Points of Failure - Another Look at the BJU GRACE Report

A bad idea is one thing. Flawed execution of a good idea is something else. Thomas Edison is said to have botched the execution of the light-bulb concept about a thousand times before he got it right. Today, we’ve decided that the incandescent light bulb is not such a great idea anymore. But does anyone think that the general concept of converting electrical energy into light is a bad idea?

With changing times and advances in learning and understanding, we’re in constant danger of thinking that all old ideas are bad ideas—and in even greater danger of seeing any flawed execution of an old idea as a failure of the old idea itself. In our hurry to embrace “progress” we often don’t pause and look more carefully at where failure is truly located, and as a result, our piles of obsolete notions include increasing amounts of the wisdom of the ages.

Lately, at least in the West, we’re especially prone to do this with the social sciences. This week’s (or this decade’s) scientific consensus trumps all. And if you’re out of step with it—well, the fact that you’re wrong is self-evident. Because we just don’t do things that way anymore. We know better … until we change our minds again.

My chief concern with GRACE’s BJU investigation and Final Report (hereafter, GR) is that some very good ideas are lumped in with flawed execution (and a genuinely bad idea or two). As a result, there’s a temptation to respond to the GR in one of two unfruitful ways: (a) by dismissing it entirely, or (b) by embracing it entirely.

I appreciate the core of GRACE’s mission and don’t doubt that they have helped many abuse victims find a measure of healing. I’m sure they’ve also helped many ministries make much-needed changes to prevent abuse and help abuse victims.

There is some good stuff in the GR—some very good stuff. But the GR is flawed in some important ways as well. More conservative ministries should use GRACE’s services very carefully, or perhaps seek out an alternative.

1. Lack of Focus

Most of the report focuses on matters clearly relevant to the purpose. But the GR’s efforts to connect BJU’s commitment to personal discipline, “showcase” ideals, in loco parentis, dress standards, etc., to failure to properly help abuse victims are strained.

The section on BJU’s dress code is an example worth noting. To be sure, dress codes and modesty teaching can get pretty weird if poorly understood, poorly balanced, and/or poorly communicated. But Scripture clearly has no problem with placing the primary responsibility on men to resist lust, while at the same time acknowledging the seductive power of clothing and calling women to responsible restraint (Prov. 5 and 7, particularly Prov. 7:10; 1 Tim. 2:9). Viewed through that lens, the idea that pursuing modesty encourages men to blame their behavior on women appears far less likely. It’s interesting that the GR does not even acknowledge that there is a modesty principle in Scripture (59).

The lack of focus is a fairly minor flaw, but it did result in a report that is longer and more cluttered than necessary, making it harder to correctly locate points of failure, and tempting some to put the whole report in the circular file.

The cautionary note here for conservative ministries in general is that, unless the GR is a fluke, GRACE does show some tendency to seek out and target irrelevant philosophical and methodological differences.

2. Facts and Perceptions

If I walk by Pierre’s office cubicle every morning, offer a cheerful “Bonjour!” and receive only a silent glare in return, day after day, I might start to think he hates me or hates some group I belong to. That would be my perception, but the fact might be that until he’s had his third mug of coffee, Pierre hates everybody, and I’m not special at all.

Readers of the GR should keep in mind the difference between perceptual realities and factual realities. In my hypothetical working relationship with Pierre, my perceptions are not only real, but are a potentially important problem for both of us. So Pierre has two sets of problems that may not have much to do with each other: he has (a) the perceptual problem that I think he hates me, and (b) the factual problem that he gets too little sleep and is generally grumpy.

I could lecture Pierre all day about the ugliness of hatred, and every word of my criticism might be absolutely true—just not very applicable. My solution is off target (and maybe counterproductive) because my perception is not factual; I have not correctly located the point of failure.

The GR does show a little awareness that perceptions are not the same things as facts.

GRACE made every effort to collect, verify, and corroborate all information that was provided and included in the Final Report. Some information collected from witnesses was incomplete or unable to be corroborated. (21, note 59)

One of the more intriguing findings in this investigation is the degree to which recollections about BJU teachings on the topic of sexual abuse differ among former students. Students who apparently heard the same sermons and lectures seemed to come away with vastly discrepant perspectives on what was communicated. (45)

This observation is not surprising. Human beings are notoriously non-factual, even when they are being absolutely honest. We perceive inaccurately and recall even less accurately.

I appreciate the GR’s concessions on this topic, but on the whole, it does not adequately help readers understand how to deal with the fact vs. perception relationship. Sometimes, it even increases the confusion:

Clearly, different people can respond differently to the same messages and environment. One way to understand the differences in perceptions is to keep in mind that many victims of sexual abuse suffer from guilt and self-blame … . As a result, many abuse victims are sensitized to perceive and remember victim blaming/perpetrator exonerating attitudes and teachings that individuals without such life experiences fail to note consciously.

In more concrete terms, abuse victims may be able to detect toxic victim blaming/perpetrator exonerating attitudes in highly diluted concentrations that non-abused individuals may lack the sensitivity to detect. A canary illustrates this concept well. (46)

Certainly abuse victims may perceive intended meaning that others miss. But they may also perceive meaning that is simply not there. As I read the GR, I was struck repeatedly with the thought—“Wow. There is a whole lot of misunderstanding going on here!” not only by respondents (many of whom are identified by the GR as non-victims, by the way), but also by the GR team.

The GR team had a difficult task. On the one hand, correctly locating points of failure requires sifting fact from misperception. On the other hand, including that kind of cross examination in the investigation process would create yet another painful experience for victims who have already endured so much—and the prospect of having to go through that would likely frighten many into silence.

Still, the GR does not acknowledge its disproportionate reliance on perceptions, and several of its Recommendations reveal an inappropriate level of confidence in what critical respondents understood BJU leaders to believe and teach.

Two final observations may be helpful on this topic:

  • Responsibility for understanding the communication of leaders, preachers, and counselors does not lie entirely with those delivering the message (Prov. 18:13).
  • Even if we communicate with perfect clarity, some will misunderstand (e.g., Matt. 16:11, Mark 9:31-32, John 12:16).

3. Counseling Model

Though the GR gives considerable attention (59-162) to problems of execution—such as the pace of counseling, inadequate attention to establishing safety and trust, and lack of clear communication—the overall thrust of its analysis and Final Recommendations goes beyond correcting problems of counseling delivery; it is ultimately unsupportive of the biblical counseling model in general.

Not only does the GR’s analysis grant a far smaller role for Scripture and spiritual realities than any variant of the biblical counseling model, but it also recommends outsourcing all of the university’s sexual abuse counseling to an organization that is, apparently, secular (227).

The contrast between GRACE’s recommendations and the handling of sexual abuse upheld by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, for example, is deep and profound. Note “Vision of Hope: The Story of Julia,” as a poignant example. The Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Making Peace with the Past recommends a counseling process that is similarly at odds with the GR’s perspective (e.g., the contrasting statement around 0:08:53, and comments at 0:40:33 regarding dealing with guilt), as does Amy Baker’s “What Do you Say to a Woman Filled with Hate from Past Sexual Assault or Abuse?

The message of these groups is clearly not just “move on,” but it definitely includes “move on.” Though I believe the biblical counseling movement has some weaknesses in finding a proper relationship to clinical research, the movement continues to grow and improve. What victims of all sorts need is a biblical counseling model that brings the whole truth to the whole person rather than a model excessively limited to neuro-biological understandings of human behavior.

That there is room for improvement in the execution of BJU’s counseling process is clear in the university president’s public statement as well as in counselors’ comments in the GR itself (e.g., 69). On a few points, it appears that problems exist at the theological level (such as the “Trinity of Man” concept and counseling techniques predicated on trichotomous anthropology; 65 note 108, 87). But to the degree that the university’s counseling has been ineffective for abuse victims, giving too much weight to spiritual realities and too much attention to Scripture has not been the problem.

4. Recommendations

Due to the perceptions-focus and philosophical differences evident in the GR, the Recommendations are of widely uneven usefulness. Much is helpful; some is quite unhelpful. For what it’s worth, I believe the university should limit its future relationship with GRACE to something along the lines of “Thanks for your help; we’ll take it from here,” then chart its own course to fixing the points of failure it is able to correctly locate.

As for GRACE, I would echo BJU president Steve Pettit’s observation: “They are devoted to the cause of preventing sexual abuse and their contributions are significant.” When it comes to investigation services, they are perhaps not the best choice for more conservative ministries and institutions, though. Perhaps the time has come for an organization such as BCC or ACBC to launch a service to meet this need.

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Jay's picture

C. D. Cauthorne Jr. wrote:

Bob,

If BJU adopts a similar approach with its students as NIU, then it is likely that BJU will experience the same reaction from its loyal alumni and supporters that NIU experienced and collapse.

IMO, most who call for radical changes at BJU probably wouldn't send their children there even if the changes were made. The "stigma" is too great.

BJU needs to stay the course. A steady decline is preferable to a sudden collapse.

Of course, revival would be best.

Yes, the return to that 'ol time religion where the man of God told you what to do and how to do it worked out so well for Fundamentalism, didn't it?  We raised a generation of unthinking clones that could not adapt to the '90s, let alone the 2010's.

I'd rather a sudden collapse for the right reason than be shackled to a mentality that depends on the great men to tell me what and how to think that causes lockstep conformity to the society of the 1950s in 2015.  Maybe Paul was wrong about those noble Bereans after all.

*rolleyes*

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I really am smiling... but, we've gone the whole 10 rounds on rules before. Nobody ever budges. Smile

But it's so hard to resist tossing in the .02 one more time.

Tried to make this point earlier, but maybe it got buried in my too long post. Note the difference here in these two statements about the relationship between godliness and rules

  • A. the rule itself has biblical authority and to disobey the rule is to disobey Scripture (ergo, ungodly)
  • B. the rule is a decision by legitimate authority I have put myself under and to disobey legitimate authority is to disobey Scripture (ergo, ungodly)

Now, not even "A" would be "legalism," but it would be a false claim of biblical authority (unless the rule really is backed by Scripture in that way, which does happen!), which is a pretty serious error to make. But "B" is not the same thing at all. When you enroll at most institutions they make you express, in one way or another your intention to abide by their policies. This puts you in an authoritative-submissive relationship. You're bound by your own commitment to follow the policies and take the penalties whenever you don't. It's ungodly to do less because it's (a) something like dishonest/a breach of integrity/dishonorable and (b) rebellious (the authority part of the relationship).

So there is simply no way to make a rule-less institution and no way to make rule-keeping and rule-breaking spiritually neutral activities. 

And every institution has some dumb rules (especially if its only rule is "We shall have no rules"!  ... Biggrin )

 

I'd rather a sudden collapse for the right reason than be shackled to a mentality that depends on the great men to tell me what and how to think that causes lockstep conformity to the society of the 1950s in 2015.

Fortunately, those are not all the options (excluded middle there the size of .... well, something really, really big... it's late and I'm tired.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeremy Horn's picture

I do agree that most who call for the radical changes wouldn't send their children there even if such changes were made.However where BJU has done wrong, their repentance and a genuine change toward Christlikeness is required, not simply "staying the course". Sanctification by its very nature requires change. I do not wish BJU to compromise on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, but to repeat, when BJU has done wrong, in order to do right, they must change. We can debate what changes the University should make, but but the fact remains that BJU needs to make some changes. Certainly, I do not believe that all of the GRACE recommendations are beneficial or necessary, But more than one or two are worth considering. For BJU to double down is not a helpful course of action. It would cause harm in the long run. I say this as one who loves my Alma Mater(04 Grad) and wants to see them succeed in faithfulness to Christ. I will undoubtedly have occasion to defend going to BJU, but never occasion to regret going to BJU. I as a loyal alumnus of BJU refuse to simply think that BJU is always right, and the complainers are always wrong.

My first loyalty is always to Christ and Scripture, I refuse to place my Alma Mater in that place. There are many places in the report's recommendations where eternal principles are not at stake. A specific application of the Biblical principle and precept of modesty in dress is not one of those places. A young lady can dress modestly while wearing pants. I have more that I would like to say but it needs to wait until a later time. I do appreciate your willingness to share your views and put them up for discussion.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Jeremy Horn wrote:

My first loyalty is always to Christ and Scripture, I refuse to place my Alma Mater in that place.

My story: I went to my neighborhood's public school for kindergarten.  From there, to a non-denominational Christian school for 1st to 3rd grade.  Then 4th to 12th grades at Fourth Baptist Christian School (located in N. Minneapolis @ that time, now in Plymouth, MN--as many on SI are aware).  I next earned a B.A. (history) at the University of Minnesota.  Along the way, for convenience & cost reasons, I also took enough credits at a local community college that I was awarded an A.A. there (with reverse-transferred credits from the U. of M.).  (Apparently in no particular hurry to graduate, I actually accumulated about 5 1/2 years of undergraduate credits.  :)  )  Since then I have earned 4 professional diplomas in various subfields of banking from the American Institute of Banking, and a graduate-level certificate in project management from the University of St. Thomas (the largest private college in MN).  In summary, I count four schools (since FBCS) as alma maters--the U. of M. being preeminent.

Do any of them demand (or even expect) my unquestioning loyalty?  Nope.  If I disagree with U policies, I can freely voice my dissent to its president.  (I did so just recently, and he replied to me very graciously, without calling me "bitter," "disloyal," or suggesting that I send my diploma back--all responses that I have anecdotally heard about in regards to various Christian colleges.)  Although I truly love the U. of M. and have many warm, nostalgic memories of my time there, it offers no (zero, nada) competition to my loyalty to Christ or Scripture.  I am not convinced that is always the case when it comes to alumni of Christian colleges.

Example: I recall a conversation I had in the 90's with a BJU alumnus, in which I asked him his opinion of the interracial dating ban (still in effect at that time).  He insisted it was a "godly, biblical" position for the school to hold.  He elaborated that "Dr. Jones" wouldn't keep it if it wasn't.  (I wanted him to defend it from Scripture--if he dared to attempt it--but his appeal was instead to BJ III.)  To me, that smacks of "I am of Paul, or Apollos...."

 

             

Ron Bean's picture

BJU has the right to have whatever rules they want and they owe no one an explanation. Some of the rules made no sense (like the rule against wearing clothes made of mixed fibers.....oops, wrong rule book). That's who they are.

BJU has never taken criticism well. That's who they are.

BJU stubbornly resists change. It took them 20 years to see that needed regional accreditation and to change their dating rule. That's who they are.

If people don't like BJU's rules and practices, they don't have to go there...........AND THEY AREN'T!

BTW, one of BJU's largest sources of new students were the children of graduates. That pool is drying up.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding whether BJU will go the way of Northland if they get rid of some rules, aren't they already halfway there or more?  Something's got to change, or the place will close.  I am guessing that places like Liberty are eating BJU's lunch--plausible theology, not quite as many rules.  

Now I am not against rules per se.  To use Dr. Straub's example of no ironing on Sunday, there is a valid point where a Bible college might suggest that Christians ought to rest on the Lord's Day unless there is a big reason not to.  

The question, then, is simple; do we draw up an extensive list of rules to govern the Lord's Day--a fundamentalist Talmud as it were--or do we simply let the students know that the Bible commends to us a day of rest where we ought to refresh mind and spirit unless providentially hindered?  

You might get less ironing on Sunday if you did the latter, and perhaps more students at BJU.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jim wrote:

On "My-way-or-the-highway" and Fundamentalism: What has it gotten you? BJU's enrollment is half of its former glory.

 

Jim, although I think there has been some good movement towards BJU being more gracious in its handling of various issues, student rules, etc., especially when Stephen became president, I suspect that the declining enrollment is a big part of the impetus of making these changes more quickly.  When I was there in the early 1980's, not only was the attitude a lot more of "my way or the highway," and even students asking questions in the right spirit was seen with suspicion (as I personally ran into on a couple of occasions), even visitors were not treated very graciously when their appearance or attire was not in line with university standards.  With enrollment being at or very near capacity, they probably didn't worry about that so much.

While I hate to see the university struggling with finances given the reduction in students, I really have appreciated the "change in atmosphere" towards a much more gracious and balanced approach, especially since I have two children who have chosen to attend there, without any requirement from me that they even consider it (and in spite of the fact that we had a candid discussion about the negatives of no accreditation).  I think it was necessary for them to make these changes, and if it took declining enrollment and relevance in fundamentalism to accomplish this, it's still a positive thing for the university overall.  I just wish it hadn't taken so long.

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

dcbii wrote:

Jim, although I think there has been some good movement towards BJU being more gracious in its handling of various issues, student rules, etc., especially when Stephen became president, I suspect that the declining enrollment is a big part of the impetus of making these changes more quickly.  When I was there in the early 1980's, not only was the attitude a lot more of "my way or the highway," and even students asking questions in the right spirit was seen with suspicion (as I personally ran into on a couple of occasions), even visitors were not treated very graciously when their appearance or attire was not in line with university standards.  With enrollment being at or very near capacity, they probably didn't worry about that so much.

On one occasion, I had travelled 20+ hours in the backseat of a sedan for a surprise visit with my family for Thanksgiving and arrived, exhausted and unkept, in a pair of jeans and a bright red t-shirt.

On thanksgiving morning.  

Right as the staff and student's mandatory Thanksgiving service ended.  

(Yes...this is a true story.)

I'm not sure how wide God parted the seas for Moses in Exodus, but I'm pretty sure that the crowds at BJU parted wider than the waters did.  It was a very awkward experience and never would have happened at NIU.  On the other hand, it was super easy for my dad to find me standing in front of the FMA with my bag, so you have to look (really hard sometimes) for the silver lining.  I can laugh about it now, almost 17 years later, but I would have been crushed at the lack of grace and friendliness if I were a prospective student.

On another occasion, I was at BJU to visit my sister in early 2000s, and was surprised to be approached by a BJU employee immediately following Sunday morning worship who then told my sister (and who completely ignored me) that she was being written up for demerits because we sat too closely together or something during the service.  This employee didn't even say hello to me or ask if I was visiting, which would have been very obvious since I was the only person that I knew of in the Founder's Memorial Amphitorium that was not in a coat and tie.  I remember jotting a note and making a joke about it to her at one point.  I cut her off and replied that she was my sister, but she demanded my sister's ID number anyway. It wasn't until it became a three on one confrontation with myself, my mom, and my sister on one side and her on the other that she finally backed off. I was considering BJU at the time for my grad education and was floored at the reception I got.

As it turned out, not only did I go to BJU as a GA, I ended up working with that woman quite a bit since we were in the same office area.  I got to know her a little, but the bitter taste in my mouth still has not faded to this day, and had I not met a bunch of good BJU students and grads, I never would have even considered the school again.  So dcbii's point should be considered very seriously.

And as a side note - know your environment before you go in.  It will save you some pain. Smile
 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jeremy Horn's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

 

Jeremy Horn wrote:

 

My first loyalty is always to Christ and Scripture, I refuse to place my Alma Mater in that place.

 

 

 

Example: I recall a conversation I had in the 90's with a BJU alumnus, in which I asked him his opinion of the interracial dating ban (still in effect at that time).  He insisted it was a "godly, biblical" position for the school to hold.  He elaborated that "Dr. Jones" wouldn't keep it if it wasn't.  (I wanted him to defend it from Scripture--if he dared to attempt it--but his appeal was instead to BJ III.)  To me, that smacks of "I am of Paul, or Apollos...."

