If you watch the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting starring confirmed child molester Josh Duggar, chances are you’re familiar with the Bates family. From their frequent appearances on the show since 2009, to a 2012 TLC special entitled “The Bates Family: And Baby Makes 19,” to a now-canceled 2012 TLC show United Bates of America, to the new ratings success Bringing Up Bates on “family-oriented” network UPtv, Gil and Kelly Bates have never been shy about their friendship with the Duggars.
While there is much speculation regarding the origins and extent of the family’s actual relationship with the Duggars, according to TV screens, they’re as close as can be, constantly “fellowshipping” around disposable flatware, manual labor, and rolling cameras.
Many fans of Bringing up Bates believe the Bates family is “better” than the Duggars; Kelly Bates genuinely seems to love her 19 children, Gil Bates actively parents (and can also paint glow-in-the-dark eagles at impressive speeds), minimally talented country-singing son Lawson is more sociable and fun than any Duggar boy, and Erin Paine nee Bates is compelling to watch as she shares everything in her life from makeup tutorials to her struggles with fertility.
But lurking behind the admittedly gorgeous family are the same ugly beliefs that drove the Duggars to keep their child-molesting son hidden from authorities for over a year and in the same house as the sisters he molested for many more. Alongside Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, Gil and Kelly Bates share a devotion to God, an affection for TV money, and a strict adherence to the ATI (Advanced Training Institute International) homeschooling curriculum.
It’s not a secret that the Duggars follow the ATI curriculum, an educational program that tells young women to cover up their bodies lest they “defraud” the horny men around them, and an educational program that blames victims of sexual assault. But the Bates family ties to ATI run deeper and present a troubling dynamic in the Duggar molestation scandal: regardless of whether or not Gil Bates knew of Josh Duggar’s actions—an open secret in their shared tight-knit religious community—Gil Bates himself is a driving force in ATI, peddling an actively harmful and scientifically inaccurate curriculum to young men and women, and doing so while making significant amounts of money charming viewers with his family’s full-frontal hugs and exclusive breeding announcements in People.
Also on the board of IBLP is Dr. Stephen Paine, a practicing physician and “the father of ten outstanding sons and daughters.” One of those sons is Chad Paine, now the husband of Bates daughter Erin, and the father of the Bates’ newest grandchild.
Another Bates daughter, Alyssa Webster, is also married to ATI-enabling royalty. Webster’s new father-in-law, Florida Representative Daniel Webster, is known for passing the 1985 Home Education Program Act which legalized homeschooling in Florida. He used the ATI curriculum to educate his own children and has stated that Bill Gothard’s teachings “absolutely changed my life.”
But most damning for the Bates family’s “better than the Duggars” image is their close relationship with Bill Gothard, the founder of IBLP, who was ousted from his leadership position in 2014 after 34 women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and abuse. Yet just months before those allegations were made public, Gothard was a guest at the November 2013 wedding of Chad and Erin Paine where he, according to Kelly Bates, gave the opening prayer. It was also Gothard’s birthday and, at this big Bates family wedding, they served their leader a big special cake:
And their now-disgraced leader stood in front of his special cake:
And then, three months later, when news of Gothard’s alleged misbehavior became public, sweet, loving mother Kelly Bates, the mom who—when compared to Michelle Duggar—seems so much more honest, took a move straight from the Duggar playbook. According to message board posters at FreeJinger.org, she allegedly deleted these pictures from her family website making it seem as though Gothard never happened. And while a picture of the Gothard cake is now back up on the revamped family site, it has a tag on the bottom: “Groom’s Cake.” Because if you can’t make your secrets go away, you can always give them new labels. Birthday celebrations for alleged creeps can easily become groom’s cakes just like molestation revelations can become a vehicle to bring a family closer to God.
It will be interesting to see how or if the Bates family responds to the Duggar allegations in the coming weeks, but for now they’ve stayed silent, no doubt choosing to protect their image and their new, successful show. But even if they do speak out against the Duggars (they won’t), don’t forget they still remain a fundamental part of the ATI / Gothard machine. And no matter how sweet they keep, no matter how nice they seem, there’s still plenty of evidence to suggest that the Bates family’s television ministry plays an active role in the horrifying problem of silence and abuse in fundamentalist families.