, 861 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, Ca. 92101. With wry humor and stabbing satire it has probed critically into a number of sacrosanct evangelical institutions and personalities. “We lose almost $1,000 an issue,” Rydberg acknowledges baldly. Sales of program idea books help keep the Door open.)

Rydberg isn’t the only one who’s had trouble sleuthing the story. An Eternity editor was barred from the Gothard premises (Gothard says he didn’t know this happened and is sorry about it). Moody Monthly was persuaded to kill a story it had prepared. Reporters of major secular newspapers are told they must attend the entire course if they wish to know what Gothard teaches, and even then they are asked to refrain from writing. The reason, says Gothard, is that such articles take content out of context, forcing readers to make a judgment before they take the course, perhaps damaging the instruction’s potential impact. (Gothard’s listeners are urged not to discuss the course with outsiders or let them see the notebook.) Such secrecy has resulted in several unfavorable newspaper stories—and some slams from the Door. Ironically, in seeking to avoid reaction, Gothard has created it.

Gothard, 38, a Wheaton college graduate, can’t hide the fact that he’s sort of an evangelical guru. Last month nearly 20,000 sat through his week of lectures in Seattle (there is no singing or special music; only Gothard and an overhead projector); this month more than 17,000 took the course in Portland, Oregon. So far this year about 125,000 have gone through the institute, already equaling the total for all of last year. And all by word-of-mouth advertising only. Less than ten years ago Gothard was talking just to dozens at a time.

Article continues below

Each person pays a $45 fee for the course ($35 if he is a member of a large church or school group). Alumni take refreshers free. Plenty of scholarships are available for the needy. The Seattle institute alone grossed about $500,000. With twenty-one institutes scheduled this year, the Gothard organization will probably gross $5 million or so. Gothard estimates that 20 per cent of income is used for scholarships, another 20 per cent for overhead, 15 per cent for development and distribution of curricula materials, 15 per cent for alumni follow-up and ministerial training, and the remainder for development of a headquarters complex in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Gothard has a full-time staff of fifty. He plans to build a school at Oak Brook within two or three years to produce teachers of his concepts. Meanwhile, to extend his own personal role, he has purchased $500,000 worth of television equipment for closed-circuit applications. Two medical doctors, a minister, and a Wheaton professor serve as board members.

The unmarried Gothard lives with his parents (his father, a retired Gideon executive, works as a volunteer at the Gothard office), drives a used car, and dresses plainly. He receives a monthly salary of $600 from designated offerings of friends, buys necessities, and gives the rest away to missions—much of it apparently to Campus Crusade for Christ. When he’s home, he attends the LaGrange Bible Church in suburban Chicago, where he was ordained.

Much of the institute’s content is a blend of psychology, Scripture, and common sense. Symptoms and causes of conflicts within and without are noted, with Gothard all the time pointing to a new kind of life-style as a prelude to solutions. Thousands of people, young and old alike (Gothard says he aims at the father), say their lives are transformed as a result of Gothard’s counsel. But even some of these confess they disagree with Gothard on some issues. The criticisms heard most often: not enough room is given to the Holy Spirit’s ministry; responsibility is abdicated to others unjustifiably; Scriptures are sometimes twisted to support preconceived theories; complex life situations are dealt with superficially; the past is unnecessarily dug up.

Article continues below

Some psychiatrists and other professionals blame Gothard’s teachings for some of the problem cases they have. But others are on record saying their counseling is more effective and their case loads lighter because of their use of institute concepts.

For his part, Gothard refused to discuss content further until the reporter completes the six-day course.

Beating Out The Devil

In a widely reported incident, fundamentalist minister Douglas A. Matheson, 48, former pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Long Beach, California, was jailed for kidnapping and beating his former wife and four children (“to rid them of their sinfulness”). Meanwhile, two elders of the Church of the Body of Christ in Searsport, Maine, were convicted of beating an allegedly demon-possessed young waitress during a church service. The elders said they were only trying to restrain her from self-harm.

Christian Holiness

At its 105th annual convention this month, the Christian Holiness Association (CHA)—a coordinating body of ten denominations and a number of other agencies and institutions that hold similar Wesleyan theological positions—reaffirmed its endorsement of Key 73, called for “responsible self-regulation of the public media” regarding allegedly pornographic material, and gave a nod to evangelical social action.

The social-action resolution urged Holiness Christians to “recover the compassion for the underprivileged and poverty-stricken which is historically a part of the Wesleyan heritage and which has too often been eroded by an unfortunate confusion of true Christian compassion with the so-called ‘Social Gospel.’ ” It also called for the divestment of “every recognizable trace of racism.”

