Evangelist Bill Gothard, whose Institute for Basic Life Principles runs a faith-based prison program out of what's known as the Little Rock Training Center, has been much in the news recently. A young man home-schooled under a rigid Gothard program went on a shooting spree at a Colorado church in December, killing two and blaming Gothard for his crack-up. Later, Gothard and former Gov. Mike Huckabee were seen hobnobbing at a Texas fund-raiser for Huckabee's presidential bid.
The city of Little Rock has been talking to Gothard about leasing space in the old Veterans Administration building on Roosevelt Road for a day shelter for the homeless. Mayor Mark Stodola said he and a representative of the VA's homeless office and others had looked at space on the second floor. However, the space needs plumbing and electricity, and Stodola said using the space would take money and time, neither of which the city has.
“It's going to take a substantial injection of money … whether Gothard or we do it,” Stodola said. He said he was “committed” to solving the city's homeless problems before the VA space could be ready. “I've got a letter today from Channel 7 about defecation on Main Street and people being afraid to go outside and have lunch.”
Gothard's presence here can be tracked to his friendship with former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, whose idea it was for Gothard to create a facility in Little Rock to promote faith-based products. Hobby Lobby donated the VA building to Gothard in 2000, and Gothard began renovation of the the 529,717-square-foot building. He said he would use the building as a juvenile center, orphanage for foreign children and base for growing his ministry in Arkansas.
In what he called an example of the “synchronicity of life,” Dailey had spoken to the evangelist on the phone the same day the Times called Dailey to see what he thought of the news coverage of his friend.
Dailey said he'd called Gothard to get an update of what was happening with the training center. The training center, which features a huge, but unmanned and quiet, wood-paneled lobby with a maroon carpeting and chairs upholstered in white fabric, employs seven people, director R.T. Spivey said. It serves the chaplains in the IBLP's PAL prison program. At one time, the training center operated the “Integrity Construction Institute” for young men, but that program has moved to Alpena.
In 2002, the Little Rock Police Department downtown patrol and special operation division moved into 12,000 square feet of renovated space on the ground floor of the old hospital. Gothard paid for its renovation and leases the space to the city for $1 a year.
Huckabee's appearance with Gothard in December prompted an item first in a Cincinnati paper that took note of Gothard's “authoritarian” and “controversial” Biblical beliefs, tenets incorporated into Character Training Institute, a Gothard spin-off (and supposedly secular). The CTI sells “City of Character” products that use Biblical principles (scrubbed of Biblical references) to “teach” character, and Dailey once promoted making Little Rock a Character City. The city board of directors declined to buy into the program.
(The CTI website lists 15 “Character Cities” in Arkansas, the largest among them Mountain Home, Bull Shoals, Pine Bluff, Searcy and Cotter. Only Pine Bluff maintains a Character City program; city officials in Mountain Home said the program had “fizzled out” some years back and Cotter's mayor had never heard of it. Program materials reportedly cost anwhere from $1,000 to $8,000 a year.)
Dailey acknowledged that he doesn't agree with some of Gothard's positions — among them that men are superior to women, that rock music is evil, and that disease has spiritual causes — and said he warned Gothard in the past that some of the material he was promoting would never pass constitutional muster. (That was prior to the creation of CTI, which uses Gothard's “49 character qualities” scrubbed of references to Christianity.)
However, Dailey said, he found Gothard youth facilities in Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, and found them “peaceful, loving” places. He was unaware of a 2002 investigation into Gothard's Indianapolis ministry after parents complained their children were locked in “prayer rooms” for days at a time for misdeeds.
CORRECTION, published in print version Jan. 24, 2008:
The Indianapolis Training Center operated by Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles was cleared of allegations it locked juveniles in a “prayer room,” Gothard told the Times this week.
An article in last week's issue noted the investigation in an article about Gothard and the IBLP's connections in Little Rock.
Gothard e-mailed the Times on Monday a resolution voted on by the Indianapolis City-County Council apologizing to the Training Center after an investigation disputed a parent's claim. Gothard told the Times that children were “never locked in” and were “visited by staff regularly.”
Gothard operates the Little Rock Training Center at the old VA hospital downtown.
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