Longform

Virgin Academy

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The five functions, he explained, are for a woman to teach her children; to offer hospitality to guests; to possess a basic knowledge of medicine and healthcare, with special attention being given to natural childbirth (one of Gothard's stranger quests is to gather a 1,000-voice choir of children born into the world after their parents underwent reversal surgery for vasectomies and tubal ligations); to operate a home business; and finally, to teach others--"going out into the community and helping people."

Gothard's model of the home executive is taken from a literal reading of Proverbs 31--a poetic portrait of the wife of noble character.

"Who can find a virtuous woman?" the passage begins. "For her price is far above rubies."

EXCEL girls are taught a list of virtues gleaned from Proverbs 31 and other scriptures. Gothard has identified 49 virtues, to be exact--beginning with Truthfulness and Obedience, rolling on through Diligence, Dependability, and Decisiveness, and ending with the ever-unpopular traits of Deference ("Limiting my freedom in order not to offend the tastes of those God has called me to serve") and Meekness ("Yielding my personal rights and expectations to God").

Devising strategies for "remaining pure" is a constant focus of EXCEL. It is a given in these circles that a young man or woman will seek to marry as a virgin.

A scandal broke out in the evangelical community in the early 1980s, in fact, when Gothard's younger brother--who handled day-to-day operations--confessed to sleeping with several young female staff members in Gothard's ministry. Though all of the parties involved reportedly were single, Gothard's brother resigned, telling Christianity Today that "I have failed deeply before the Lord."

Bill Gothard, shaken by the episode, stepped down temporarily to contemplate what had happened. After three weeks, the ministry's board restored him to his post.

Gothard's quest for purity has led to strong counsel against dating. Instead, young people are encouraged to "court," with an eye toward marriage. It is Gothard's antidote for what he calls the "broken-heart syndrome." A young, single person's duty, he says, should be to keep his heart wholly devoted to God.

He takes the courting principle even further: a young man must ask for, and receive, permission from the girl's father to court and eventually marry her. The father "holds the key to his daughter's heart," Gothard says, and will only pass it on to a young man when he has proven he possesses the character to be a strong, responsible Christian husband.

In the meantime, the girls are to cultivate trusting relationships with their fathers--whether they're good, bad, or indifferent guardians of their daughters' virtue.

The girls at EXCEL enthusiastically sign on to this scheme--gushing about their wonderful daddies, or telling melodramatic tales about how they sought their fathers' forgiveness for their adolescent missteps.

Gothard ties the father's role into his principle of authority. "That's the one principle that is probably most misunderstood today, that is most under attack," he says. "Because everyone wants to reserve to himself the right to make final decisions. They don't want somebody telling them what to do, whether it be the law, or their parents--or certainly not a husband.

"And yet," he adds, "when a person really understands the authority principle, it's a freeing thing."

EXCEL's daily regimen is tight, fast-moving, and fills all the hours of the day, from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Gothard's homey advice to youngsters is to rise early and immediately make their beds, so they are not lured into the sin of slothfulness.

But there's not much time and material for temptation at the Dallas Training Center. While its officials have retained the hotel's original furniture and color scheme, all of the televisions were hauled out and sold.

That's because Gothard's standard of purity is a moving target. Whenever a girl empties her life of distractions and impurities, he says, she discovers something else that God has pinpointed in her character requiring the remedy of divine grace.

Staying pure helps the girls maintain a "clear countenance," Gothard says. The EXCEL teens talk about it all the time--how "the eyes are the window to the soul."

"Many of them come from broken homes and have had major problems in their past," Gothard says. "But they have been able to clear their consciences. They have been able to tell their parents about secret failures they have had. So they don't have any guilt.

"It's guilt that causes the eyes to go dark," he adds. "Because they have a clear soul, a clear conscience, they're also able to have a clear countenance."

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons