While beating around the net, I came across this bizarre 2008 piece in the Daily Kos:
The attendance at the Lifebuilders Conference is notable as a very damning link to neopentecostal dominionism; Lifebuilders is a yearly “Lay Missionary” conference of the Church of God of Cleveland, TN, a neopentecostal dominionist group which can be considered a sister church of the Assemblies of God (both are splits from the Christian and Missionary Alliance, one of the earliest pentecostal denominations) and which shares similar theology to the Assemblies; in some ways it is even more explicit, in that part of the church’s mission explicitly calls for growth rates of over 10 percent per year to be expected for churches.
Let’s see, where do I start?
- LifeBuilders is the men’s ministry of the Church of God. So they’re halfway there: they got the denomination right. And yes, until our General Assembly in July I’m still working for the Laity Ministries Department, which oversees LifeBuilders. So I can speak with some knowledge on this subject.
- Unfortunately, we don’t have annual, national meetings. The 2008 series they linked to were sponsored by the then Executive Committee of the church, and that hasn’t been replicated since (the 2008 series was the first in the decade.) These conferences–dating back to the first one in 1996–were certainly not “Lay Missionary” conferences (our department’s “Consultation on Lay Ministries” comes closer to that description, but they were much smaller.) So obviously the Kos’ research prowess is either lacking or characteristic, depending upon your point of view.
- As far as the church’s growth rate is concerned, one only needs to review this report to see how that’s panned out.
- I am blissfully unaware of any connection between the Laity Ministries Department and Bill Gothard.
And that last point is a good thing for me, because I’m not a big Bill Gothard fan, as regular readers of this blog know. The Kos series was a) inspired by the fact that Mike Huckabee is a Gothard Man and b) written during his 2008 Presidential run. The series is designed to inspire fear of the “Gothard cult” in the heart of liberals and other readers.
Unfortunately, the left doesn’t know when it’s being done a favour, and Gothard, in his own strange way, has done them a big one.
There’s no question that Bill Gothard is one of the most influential Evangelical leaders of our time. Although his name has been forgotten, those he trained in the Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts and elsewhere have gone on to become pastors and other leaders in Evangelical Christianity.
Gothard’s disciplined approach has served these people well in their “moving up in the organisation.” But the leaders he’s raised up tend to be unimaginative, “inside the box” types of thinkers which have left the Evangelical world in the lurch at at time when it needs really creative people with a fresh view to counter the assault it has received from the other side of the spectrum (and that would certainly include the Daily Kos.) Gothard people (or those who act like Gothard people, like George W. Bush) are sitting ducks for an opponent who can move fast and outflank them both in the bureaucracy and in the court of public opinion. The most successful turning of the tables took place after the 1994 election, when Bill Clinton managed to survive a Republican congress and his own scandal woes to win re-election in 1996, and then survive impeachment as well.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was yet another turning the tables on a party full of “Gothard people.” But Obama and his colleagues in Congress have squandered much of that advantage in their own version of Gothard thinking–by resurrecting the old statism and unionism in the nationalisation of GM and Chrysler, in their attempts to get “card check,” and most famously in the health care initiative. They have taken a sure victory and turned it into a mess.
Now the Tea Party activists have their shot at greatness. But the right in general hasn’t resolved the tension between its insistence on economic and other freedom and the Gothardian obsession for authority. That tension undid the Bush Administration and, until we get back past the authoritarianism to the freedom, we’re going to have a nation with nowhere else to go but downward. And Evangelical Christianity, if it continues to blindly tie its fortunes to that nation, will go down with it.