GOTHARD-GATE: Bill Gothard’s Free-Fall From Grace

April 3, 2014
by Steven Lambert
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Bill Gothard, founder of Institute of Basic Life Principles

Bill Gothard, founder of Institute of Basic Life Principles, resigns due to allegations of long-term sexual misconduct dating back to the 1960s. (Facebook photo)

The prominent principal behind the “Basic Life Principles” Seminars, Bill Gothard, amid sexual harassment and predatory charges by a bevy of whistle-blowing women, has been forced to resign from his multimillion dollar a year ministry organization. Some three dozen women, now in their thirties and early forties, allege the 79-year old, never-married, ordained minister of more than five decades, has engaged in a pattern of deviant sexual misconduct against them and other young, some underage, women, going all the way back to the earliest beginnings of Gothard’s ministry in 1961.

The salacious scandal that has been simmering on low just out of public view for decades, has been cited as a primary cause for the ministry’s steadily declining net revenue and huge operating losses—e.g., $4.1 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012, according to published reports of its most recent available tax forms.

The financial tailspin appears, for all intents and purposes, to have begun contemporaneous with the launching of a whistle-blower website, Recovering Grace, in July 2011, “with the express mission of helping people whose lives have been impacted by the teachings of Bill Gothard through the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) seminars and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool program.” The site has posted stories and testimonials of dozens of women alleging egregious sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct, including molestation of minors, by Gothard, and failure to report to law enforcement multiple incidences of child abuse and molestation by his ministry organizations.

One of the female founders of the Recovering Grace website, who has chosen to remain anonymous in order to not harm the reputation of her pastor husband, said 34 women, all of whom were former employees of IBLP, have submitted substantiated reports to the website they had been sexually harassed and/or abused while employed at IBLP. Four women alleged to have been victims of molestation while they were a minor. The common claim of most of the women, for which they are now deeply chagrined and embarrassed, is that they were hand-picked and cajoled by Gothard to come to work for him at his organization headquarters in positions that entailed close contact and interaction with him personally. Most tell of it all starting with a pattern of unwanted and unsolicited sensual advances such as playing “footsie” under a desk, hair-fondling, arm and neck rubbing, sensual glances, sensual/sexual innuendos and compliments—all part of an obvious and common “grooming” strategy, particularly in the case of the underage girls.

Regarding the site’s founders, its FAQs explain: “The Recovering Grace Leadership team consists of nearly two dozen pastors, lawyers, teachers, professors, accountants, office managers, business leaders, and stay-at-home parents. Most share a common background of being raised as children in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute. Likewise, most have attended Bill Gothard’s seminars and have served within the IBLP organization in some way.”

The Institute reports that over 2.7 million people have gone through Gothard’s “basic seminar” training that encompasses such matters as spiritual authority, success principles, family life, and other life issues, since it began in 1961 as a class he taught at his alma mater, Wheaton College. A blurb on the IBLP Facebook page states: “The Basic Seminar explains how the Bible has lasting answers to life’s challenges and choices. It has been attended by more than 2.7 million people from around the world. http://www.basicseminar.com/”

For decades, BLP Seminars, often held in sports arenas and other high-capacity venues, have routinely drawn crowds exceeding 20,000 attendees, from virtually every church denomination and stream in existence. In recent years, however, seminar enrollment has plummeted, resulting in a precipitous decrease in the number of IBLP seminars scheduled by the organization. IBLP reportedly conducted 504 seminars in 2010, falling to under 50 in 2012. The NPO’s Facebook Page says: “The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) was established for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and is dedicated to giving individuals, families, churches, schools, communities, governments, and businesses clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture.”