Glossolalia was a topic both in the corridors and on the platform, where speakers gave it a minor-importance rating. One of them, Houghton College president Wilber F. Dayton, said a general rule “seems to be that when [tongues] are not sought they are not experienced.” He implied that modern Christians need not seek the phenomenon.

About 800 persons, 150 of them voting delegates, attended the four-day session in Portland, Oregon. A $39,500 budget was adopted to run the CHA office in Indianapolis another year. Brethren in Christ bishop Henry A. Ginder began the second year of his two-year term as CHA president.

Nae: Preferential Selection

At its thirty-first annual convention this month, the National Association of Evangelicals spoke out against abortion on demand, called for reinstitution of the death penalty for certain crimes, and asked that “compensatory alternative service” be provided for draft resistors.

Article continues below

The NAE also called for federal authorities to uphold the rights of religious institutions to hire people “of their own persuasion.” This was in response to guidelines issued by the U. S. Department of Labor forbidding religious discrimination in hiring. “Preferential selection” is necessary “if the essential character of a religious institution is to be maintained,” declared the statement.

Nearly 1,000 delegates and several hundred visitors attended the Portland, Oregon, sessions. Speakers highlighted the need for evangelical social action, spiritual power, and cooperative outreach. Evangelical Free Church of America president Arnold T. Olson told the audience he had visited Israeli officials and gotten assurances that no laws will be passed to curtail missionary work in Israel.

The NAE has thirty-three member denominations, 36,000 member congregations (some of whom are in denominations not in the NAE), and a constituency of 3.5 million individuals in sixty denominations. Billy Melvin is executive secretary and Bishop Myron F. Boyd of the Free Methodist Church is president.

Typical Week

Pollster George Gallup says that 98 per cent of adults interviewed in a recent survey attest to a belief in God. But in a typical week, he adds, only 40 per cent attended church or synagogue.

The Wcc: Talk Of The Town

The name World Council of Churches conjures up visions of exotic cities in strange lands.

So when the United States Committee for the WCC met in Madison, Wisconsin, this month, bringing to the university community of 180,000 what a local paper described as “the most distinguished assemblage of Protestant dignitaries ever to visit Madison,” the people were impressed.

Although impressed, no one seemed quite sure what the distinguished assemblage was doing in Madison, a predominantly Lutheran city relatively untouched by either the threats of secularization or the growth of “conservative churches.”

Madison is no stranger to ecclesiastical meetings. The General Board of the National Council of Churches met here in 1965 and adopted the first resolution condemning the war in Viet Nam to be accepted by a major church body. But the World Council of Churches meeting was a different thing entirely because it didn’t really “do” anything. Instead, the dignitaries from Geneva and from the mini-Vaticans of liberal denominational headquarters slipped into town and conducted Bible studies and seminars on the nature of salvation.

Article continues below

To be sure, the secular society encroached on the meeting. An address by the Reverend Philip Potter, general secretary of the World Council, had to be delayed while delegates listened to another address, this one by President Richard M. Nixon explaining the Watergate affair, to which Potter responded (see story, page 46). The theologian went on to talk about salvation and what it might mean to churches today. Other luminaries followed him to the podium and added their views.

It was soon obvious that the WCC leaders were not talking about salvation in the same way that most evangelicals do. What came through was that the meaning of salvation is closely—and even primarily—connected with social change.

A black South African who serves on the WCC staff branded her country’s racial practices “the Nazism of our time” during the opening worship service. But the service was also marked by a Greek Orthodox priest lighting candles and a Baptist gospel group singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

On the whole, it was a strange meeting for the college town. No fundamentalists called individuals to repentance; no liberals condemned American society in unbalanced terms. Instead, the churchmen came and talked mostly about salvation.



It seems everybody is talking about the Watergate scandal these days, including well-known church leaders and the pastor of one of the convicted conspirators.

World Council of Churches head Philip Potter declared that the affair reveals the Protestant ethic, which he defined as an emphasis on individualism, “at its worst.” Those involved are outwardly good looking people, he said, but they “seem to be defective in moral sensitivity.”

Evangelist Billy Graham, a long-time friend of the President, told reporters that he didn’t believe Nixon knew about the bugging incident or the attempted cover-up. Graham went on to call the scandal a symptom “of the permissiveness, corruption, and crime permeating much of American life.” America needs “to get down on its knees in repentance before the Lord,” he asserted. Many evangelical pulpits reacted similarly in recent weeks.

The Christian Science Monitor, a respected national daily but nonetheless a mouthpiece for Christian Science, editorialized that Watergate represents a “superficial symptom of a moral canker near the heart of American government.” Interestingly, the Monitor failed to mention that three of the former key White House aides implicated in Watergate and the Pentagon Papers spy caper are members of Christian Science. They are H. R. Haldeman, John D. Erlichman, and Egil “Bud” Krogh, Jr. A high Christian Science spokesman declined to comment on the trio and moral standards of the church. “We have no authority over their private lives,” he stated. (Christian Science teaches that sin is a state of mind.)

Article continues below

Krogh, who confessed to masterminding the Pentagon Papers incident (including authorization in 1971 of a burglary of psychiatric files), experienced something of a spiritual awakening a few months ago and became active in the White House prayer group, according to a former White House aide also active in the group.

Another person implicated is David Young, a staffer of the National Security Council and Krogh’s assistant at the time, out of whose office the Pentagon Papers crew operated at first. He arranged access to secret State Department cables for E. Howard Hunt. Young is a 1959 graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in physics. He could not be reached for comment.

The Watergate dam broke wide open when convicted conspirator James McCord testified before a grand jury. McCord, a former Baptist, is a member of a United Methodist Church in Rockville, Maryland. Pastor Walter C. Smith, Jr., tells how McCord had been active in a ministry to the elderly and says he is “one of the half-dozen best people in our church.” He’s taking “a bad rap for somebody else,” insisted Smith before McCord’s testimony hit the front pages.

After mentioning Watergate at the Chicago Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, Senator Mark O. Hatfield, an outspoken Conservative Baptist, warned against an “idolatry of the Presidency” which makes the “temptations and burdens that fall on the shoulders [of the President] to be almost inevitably unbearable—and corrupting.” He called for compassion and “fervent prayers” for the President, victimized in part by “our idolatrous expectations.” Americans want desperately to believe in man-centered power, stated the lawmaker, because “we have let the wellsprings of deep spiritual faith in our lives run dry.”

Missionary Pow

During more than five months of captivity in Indochina, Canadian missionary Lloyd Oppel, 21, leaned heavily on the promise of God’s strength in Deuteronomy 31:6, which he had read the night before his capture. Oppel, a medical assistant with Christian Missions in Many Lands (CMML), was taken by North Vietnamese troops near his mission post of Kengkok, Laos, last October (see November 24, 1972, issue, page 41). He told the Vancouver Sun in a copyrighted article that the Vietnamese disbelieved he was a missionary and labeled him instead “an American imperialist collaborator.”

Article continues below

Relating his experiences, Oppel told how he and fellow missionary Samuel Mattix, 19, of Centralia, Washington, were painfully trussed with wire and led on a thirty-five-day forced march to Hanoi. At rest stops in Laos, the pair was able to witness to curious Laotians because the Vietnamese guards did not understand the language. The preaching stopped when they crossed into North Viet Nam, however, where they encountered the hatred and physical abuse of Vietnamese civilians, said Oppel.

Throughout the captivity, Oppel told the Sun, he was not tortured physically but was tormented “psychologically.” He said that after arriving at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison he was subjected to incessant questioning about his family, friends, and mission. Each time, he said, the Vietnamese offered—but never gave him—food, tea, clothing, and drugs to reduce his fever.

Oppel credited Mattix with saving his life when he came down with malaria: “He washed me, persuaded me to try and eat, ignored my diarrhea and my delirium, and looked after me like a baby.” More importantly, he added, “Sam and I prayed a lot.”

During the trek across Laos, said Oppel, he learned from several Laotian Christians that two other missionaries had escaped from Kengkok, but he did not find out until after his release that two other missionaries, Evelyn Anderson, 25, of Quincy, Michigan, and Beatrice Kosin, 35, of Fort Washakie, Wyoming, were killed in the attack on the mission. The concern shown by Laotian civilians—including a quick prayer session with three Christians—proved that the time spent on mission effort was not wasted, Oppel affirmed.

Super Rally

Sporting a bright yellow suit, Pat Boone leaped up on the roof of a dugout from a shiny convertible and shook hands with scores of the 40,000 mostly young people who nearly filled the new Kansas City Royals stadium. Boone was the star attraction at what was described as the largest Youth For Christ (YFC) rally in history, held this month to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Kansas City YFC chapter.

Local YFC director Al Metsker, an independent evangelical minister, has watched his work grow from a few Bible clubs for teen-agers to reputedly the largest chapter in the world. It now boasts clubs in 110 senior and junior high schools, a spacious headquarters building (including a 3,000-seat auditorium that is filled to capacity once and sometimes twice every Saturday night), and its own summer ranch thirty miles outside the city, according to a YFC spokesman. A weekly telecast, “Christ Unlimited,” is aired on three stations and may expand to other cities soon.

