Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fundamentalist legalism and murder

Today I've read a few interesting commentaries on the role that certain fundamentalist Christian teachings (specifically a doctrine known as "legalism") have had in producing the outcomes of Andrea Yates murdering her children and Matthew Murray killing several people in Colorado. Murray, who was raised in an ultra-fundamentalist home and home schooled, was in an environment based on the teachings of Bill Gothard, whose "seven basic life principles" may be found here. The obedience to authority component is one which has led to some problems, such as a sex scandal within Gothard's organization. (An online forum for discussing Bill Gothard's teachings, open to both supporters and critics, may be found here.)

Gothard has other teachings beyond his seven principles, some of which are enumerated by a commenter at Midwest Christian Outreach:
Wives who work outside the home are to be compared to harlots — Bill Gothard
It is a total insult in Scripture to be called uncircumcised, and the only moral choice parents can make is to have their sons circumcised in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus — Bill Gothard
“Unmerited favor” is a “faulty definition” of grace. Grace for sanctification is merited as we humble ourselves before God — Bill Gothard
Females who enjoy horseback riding have a problem with rebellion — Bill Gothard, from testimonies of people who use their real names who have heard him say this in person
Unbiblical submission taught — Abigail was WRONG to do what she did in saving Nabal and his servants — Bill Gothard
Tamar was partially at fault for being raped, because she wasn’t spiritually alert and didn’t cry out — Bill Gothard
Rock music is evil because it is evil — Bill Gothard
Cabbage Patch dolls are demonized — Bill Gothard
Matthew Murray wrote about some of these rules, observing that "I still remember how we were told that 'The Simpsons' was a very evil and Satanic TV show with the intent of causing people to leave Christianity (as if that’s a bad thing). As a teenager my mother had the TV tuner removed by a TV technician so that it could only receive from the AV inputs, meaning, could only watch VHS and DVDs." He specifically blamed Gothard's teachings for his problems:
I am 22 years old and I was raised in Bill Gothard's homeschool program all the way through high school. I went to both the Basic and Advanced Seminars. My Mother was fully into both Bill Gothard's programs AND the Charismatic movement. What I found were all these other rules Irealized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my "salvation" and somehow couldn't live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules.
By contrast, Bill Gothard blames it all on rock music:
Gothard, in an interview Wednesday, said he “didn’t recall"ever meeting the Murray family, but he was sure one of the parents was probably trained in his program. Ultimately, Gothard blames rock music for Murray’s murderous rampage. “That is the most contributing factor,” said Gothard, who is based in a small town south of Chicago. “It’d be important to see the connection between his passion to rock music and how it ultimately brought this on.” Gothard said whenever he gets calls from parents having trouble with their kids, he asks about what they listen to. “In every case, (the kid) is listening to rock music,” he said.
The Andrea Yates case didn't involve Bill Gothard--she was a follower of Michael Woroniecki, a traveling preacher who carried a cross onto college campuses. I met and argued with him at Arizona State University in October of 1986, where he was arrested (via citizen's arrest) for allegedly disrupting a campus event occurring on the mall. The charges were absurd--he wasn't creating a disturbance or disrupting any event--and some other skeptics and I attended his court hearing prepared to speak up for him, but the charges were dismissed when the ASU student who made the citizen's arrest failed to show up. Woroniecki's teachings are similar to Gothard in that he places a strong emphasis on following rules (and against following any church or leadership other than his own, since he doesn't seem to think anyone other than himself lives up to his standards, which apparently presents him with a bit of a problem in maintaining followers). He lacks the sophistication, charisma, and organizational skills of Gothard.

There is empirical evidence that excessively rigid parental control over children can cause serious dysfunction. Christians should take notice of this, rather than resort to blaming rock music.

UPDATE (December 31, 2007): I just remembered, by way of contrast with Bill Gothard's view of The Simpsons, that a Christian satirical magazine, The Wittenburg Door, did an issue on the theology of Homer Simpson back in May/June 1999--the issue immediately preceding their "XENA: Warrior Theologian of the Year" issue. I've got a copy around here somewhere...

UPDATE (February 3, 2010): Joshua Woroniecki, son of Michael Woroniecki, has a blog where he criticizes claims that his father had any responsibility for the actions of Andrea Yates, even denying that she and her husband were followers of his father. That should be contrasted with Wikipedia's discussion.

UPDATE (March 1, 2014): Bill Gothard has been placed on administrative leave as a result of accusations of sexual harassment from at least 34 women.


Eamon Knight said...

Geez, Gothard is even loonier than I knew about.

And of course all these "problem teens" are listening to rock music -- probably 99%+ of teens (including everyone who has been a teen, since ~1960) listen(ed) to rock music. Can you say "blatantly obvious fallacy", children?

Leo said...