Gothard’s Hinsdale Illinois-based Institute in Basic Life Principles facilities have often served as a rallying ground for a number of offshoot programs and campaigns, as well as a PR launching pad for several associated evangelical outreaches and ministries, The Duggar Family of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” reality show being perhaps the best known. IBLP’s subsidiary, Advanced Training Institute, is the publisher/distributor/administrator of a widely-used homeschooling program and curriculum, which, for many years has been one of the most popular homeschooling programs with “Quiverfull Movement” adherents, who, based on supposed Biblical tenets and promises of special blessing, advocate for young Christians producing inordinately large families, aided by the rejection of all forms of birth control as a “spiritual” matter. “Some refer to the Quiverfull position as Providentialism, while other sources have referred to it as a manifestation of natalism. Currently, several thousand Christians worldwide identify with this movement, although entire Christian sects hold many beliefs correlative to those who self-identify as Quiverfull adherents.” The movement gets its name from a Scripture passage frequently cited by movement expositors and devotees:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psa. 127:3-5)

[Another breaking (4-15-14) scenario involving another prominent leader of the “patriarchal” sect of the Quiverfull Movement accused of spiritual/sexual abuse of a young female submitted to and serving him.]

A blurb concerning the ATI program on the IBLP’s Facebook Page states: “The Advanced Training Institute International (ATI) is a home education program that provides curriculum and training to support parents in raising their children to love the Lord Jesus Christ, reason wisely based on the principles of Scripture, and give Biblical answers to the needs of our day. http://ati.iblp.org/.”

The organization also maintains an online media library, Embassy Institute, which, according to the Facebook page, “is the online media library of IBLP, with powerful training on how to be successful as a person, provider, proclaimer, partner, and parent. http://www.embassyinstitute.org/.”

Over the years, Gothard’s extensive notoriety and influence on particularly the Evangelical Christian landscape made him a highly sought after figure by campaigning politicians seeking his support, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, being among the recent political arena notables associating themselves, their campaigns, and their fundraising efforts with him, and addressing the ministry’s constituency at various IBLP’s events.

For many years, Gothard’s doctrines have been under intense scrutiny and criticism for its promotion of authoritarian abuse, especially the offbeat and odd teachings concerning church authority, in particular pastoral authority overriding the divinely delegated authority of the father over his wife and family as “head” of the house. Gothard has taught in direct contradiction to clear and widely-accepted Scriptural principles that when there is disagreement or discord regarding familial and parenting matters, the authority and counsel of the local church pastor trumps that of the father/parents. These patently false doctrines are embedded deeply in the foundations of the ATI curriculum and have been a source of a tremendous amount of familial as well as church conflict, not to mention the widespread hurt, pain, relational decimation, and spiritual devastation it has inflicted upon millions of individuals and thousands of families.

March 17, 2014, IBLP Board posted the following “Statement Regarding (Gothard’s) Resignation” on their website:

The stated corporate purpose of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, Inc. is to introduce individuals to God’s basic way of life through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Institute remains committed to this purpose and to helping individuals live out their salvation, received by grace through faith, and apply Biblical truths in their daily lives.

A few weeks ago, Bill Gothard respectfully submitted his resignation to the Board of the Institute and the Board unanimously and in unanimity asked him to withdraw it until a review by outside legal counsel was complete and recommendations given. At the Board’s encouragement, Mr. Gothard agreed to withdraw his resignation. However, based on assertions brought by various individuals and groups, Mr. Gothard was placed on administrative leave where he was to have no contact with the ministry pending such review.

On March 5, 2014, Mr. Gothard again submitted his resignation indicating that he wanted to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have “ought against” him. In considering what was in the best interests of the Institute, the Board of Directors accepted Mr. Gothard’s resignation.

On March 14, 2014, the Board of Directors announced the appointment of Dr. Tim Levendusky as the interim president for the Institute. Meanwhile, the Christ honoring review process shall continue and a future statement will be issued once the review is complete and submitted to the Board of Directors.

The organization posted on March 14th the Interim President’s first official communiqué, in which Dr. Levendusky acknowledged the swirling maelstrom and public relations problems the ongoing revelations of Gothard’s sordid behavior history has brought upon the ministry:

A Letter from the Interim President

I consider it a great privilege to be asked to serve as interim president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a ministry that changed my life many years ago. My personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and the desire to advance His Gospel has grown because of my involvement with the people in this ministry for the past 27 years.