Article continues below

The super-rally was clearly a Metsker milestone. Despite gloomy forecasts for attendance by both pessimistic city ministers and rain-threatening weathermen, the young crowded in. A local chain of supermarkets handled advance tickets and donations of $1 per person. When the invitation was given, several hundred young people made first-time decisions for Christ.

Along with the evangelical trimmings, the three-hour event reflected an ultra-patriotic Americanism. Local groups sang upbeat songs praising America, two returned POWs and a disabled veteran gave speeches, and the audience sang both the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the national anthem. It was almost an anomaly that such a feat could be pulled off with the young, even in mid-America.

One black minister attending complained about the absence of blacks. Only a handful were visible in the stadium and none on the platform even though the city’s schools are 55 per cent black. Only white suburban school bands and color guards participated down front. But then, black student participation in the local rallies has never been more than minimal, and no blacks serve on the staff.


Seminary Statistics

Enrollment in the member seminaries (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish) of the American Association of Theological Schools (AATS) increased by a microscopic 0.4 per cent to 32,822 last fall, according to an AATS report. (The addition of five more schools since then elevates the figure to 33,036 and places AATS membership at 189.) The number of candidates for graduate degrees, however, decreased 13.1 per cent. Finances are not as bleak as a couple of years ago, but the AATS, which includes most of the major seminaries in North America, still reports a cumulative operating deficit of $2.47 million.

Call To The North

Call to the North, like Topsy, just grew. From a seed thought in the minds of two or three people five years ago, it has sprouted and flourished into something involving most of the churches in the north of England.

The call was issued initially in the name of church leaders in the north by the archbishop of York, Donald Coggan, for the Church of England and representatives of the Roman Catholic and free churches (see February 2, 1973, issue, page 43). Today there are 4,000 study groups, involving members of most of the denominations, meeting in homes to “look at the faith they share, to get excited about it, and to work out ways of sharing it with others.” Also, 500,000 copies of St. Mark’s Gospel have been distributed.

Article continues below

Holy Week was a chance to coordinate all that has happened so far, and hundreds of churches put on special happenings, from street marches and passion plays to Bach’s Mass and straight evangelistic rallies. Says the Reverend Eddie Neale, press officer for Call to the North: “Only the Pentecostals and the Free Church have opted out of involvement. They are genuinely worried about the influence of Rome, which is a pity, because Call to the North is uniting churches in the best way possible, talking frankly, and clearing up misunderstanding.”

Canon John Hunter, advisor to the archbishop of York, says he hears “all the time of groups meeting weekly and renewing the parish, which is as it should be. Our principal aim, after all, is to recover the dynamics of the Christian faith.”

Hunter attributes the change in mood from pessimism to optimism in many churches over the past five years to “the Spirit of God.” “I’m sure the archbishop of York is right when he says, ‘I feel the finger of God in this,’ ” Hunter commented. “It’s come at the right time, too, when the charismatic renewal is infiltrating all denominations, uniting Christians of very different backgrounds and traditions. Everything is dovetailing neatly together.”


Combat Zone

After asking its bureaus in every state to check all death certificates filed for a recent week, the Associated Press reported that 345 Americans had died by gunfire in that seven-day period. Of these, 226 deaths were listed as homicides, eighty-nine suicides, and twenty accidental deaths.

It was the fourth such national survey by the AP in the past two years and revealed the highest total recorded thus far. By comparison, American deaths in combat averaged a little over 200 a week during the worst period of the Viet Nam war.



Disturbed over the closing of 1,300 United Church of Canada churches, the United Church Observer has called for a moratorium on closings and church mergers.

United Church “preaching places” declined from 5,741 to 4,442 in the period. The Observer said that many closings were “amalgamations” and that some were good. At the same time, it added, the UCC had a net loss in membership during those same years (1961–71) while many smaller evangelical groups made rapid gains, often picking up the disaffected members and even using the buildings lost by ill-considered closings.

Article continues below
The Buck Stops Here

Some Episcopalians in North Carolina are upset again. Their diocese okayed a $35,700 grant by the national denomination to support a Black Panther-run, non-emergency medical transportation project in Winston-Salem. Several other black groups were turned down.

In 1969, the Episcopal Church gave a $45,000 grant to the Malcolm X Liberation University at Durham, despite the fact that church officials were not allowed to inspect its facilities or curriculum. Infuriated church members sharply reduced their offerings.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.