Interesting I had almost forgot about Bill Gothard. I remember attending one of his basic youth conflict seminars and then coming home receiving a call from a friend of mind who told me to listen to Steve Taylor's album "On the Fritz" for the song called "I Manipulate" because it warned about Gothard. The song really crystallized the doubts that I was already having about Gothard and I never attended another seminar. My Christianity is much healthier now then it was then.

Steve Taylor released a few albums in the 80's that satirized popular movements in evangelicalism.

I Manipulate

Does your soul crave center stage?
have you heard about the latest rage? read your Bible by lightning flash get ordained at the thunder crash build a kingdom with a cattle prod tell the masses it's a message from Godwhere the innocent congregate
I manipulate

Take your notebooks, turn with me
to the chapter on authority
do you top the chain of command
rule your family with an iron hand
I dispense little pills of power
from my hideaway ivory tower
from the cover of heaven's gate
I manipulate

Now it's time to fill in the space
where we talk about the woman's place do you want to build a happy home? have you sacrificed a mind of your own? 'cause a good wife learns to cower underneath the umbrella of power from the cover of heaven's gate
I manipulate

Yes, I know that parable
that's the story of the prodigal
if you question what I'm teaching you you rebel against the Father too if he loved him why'd he let him go? well, I guess I don't really know but I see it's getting late...

Anonymous said...

The incident involving Woroniecki at ASU is reported here:

What Woroniecki does is park his cross or sign right next to large events. He has nothing to offer the world to attact attention to his message other than provocation, so a ready made crowd is what he prefers. Then, he preaches during the event. This disrupts those near him who are trying to listen to the speaker, which in turn infuriates them.

Woroniecki did the same thing in 1980 at a festival in his hometown, while people were trying to enjoy an outside rock concert. He was arrested for the same reason.

Even if the speaker isn't interupted, the ability to hear of those near him is, and technically, that is a violation of their civil rights, which free speech doesn't protect. Such violations do not weigh the motivations of the accusers. In the case at ASU, Shishko, Woroniecki's accuser, didn't show up in court as promised, suggesting he was motivated with hatred towards religion in his complaint that his civil rights were violated. However, Woroniecki isn't as innocent as this one exception suggests.

As an example, his daughters disrupted a Univ. of Madison 9/11 student rally only a few days after the hijackings. They carried their 2 large signs right in front of the speaker this time, shouting over his amplified voice and blocking the crowd's view of him. They raised their fists and shouted angrily at the crowd, which was already emotionally disturbed from the 9/11 violence. The Woroniecki's were very insensitive in their planned timing and provocation, and the girls were arrested for the same reason their father usually is--their own safety. More detail of this event can be read in Suzy Spencer's book, Breaking Point and here:

This time it was the Woronieckis who did not show for their Madison, WI appointed court date. There is a warrant currently out for their arrest.

A photo of this event exists here:

These girls learned these tactics from their father because he practices it himself.

As an example of how unbiblical this methodology is, Jesus used miracles to attract attention to his message (Luke 4), not interfering with other events. John the Baptist, someone often used to compare Woroniecki's preaching style, preached outside the city in the wilderness to those who came to him.

Lippard said...

Thanks for the additional references. Woroniecki may well have disrupted other events, but he wasn't doing so at the one I witnessed.

Re your last point--so you don't think turning water into wine distracted people from the wedding at Cana?

Anonymous said...


Jesus most likely didn't go to that wedding with any other intention than eating, drinking and having a good time. He was being pressured by his mother to work a miracle. He was reluctant and told her his time had not yet come, but he helped the feast anyway, above the call of duty so to speak.

I welcome Woroniecki to contribute positively in such a way to any event. As it remains, he offers nothing but provocation, verbal abuser tactics and out of context biblical doctrine designed to isolate unsuspecting religious students from their churches and families and create a cult following, from which he can subsidize his vindictive hatred of all things relating to the Christian churches and religion in general.

Anonymous said...

By the way, unlike Woroniecki at various events, Jesus, his mother and his new disciples were invited to the wedding in Cana. He was not yet famous as he had not yet worked any miracles; hence, his invitation was probably motivated for other reasons. He prevented a disruption of the wedding by supplying it with very good wine, and he didn't use it as an opportunity to preach--that was never his intention. Furthermore, no one had Jesus falsely arrested for crashing the wedding, which he didn't. He was just a cool guy being generously good to the friend who invited him.

Except for when Jesus' home synagogue removed him from their assembly for identifying himself as the Messiah, a few angry money changers whom the Messiah had scriptural authority to cast out of the Temple, and the few envious religious Scribes and Pharisees who eventually conspired to have him crucified, having to manipulate a reluctant Pilate into issuing a death sentence since Rome forbade that power to governments of occupied territories, Jesus was well received and in high favor with the majority; that is why he was secretly tried at night by the Sanhedrin. It was the only time they could get away with it without the masses knowing. They would have prevented it.

None of these facts are consistent with the way the majority of people perceive Michael Woroniecki and how he approaches large events. In fact, one could say the opposite of is true. Very few in comparison are tricked into liking the guy; very, very rarely is he ever invited to anything (and when he is, people wise up quickly--like when he was asked to preach at a funeral and he told everyone they were going to hell.) He would never supply 6 large barrels of wine for anyone's wedding, not even his own now adult offspring, for he has manipulatively forbidden his six children to marry. If Woroniecki found himself at a wedding, he would probably be "provoked in the spirit" to turn it upside down, using it as an opportunity to show the guests how depraved they were, "eating and drinking and being merry" when people are "going to hell." (As he has done in similar fashion elsewhere). That's just his way.

Any biblical comparisons drawn can only be done when errantly taken out of the context. Luke 4 reads that it was Jesus' custom to teach and heal in the synagogues. When the crowds grew large, he was forced to move outside in open spaces such as a mount, a wilderness or even in a boat facing the curved shore.

Point is, unlike Woroniecki, the majority of people liked Jesus and wanted to hear him, so they followed him around. He was the event that gathered crowds, unlike Michael Woroniecki who parasitically attaches himself to someone else's crowd. Very few believe and follow him, and eventually, most of those see through his initial brotherly facade as love boming, can't handle the later verbal abuse of his "rebukes" and leave him altogether.

Anonymous said...

In response to the following comment:

"There is empirical evidence that excessively rigid parental control over children can cause serious dysfunction. Christians should take notice of this, rather than resort to blaming rock music."

I agree with the above statement. Excessively rigid authoritarianism can be dysfunctionally detrimental to those under it, particularly when that authority makes themselves answerable to no one, like in cult situations.

Many of the Michael Woroniecki survivors I have interviewed all indicated they went through anything from mild depression to attempted suicide while under his leadership. Andrea Yates herself tried to commit suicide twice fearing she would harm her children.

"Harm" must be understood in terms of how Andrea Yates' preacher defined it. Andrea said it was "better to tie a millstone around her kids' neck and drown them in the river than to cause them to stumble." She said she was a "bad mother," and killing them was the only way to save them for that very reason. These are all documented delusions she had, and they are all consistent with exactly what her preacher told her. Woroniecki told her that it was better to commit suicide than to cause her little ones to stumble. So she tried. Her last attempt came when she trusted the state of Texas would execute her and thus secure her children's place in heaven.

People may tell you Andrea was suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. That is correct. But what some people have failed to realize is that there were several factors leading to her mental illness and the severity thereof.

Andrea clearly had mental issues like depression and bulimia long before she ever met Woroniecki. But does that prevent cultic domination and abuse from bringing her down further? Woroniecki's abusive manipulations utilizing the motherly natural affection she had for her children scripted the delusions that led her to kill her children.

There have been several male followers documented as becoming suicial and even hospitalized because of Woroniecki's hell bent negative ministering. Obviously, none of these men had postpartum issues, yet they still became very depressed. Andrea Yates had a genetic predisposition to mental illness. Woroniecki's influence could only make such an illness even that much more severe. In fact, Dr. Lucy Puryear who examined Yates for the trial said after she watched the religious video that was the basis for her central delusion that she didn't believe Andrea Yates would have ever killed her children were it not for the religious influence of Michael Woroniecki.

Andrea Yates was rigidly controlled by the cultic agenda of a what I believe is a delusional narcissist. I believe the evidence suggests that more than genetics and postpartum hormonal swings were at fault here. One should therefore not overlook the religious component that exacerbated her illness simply because another reason can be found.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment, Jim. Have a happy new year.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Are homeschooling parents killers then?

In point of fact, I wonder how homeschool stats on abuse would stack up next to the very real scandals (that means more than one) in the public schools, ranging from sex after school (detention time has changed since my days in the public school rot, for certain) and educational achievement?


You took one case pulled from the headlines and decked out for rabid media consumption--for the purpose of....?

Are you going to do a rejoinder with Shakeshaft's (no giggles) analsis of the loosey goosey morals (which one assumes in not quite as "authoritarian" as what the rigid, hidebound homeschoolers go through), and sexual abuse from teachers in the public schools?

Regail us then with homeschool failures and public school's monopolistic succcess--or admit that it is a relic of the 19th century industrial age that is the legacy of making the quotidian masses all think about the same thing?

This is where I don't hold my breath and turn purple.

Lippard said...

This isn't a post about home schooling, it is a post about a particular nutty form of fundamentalist legalism.

Anonymous said...

Religion in which legalism is present is the product of mankind and not God. It was the high priest (Pharisee) who was responsible for the death of Christ.
God is a God of grace and faith not works (legalism) of the law.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Lippard said...

Religion in which legalism is not present is also the product of mankind and not God, in case you were wondering.