Having arrived in Chicago on March 12, the first few days were spent learning about the many situations facing IBLP and receiving information from staff, the Board of Directors, and other concerned individuals. Conversations and meetings to understand the various needs are my primary focus. We realize that many people have been anxiously waiting for more information.

Because of the necessary steps involving outside legal counsel, proper Board involvement, and the time delay in appointing new leadership, communications have been minimal. The staff is startled and concerned, as many of you, by the claims and information that has been disseminated over the Internet and by news outlets. For this reason, the Board is seeking to know and understand the facts and will be responding in due time.

Everyone involved is taking the situation very seriously. We are in no way minimizing or disregarding the communications from people expressing hurts, frustrations, or shock at what has been shared. Be assured that we are examining the different aspects of the ministry, especially as we hear and understand the perspectives involved.

As a staff we want to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and His Word in all that we do.

Thank you very much for your prayers and patience.

In their response to the IBLP Board’s actions leading to Gothard’s resignation, the Recovering Grace leadership team published the following censure directed to “Mr. Bill Gothard”:

• We are praying for you. Please know that in our heart of hearts we desire to see you repent for the sins that have damaged so many and find reconciliation with God. This has been our sincere daily prayer even as we’ve engaged in what must seem like nothing more than an attempt to destroy your life’s work. We are asking God to grant you the ability to truly listen to those whom you have offended, to repent, and to be restored in your relationship with the Lord.

• We long for you to experience the merciful one-way love and grace of a forgiving God. Scripture is clear that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us from unrighteousness. You have spent 79 years of your life under the crushing burden of “principles” and “steps”—that which the Apostle Paul refers to as the “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We long that you would experience—perhaps for the first time—the weight of the depths of your sin, which no good works, “lessons learned,” or surface apologies can appease, followed by the grace God offers to those who need it most. This is the same grace that Jesus expressed in the words “neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11) and in the story of a long-suffering father who extravagantly celebrated the return of the son who had disowned him (Luke 15).

• We would encourage a public response and/or apology. It is our belief that more than anything else, the young ladies who have brought these allegations of sexual harassment against you desire validation that you’ve heard them and acknowledgement of the harm you have caused. Even if you believe that you are simply misunderstood, or that the intent behind your actions and behavior was harmless, what you did to these women over more than 40 years of ministry hurt them very deeply in a way that has lasted for many years. Likewise, the IBYC staff from the 1970s and 1980s deserves a public response for the way you caused damage and pain in their lives as you sacrificed the outpouring of their lives and reputations in an attempt to save your ministry. Please do not continue to remain silent on these matters, but put your own detailed teachings on how to ask forgiveness into action. Then and only then can you truly be ready to listen and understand the depth of hurt that has been caused. [http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/03/a-response-to-board-action/]

The website, referencing a backdrop of a litany of similar scandals involving “high-profile Christian leaders and organizations,” also posted a forceful admonition to the IBLP Board of Directors:

• We are your brothers and sisters in Christ, not your adversary. We are the “children” and fruit of this ministry. We are the ones upon whose lives the ATI and IBLP ministries grew to international prominence in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Because of this, we are qualified to speak to the damage that Mr. Gothard’s personal actions and many unscriptural teachings have caused, and we don’t want that damage to continue. It would encourage many to discover that you share our concerns. It is our sincere hope that we would all be looking in the same direction as we address these challenges.

• There is more at stake here than the survival of a ministry. In recent years, the world has watched as several high-profile Christian leaders and organizations have dealt with cases of sexual misconduct and/or spiritual abuse. In some cases, things were dealt with in an appropriate manner, and in other cases they were not. Because of this, the American church has developed a growing reputation for protecting abusers and organizations in order to “protect God’s reputation” at the expense of the victims. Regardless of the conclusions you reach in your investigation, we plead with you to make it very clear that IBLP does not—and will not ever—tolerate sexual abuse or harassment in any form, and that you will take all necessary steps to ensure that these young ladies are protected and cared for in a Christ-like manner. Please show the world that you value mercy and justice, grace and truth.

• This type of investigation requires transparency. We strongly believe that in situations where there are allegations of abuse in a religious organization, they should be handled by a professional and unbiased third party. Published reports indicate that there is an “internal investigation” taking place by IBLP legal counsel. An internal investigation, as opposed to an independent one, makes it difficult—if not impossible—for victims to come forward and share freely, as well as for the public to accept the results of the investigation as unbiased. There is much concern that an internal investigation will simply be a tool to sweep allegations under the rug. For these reasons, we feel it is imperative for the IBLP Board to bring in an independent third-party to serve as the investigator and/or conciliator of these matters—one who has experience in investigating allegations of sexual abuse within Christian environments.

For more than three decades now, I’ve been writing and speaking out against the widespread problem of what I have often referred to as “authoritarian abuse and psychological enslavement,” much to the refusal of the overwhelming majority of church leaders to fairly consider my admonitions, along with reflexive denials and dismissals of the mostly generic (not regard to specific individuals) charges I have made in every public forum and format I can possibly make them. Mostly, my forays into this dastardly devil-driven decimating problem has been with regard to its extensive and expansive proliferation within Neo-Pentecostal streams, because that is the stream of which I have been a part since my surrender to Christ, and to which I, like every other Pentecostal/Charismatic minister, bear a responsibility and a right for bringing reproof and admonition wherever and concerning whatever it is warranted. But I’ve always acknowledged, particularly to the hundreds who’ve read my writings or heard my teachings and communicated to me that the things I write and speak about on this topic are by no means confined to the Pentecostal/Charismatic branch of the church. Bill Gothard is in no way affiliated or associated with either the Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal stream, and never has been. Nevertheless, many of the teachings he has promulgated and propagated over more than five decades that have had a huge impact upon the Body of Christ worldwide are predicated on a faulty foundation, as many critics over the years have charged. But, what has now become painfully and publicly manifest, as some, such as myself have suspected, is that Gothard’s doctrinal aberrancy was not rooted in theological error, but in personal deviancy and character vacancy.

For those who may be interested in reading what I’ve written on the thorny topic of authoritarian abuse, a good place to start is with my book, Charismatic Captivation, which I completed writing in 1995. For many years I’ve maintained a website devoted entirely to the book that contains many articles excerpted from the book as well as entire chapters. Numerous references to and quotes from the book appear on other Internet sites as well. Noting again that the first edition of the book was finished in 1995, almost two decades prior to this writing, there is a section from which I want to provide an excerpt here, entitled, Basis for Authoritarian Abuse and Licentiousness, that proved to be quite prophetic and accurate:

Again, I must emphasize that the subject of this passage (1 Cor. 11:2-16) clearly is NOT Governmental Authority in the Church. The dissertation is directed specifically to the matter of Domestic authority; that is, authority in the family unit. That is made evident in verse three, where the Apostle says: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the Head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the Head of Christ.” As I have already pointed out, another way to characterize the subject of this passage, which the highlighted portions bring out, is: spiritual “headship.” However, the spiritual headship that is being discussed here, contrary to the assertions made by many, is not some sort of “universal” ascendancy, in practice and attitude, of men over women; nor does it speak to any ilk of Governmental Authority within the “ranks” of the Church. Rather, the exclusive focus of this passage is “Domestic Authority,” which is the order of authority within the FAMILY structure, in human households. And in the household, within the structure of the family unit, there is only one head—the husband; not some “spiritual” leader; not any other person. The husband is the unequivocal head in his OWN house, and not in any other.

Moreover, the misinterpretation and misapplication of the import of this passage to the specter of general interrelations between men and women itself is the basis for one aspect of error inherent in the Discipleship doctrines that is of no small consequence. Specifically, the more radical Discipleship proponents have interpolated these verses to mean that all women, married or unmarried, are supposed to be “submitted” and subservient to all men, and especially to the “spiritual leaders” of their church or group. Furthermore, they contend Scripture prescribes that the purview of authority of the spiritual leaders of a church extends also into the home, and takes precedence over the authority of the husband in the family unit. It is this totally false assertion that is a common basis for much authoritarian abuse that is taking place right now in many more church-groups than what most people would ever imagine—most of it, at the time of this writing, yet to be exposed to the light of public knowledge.

For many years, I have known by the revelation of the Spirit that there are at least scores of cases in which these doctrines of demons are being used as a pretext and license for authoritarian abuse involving just about every kind of illicit and immoral sexual involvement by compulsion and seduction under the color of clerical authority possible. I predict that very soon God is going to see to it that the unwitting and confused victims of these heinous atrocities are liberated from their captivity, and that the perverted perpetrators of these despicable crimes and irresponsible violations of trust are publicly exposed, expelled from the ministry, prosecuted, and duly punished for their deliberate debauchery and violation against the lives and consciences of their exploited victims. Jesus said that it would be better for such perverted heretics who misuse the trust of their clerical office for such immoral exploitation that a millstone be tied around their neck and they be cast into the sea to drown, than undergo the Divine punishment that awaits them for having caused one of His little ones who had believed in Him to be so violated by such authoritarian abuse.

In the few months prior to the original writing of these words, a tempest of this kind was brewing in a mega-church in Metro-Atlanta, Georgia, involving a number of the top leaders of that church. [Note: At the time of the original writing, I did not feel, for various reasons, it was yet appropriate to identify the leader or the church this portion was talking about, but since then the sad history of Earl Paulk has been widely reported and published. In the interim, even a number of his family members have made frank public comments about Paulk’s sexual perversion; one nephew actually saying, his uncle was a sexual deviant and pervert. Through court proceedings some years ago, it was confirmed through DNA testing that Donnie Paulk, who was reared by Earl Paulk’s brother, Don, and his wife, was actually the biological son of Earl Paulk and Don’s wife.] When I first heard the accounts, I was not at all surprised, because some five years earlier, at a minister’s conference I attended, the senior leader of this church was the keynote speaker. While he was speaking, I discerned a spirit of perversion upon him that was manifesting in numerous areas of his life and ministry. Immediately I recognized his teachings and beliefs were perverted. But, it was the authoritarian abuse involving sexual immorality I saw clearly by the Spirit that shocked me the most. And I simply knew within my spirit that, though at the time this man was highly regarded by some ministers and was experiencing extensive “success” in building a “network” of affiliated churches who considered him their “bishop,” within a relatively short period of time he was going to be exposed and would “fall from grace.” What I saw in the Spirit upon him was confirmed in a Christian magazine article (February, 1993) in which it was revealed that back in 1960, this man was defrocked and expelled from his denomination based on charges of immorality. The article was reporting about a public scandal that had recently erupted in which several female staffers had charged this man and his brother, an associate pastor, with authoritarian abuse involving sexual immorality. It is unfortunate that over the course of thirty-three years since the original exposure of his problem, this man apparently never received the deliverance he needed from the evil spirits of perversion vexing him. Of course, there have been numerous other cases of well-known television evangelists of late being exposed for having been involved in immorality and various abuses and misuses. It is all so very sad, and does indeed cast a long and ominous shadow of reproach upon the vocation of the ministry itself, in a day when more than ever before multitudes desperately need the real help that only Jesus can give and that is being offered through his true and faithful ministers. But, the most unfortunate thing is that there are still more of these kinds of revelations and scandals yet to come.

Moreover, in the process of time, it is going to become very apparent that the specter of authoritarian abuse and licentiousness perpetrated by wayward spiritual leaders is far more prevalent than what has ever been recognized before. Likewise, it will become just as manifest that the subject matter of this book—the heretical Discipleship doctrines, which are concerned primarily with false and fallacious concepts of spiritual authority— has been a primary underlying premise for much of the authoritarian abuse that has taken place among Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches and groups espousing these hyper-authoritarian doctrines especially.

The root-cause of the Discipleship heresy is the “spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:6), which is a spirit of perversion, and the “spirit of error,” unchecked, will eventually lead to a multiplicity of perversions in virtually every facet of the person’s life in which this demon and its cohorts are manifest. In the process of time, this spirit will manifest perversion, corruption, and convolution in the host’s spirituality and every aspect and attitude indigenous to their natural life—their morality, marriage, ministry, message, methods, motives, and monetary matters.

In respect to this type of authoritarian abuse, one thing that needs to be pointed out, however, is that it is not just individuals who have been victimized by this spiritually lethal perverse spirit, but so also has the collective Body of Christ, in that Satan has been sowing these weeds of heresy and tares of heretics in God’s Field, thereby polluting and severely denigrating its produce, which was precisely his objective. [End excerpt]

The Bill Gothard saga is yet another in a long line of highly-publicized scandals involving Christian leaders that has brought real reproach upon the name and cause of Christ in the eyes of a watching world. That is stating the obvious. But, what is incumbent upon the Church at-large, in view of the sheer numbers of such opprobrious narratives recently, is to begin to take a hard, honest, forthright, and unflinching look at the real root-causes behind such egregious moral failures in church leaders regarded by many as being the crème de la crème, and how to deal with those root-causes more effectively and properly.

I have my own viewpoint regarding what is behind such ministerial malfeasance, but it is by no means a popular viewpoint that is largely dismissed prima facie, mocked, and vehemently rejected by the vast majority of Christendom…to its profound detriment. I can testify from nearly forty years of personally fulfilling the first tenet of the Great Commission, having ministered deliverance to hundreds and hundreds of believers, that the ultimate root-cause behind such debauchery debacles is DEMONS and demonization!

Despite the fact that Jesus Himself testified in red letters that the first activity that genuine believers are charged with and obediently do is: “cast out demons” (Mk. 16:17), the postmodern church has decided that it is too sophisticated and spiritually “advanced” to be subject to demons or vulnerable to their power, or they have simply eliminated the prospect altogether in their minds by subscribing to one of the totally not only unbiblical but anti-biblical extant views that a) demons don’t exist; b) demons only exist in faraway, third-world lands, but not in America; or c) demons exist but Christians are unaffected by them. Nothing could possibly be further from the Truth! Demons exist; they exist everywhere on Earth, because Satan is still “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) and “the god of this world” who supernaturally blinds people’s eyes to the reality of his existence and operations on Earth (2 Cor. 4:4); “Christians” are in no way impervious to their operations on Earth; and just because someone claims the title of “Christian” does not mean the demons just immediately wave a white flag, pack up, and move out of what they claim as, “My house” (Mat. 12:44, et al.), meaning the person in whose life they’ve made incursion. Obviously, this already lengthy article is not the right forum for even a cursory discussion of this expansive and vital matter, but I tell you in all earnestness that this is the root-issue in matters such as that addressed herein, and until the Body of Christ is willing to begin to face reality and hear with an open and teachable mind what all God has to say about the matter in His Word, fiascos such as Gothard-Gate will continue to occur around the globe, wreaking spiritual havoc and harm in their wake.

Ironically, the book I am working pell-mell on now and hope to release soon focuses on this very topic of deliverance from demonic powers and the desperate need for the Church to embrace and be educated about it.###
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Click here to read about yet another case of immorality as predicted in the excerpt of Charismatic Captivation included in the above article, by the long-time leader of the Fort Lauderdale Calvary Chapel, Bob Coy.
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Dr. Steven Lambert was ordained in 1977 and holds several earned graduate/post-graduate degrees. Over more than four decades in ministry, he has served as a pastor, radio/TV host, adjunct-professor, Board Certified Doctoral Diplomate Christian Therapist/Counselor, and a speaker/commentator on a range of social, political, and theological issues, particularly as a recognized authority on the matter of ecclesiastical authoritarian abuse. He is the founder/Overseer of Ephesians Four Network (ephesiansfour.net) and its subsidiary, Ephesians Four Network of Deliverance Counselors (efndc.ephesiansfour.net). Dr. Lambert authored several books (catalog at realtruthpublications.com), many published articles, and is the founder/editor of Spirit Life Magazine (spiritlifemag.com). His bio, extensive blog, and scheduling information are available on his ministry website at: http://www.slm.org. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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