 

             

Larry,

It always bothers me when Alumni of Christian Colleges "worship" their Alma Mater. Loyalty to Christ always comes before loyalty to one's Alma Mater. I believe you and I are in agreement. I learned this through various means at BJU. It is a lesson I have taken to heart by the Grace of God. As believers, loyalty to Christian institutions  should never be completely unquestioning(but those questions ought to be respectfully phrased as a matter of courtesy and decency). Institutions such as BJU are run by fallible men and are prone to error. Sometimes God does(and certainly is able to) use the unfriendly sources to reveal those errors in His Sovereign Providence(See 1Cor. 5 when Paul references the unsaved pagans regarding the issue of incest). We should not simply dismiss those instances and ignore them. As believers were are called to a higher standard, and when we do fall short there is mercy and forgiveness. True repentance will lead to genuine lasting change.

Jim's picture

Jay said: 

On another occasion, I was at BJU to visit my sister in early 2000s, and was surprised to be approached by a BJU employee immediately following Sunday morning worship who then told my sister (and who completely ignored me) that she was being written up for demerits because we sat too closely together or something during the service.

Imagine that level of "service" from:

  • Your bank
  • Your grocery store
  • Your local auto dealership

You would change banks,  et cetera. 

A rules-mentality turns minions into monsters. 

mmartin's picture

I don't know about before or after this period, but in the middle 90's during the graduation service there was a couple minutes when the president of the Sr. class would get up and make a statement about if BJU ever strayed from its doctrinal stand that the alumni would come back to BJU to reclaim it back to its former positions.  On the one hand that is good.  On the other hand it struck me as BJU being all about BJU even if it was spiritually framed.

After I graduated I didn't join the alumni association and I've been back on campus only about 2 times in 20+ years.

I also know of incidents of BJU staff scolding or trying to "write-up" a visitor.  Bizarre, but true!  Good points, Jim, about getting that kind of, cough, service from a new bank.

Regarding the "my way or the highway" comments, BJU uses this latin phrase, "Pedimus Credimus," which means "We seek, We believe."  However, I heard many students use it to mean "We're right, you are wrong."

As Ron Bean said above, "BJU has never taken criticism well.  That is who they are."  BJU is good at telling everyone how great they are, but not good at handling criticism.  They've traditionally wanted it both ways.  When I was there even if you had an honest question or wanted to make a respectful criticism, it could be a formidable thing to do. 

As I've said before I think Pettit is the right man at the right time.  He is not a family member nor a BJU lifer and he's been around the block many times so to speak and has been exposed to many different ministries.  I believe he will breathe a much needed new life there, something I think Stephen started to do.  I think Pettit will be able to make the necessary changes that even Stephen couldn't do because Stephen has the name and is a lifer.

Jim Welch's picture

We are some how off topic.  Aaron, great article!

I am a BJU graduate, class of 75.

In 1973, my child hood friend visited me at BJU.  Gary was in the counter culture.  He had hair down to the middle of his back and a full, untrimmed beard (hippie).  He showed up on campus as we were getting out of chapel.  He went with me that afternoon to all of my afternoon classes.  He went with me to my dorm room.  He was treated with dignity and respect everywhere we went.  Gary was unsaved.  He was everything BJU was not.

Second story, goes back to the inter racial dating policy.  I always thought that BJU was unbiblical with this policy.  As a student, in my advanced public speaking class, I gave a proposition speed that stated, "Why BJU should allow inter racial dating."  I got a very good grade on the speech (B plus), was able to defend my position without any disciplinary action.

I am glad that God led me to BJ.  Dr. Bob III has been a friend over many years.  Many within the University know that I attend Shepherd's Conference regularly.  I have never been black balled or treated unfairly.

Sum:  personal experiences are  just that - personal.  Does (did) BJU always get it right?  I doubt it; but then neither do I.  (or you, I expect)

Back to Aaron's article, well written and much appreciated.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

This semester's Crisis Counseling class (SCM 635:T & TH, 2:00 - 3:15) that originally was scheduled to be taught by Jim Berg is instead being taught by Steven Cruice:

http://www.bju.edu/academics/faculty/facultymember.php?id=scruice

I know nothing about him.  Questions for those who might know: how do his qualifications to teach counseling differ from Berg's?  Will he be teaching different methods/approaches than would Berg?

 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, the thread has wandered far and wide... and generally declined into miscellaneous BJU bashing, which is, ironically, the opposite of the message of the OP. What I hoped to encourage is precise location of pts of failure not broad brush dismissals under the rubric of 'my way or highway' or 'rules mentality' etc.  That kind of blanket criticism doesn't help anyone.

Anyway, part of the decline in size of BJU is a decline in 'fundamentalism' as a movement generally. There is also a huge cultural factor. Even in the 80's when I was there, in loco parentis, as the school envisioned it, was increasingly failing because you cannot receive a parenting baton that parents weren't holding onto in the first place. You can't continue a vision of parenting that the student never had. So there were increasing numbers of incoming students who could not understand it--apart from the difficulties of particular rules or the general quantity, the underlying concept was... well, try to explain to someone who's never left south Florida what blowing snow feels like.

Nowadays, culturally, family life has so degenerated that you just can't make even general assumptions about what kind of starting point you have with incoming students.

Thread will probably close soon... so obsessive BJ roasters (I love you anyway Smile ) can start some other thread or add their by-now-quite-redundant rants to one of the many existing BJ roast threads.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, understand your frustration, but it's worth noting that the GRACE report did in fact point out, whether correctly or not, that a root cause of the problem is BJU's culture.  So that is on the table, whether GRACE was justified or not in doing so.  

And quite frankly, this is a good thing; BJU has done a decent job making some changes to policies and procedures over the years to deal with this kind of problem.  Good on them.  The trouble with that, however, is that the old policies derived from the culture that has been developing since it was founded.  So if you change policies without changing culture, you change.....

.....nothing, really.  Now let's take a quick look at the culture of BJU as presented by detractors; if indeed there is a lot of authoritarianism, "I'm right, you're wrong", then any unpopular view will have trouble being heard.

Now in some cases, that's probably protected BJU from liberal theology--it was a priori excluded.  On the flip side, what if rules were enacted which had little to do with Scripture?  Protected by the culture.  What if counseling ignored the responsibility of confronting abusers?  Sadly, protected by the culture.

And that's, in my view, what is most at stake here.  If indeed the premises and logic are correct, there's a huge step BJU needs to make in terms of its culture--something that is not confined to their counseling arm, but rather goes top to bottom.  Let's just say I don't envy Mr. Pettit in this!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I'm sorry if my comment led to belief that I am a detractor or basher of the university -- far from it.  I actually intended to say that I appreciate the culture changes compared to what it was like when I was there.  In fact, I'm sure Mr. Pettit will be a big help to the university, but the culture has actually been changing already under the previous president, who was still in charge when the Grace report was commissioned, but not when many (most?) of the events mentioned in the complaints took place.  And it's certainly possible that the declining attendance had a number of major factors, but I still believe that as fundamentalism itself was undergoing a sea change in what "attitude" to present to the outside world, BJU remained, for a time, stubbornly attached to the image of "fighting fundamentalism," something not a part of most fundamental churches and families today, and something that would definitely not be a draw to today's Christian students.

And yes, I agree with Bert that one of the major takeaways from the report is that the culture was a big part of the problem with the way these counseling events were handled (in contradiction to the idea that the theology was the main problem).  As far as I am concerned, the report was pretty much what I expected -- it highlighted a large lack of graciousness and some poor procedures in the way people were counseled and otherwise dealt with (no big surprise to those of us there during the "my way or the highway" years), but also made it clear that BJU was not a den of scary fundamentalists abusing people.

Certainly some specific procedures will need to change, and the culture is already changing.  However, even if all the report's recommendations were followed, that would not be nearly enough for the true detractors.  I feel certain that Mr. Pettit is the right person to lead the effort to separate the wheat from the chaff in the report and take the university forward from here.  I still just wish that these changes had happened sooner.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Bert Perry wrote:

Aaron, understand your frustration, but it's worth noting that the GRACE report did in fact point out, whether correctly or not, that a root cause of the problem is BJU's culture.  So that is on the table, whether GRACE was justified or not in doing so.  

And quite frankly, this is a good thing; BJU has done a decent job making some changes to policies and procedures over the years to deal with this kind of problem.  Good on them.  The trouble with that, however, is that the old policies derived from the culture that has been developing since it was founded.  So if you change policies without changing culture, you change.....

Granted... the "culture" is not irrelevant to the topic at hand. Culture is a famously slippery concept though. Again, it's much more helpful to identify specific principles, values, attitudes in the culture that are allegedly unhelpful or unbiblical. And then, equally important, examine carefully what relationship these have, if any, to "policies" that are allegedly derived from them.

So in short, there are several ways to be in error in the "culture" analysis...

  • reject a vaguely defined concept of culture that includes good along w/bad etc.
  • more specifically identify components of the culture that are at issue, but incorrectly judge them to be unbiblical or unhelpful
  • incorrectly identify ineffective policy/process as necessarily the outcome of a particular idea/value/attitude in the culture

Of course, it's possible to get some or all of that right, too, but it's far easier to start w/ an end result that we don't like (say, a rule, or the mere fact that there seem to be a lot of them) then work backwards to give our dislike a weightier legitimacy by lumping it in with a culture that is already a lumping of a lot of different things and then declaring it unbiblical.

I'm not sure I'm saying it well, but maybe some of that is clear.

What makes me impatient with the whole topic in general is that so many act as if a highly disciplined learning environment was some kind of new-fangled idea invented by 20th century fundamentalists rather than what it is... an idea that has, in various forms, been tried and proved for literally hundreds of centuries. The new-fangled idea is that today somehow we can slouch our way to high levels of skill and achievement as long as we keep chanting "gospel" and "grace" and "discipleship" and growling against "rules" and "legalism" in the process.

dcbii wrote:

I'm sorry if my comment led to belief that I am a detractor or basher of the university -- far from it.  I actually intended to say that I appreciate the culture changes compared to what it was like when I was there...  

No, I was reacting mostly to stuff further up the thread. In my complaint about broad-brushing, I probably should have used a narrower brush myself!

I do think that particular problems in the culture of any school can be identified, and certainly BJU has had a few. Also agree that there have been positive changes. I do hope, though, that these have not simply been responses to pressure and that future changes will not be driven by that either... or by some of the misguided anti-discipline theology that is so widespread today.

The BJU approach to running a school is not for every school, but it sure ought to be the way for some school somewhere.... and it makes sense for BJU to be the one.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Straub's picture

Aaron:

i may regret another post as I do not really have time to fully enter into this back and forth however . . .

i just returned from two weeks in India at a school with no connection to the current discussion. The president has little if any connection, no faculty have ties, all are nationals working within the Indian culture. Yet,

  • the men and women have little or no contact on campus beyond the casual interaction at class.
  • no dating is allowed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is racial. Students who wish to have more contact can only do so in a highly structured way and only with parental approval. India is multiracial and mixing can bring challenges at multiple levels.
  • while men may have cell phones, women may not
  • Men and women do not even sit mixed in chapel
  • the students have virtually no Internet access at school, what they do have is highly regulated
  • the president feels a deep sense of obligation to the parents to be protective of those who attend, particularly the girls (loco parentis?)

However, there was a great spirit manifested while there. The student body was polite, joyful, they stood when I enter the chapel or a classroom (out of respect for the guest). They refer to their elders as Sir or Uncle . . . 

Ok, so it's India. The point is, as Aaron is trying to point out, that however wrongly some within the BJU culture may have acted, the goals were both laudable, reasonable, and common in other places and at other times.

Twenty five years ago I knew a pastor and his wife who graduated from Prairie Bible Institute when they had such rules . . . Times gave changed. I wonder if the changes are really for the better?

Finally, no one "complains" about the rules in the military. They make you cut your hair, tell you when to go to bed and when to get up. They regulate your diet and exercise. They make you wear a uniform and shine your shoes . . . As if a buzz haircut or a polished pair of boots will make you a better soldier . . . What a bunch of nonsense. How could any parent allow their children to be subjected to such treatment?

This is not to excuse individual bad behavior. Let's remember though that there are many fine servants of the Lord who have given much to work there. I hope BJ never becomes so tolerant that if Rosaria Butterfield spoke in chapel, a group of Christian students would boycott her testimony of the grace of God that transformed her from a radical lesbian to a pastor's wife.

Jeff Straub

www.jeffstraub.net

Don Johnson's picture

Right on, Jeff. I have no wish to get into this debate either and have been thoroughly disheartened by the venom displayed on this thread. May God grant the leaders of BJU the grace to resist the pressure to dismantle themselves.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

You are right to say this:

. . . the goals were both laudable, reasonable, and common in other places and at other times.

I am absolutely certain that all Christian institutions put rules in place with the best of intentions. No school, no matter how exhaustive the rules are, can change a student's heart. It can't be done. Because people are sinful, rules get abused by petty "enforcers," and broken by rebellious students who resent any authority. Always has happened. Always will. 

Finally, because I was in the military for quite a while, I'll comment on your thoughts here:

Finally, no one "complains" about the rules in the military. They make you cut your hair, tell you when to go to bed and when to get up. They regulate your diet and exercise. They make you wear a uniform and shine your shoes . . . As if a buzz haircut or a polished pair of boots will make you a better soldier . . . What a bunch of nonsense. How could any parent allow their children to be subjected to such treatment?

  • Everybody in the military complains about the rules. Everybody. Every. Body. 
  • Going to work in the military is like any other job - you have to be there at a certain time. People seem to have a stereotype image of an open-bay barracks stuck in their heads. It's certainly not always like that. 
  • ​They do make you wear a uniform, but that's really not bad, when you think about it. The uniforms they have now are, quite literally, "wrinkle-free." The boots are suede, which means you don't shine them anymore. So, basically, you get to go to work in wrinkle-free pajamas and suede boots. Not a bad deal. 
  • Buzz cut? Not at all! The Navy says a man's hair can't be more than four inches in bulk. You can have some decent hair, as long as it's trimmed off your ears! 

Your analogy falls flat because the military, by doing all those silly things, is teaching external discipline, teamwork and conformity (i.e. rules). Christian discipline isn't external; it's internal. That's a big difference. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

I mentioned his book Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism in a Filings thread last week. Thinking of it prompted me to re-read it again this weekend.

In Chapter One, he addresses several "Hindrances to a Balanced Fundamentalism."  One section is "Equating Mechanical Codes of Conduct with Biblical Holiness."

Some excerpts:

"We are not suggesting that codes of conduct are intrinsically wrong, only that they fall far short of producing true spirituality."

"[T]here must be constant reminders that mere outward conformity can never produce sincere inward reality."

"One of the grave problems associated with a focus on externals is the development of a preoccupation with the trivial. And the greatest danger of concentrating on the trivial is the ignoring of the vital. That was Jesus' burden in Matthew 23:23."

"[I]n modern terms, a man might dress modestly, groom conservatively...(etc.)...and still be a 'jerk' spirtually."

"[W]e must never confuse Biblical holiness with mechanical codes of conduct."

 

Jay's picture

Jeff Straub wrote:

i just returned from two weeks in India at a school with no connection to the current discussion. The president has little if any connection, no faculty have ties, all are nationals working within the Indian culture. Yet,

  • the men and women have little or no contact on campus beyond the casual interaction at class.
  • no dating is allowed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is racial. Students who wish to have more contact can only do so in a highly structured way and only with parental approval. India is multiracial and mixing can bring challenges at multiple levels.
  • while men may have cell phones, women may not
  • Men and women do not even sit mixed in chapel
  • the students have virtually no Internet access at school, what they do have is highly regulated
  • the president feels a deep sense of obligation to the parents to be protective of those who attend, particularly the girls (loco parentis?)

However, there was a great spirit manifested while there. The student body was polite, joyful, they stood when I enter the chapel or a classroom (out of respect for the guest). They refer to their elders as Sir or Uncle . . . 

Correlation does not equal causation.  We had these rules at NIU (except for cell phones, which weren't around yet, and we did have mixed chapel seating) and we shipped students for egregious sins probably 2-3x year.  We had three pairs of students become parents while at NIU, for example.

Furthermore, Indian culture, I'm fairly sure, is more a factor than the rules would be.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

I trust that no one in leadership at BJU ever thought that obeying their rules would create spirituality. It may be that individuals began to assume that adherence to those rules meant one was spiritual and, conversely, not conforming to those rules meant one wasn't spiritual. I'll confess that it took me a long time to get over assuming that a man with a beard or facial hair, a woman in slacks in church, or someone who went to the movies couldn't be a good Christian. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Mark_Smith's picture

As a man who wears a beard (trimmed nicely...thank you), I never understood how it became associated with "ungodliness". I guess it had something to do with hippies, but I suspect it was around before them. After all, growing a beard is one of the few things that only MALES can do, and is thus very manly Smile

Of course, most of the OT characters clearly had beards...etc

I must admit that when I was college age (18-22) there was no way I could grow a decent beard. The thickness kicked in later!

Ron Bean's picture

It was strongly implied that facial hair was a form of rebellion. I can recall being told that Jesus was clean shaven and had short hair and that the beard pulling at His crucifixion was stubble. Glad those days are over. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

You could wear a beard in the Navy until the early 1980's . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Jim's picture

45 years ago, my pastor (BJU grad) said that Jesus likely had a buzz cut and no beard. Didn't make sense to me then .... doesn't make sense today

Bert Perry's picture

If you look up the Roman decorations commemorating Titus' conquest of Jerusalem, they do show shorter hair than the typical rendition of Jesus today, but with beards.  I agree with Jim that you are going to have a tough time proving that Jews of the 1st Century were shaving despite the Torah prohibition of cutting the corners of one's beard.

Agreed as well with Dr. Straub that sometimes rules are necessary.  The trick is to make sure they are relevant and understood--hopefully no one here is supporting a pious sounding form of libertinism.  I certainly am not!  But to borrow one of Jeff's examples, if the seminary in India were to allow American style dating, that would be a huge offense to many/most of the parents.  On the flip side, if BJU or Central were to endorse Indian style arranged marriages, let's just say that would take some explaining, too.

And to borrow one of Tyler's examples, the reason that the Armed Forces banned beards in the early 1980s is that the gas masks they had in those days wouldn't fit over a beard.  That regulation actually played a role in my coming to Christ, as the Methodist church at Michigan State thought it was horrible that the Army was forcing black soldiers to shave--but conveniently neglected to mention that a possible side effect of not shaving would be an excruciating death from poison gas.  Political liberalism helped me walk away from theological liberalism.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

alex o.'s picture

Jeff Straub wrote:

 

Finally, no one "complains" about the rules in the military. They make you cut your hair, tell you when to go to bed and when to get up. They regulate your diet and exercise. They make you wear a uniform and shine your shoes . . . As if a buzz haircut or a polished pair of boots will make you a better soldier . . . What a bunch of nonsense. How could any parent allow their children to be subjected to such treatment?

 

This is a bad analogy and your example of the school in India is just paternalistic. Here is why the military reference has no place.

Militaries need command structures for control and coordination (as do businesses and institutions [a caveat exists if the purpose is spiritual]). We know that God has put apostles first in the Body of Christ so one would think (to follow your idea) that Paul would have been ordering everyone around. He didn't. Paul recognized the reality of the New Covenant (we are all brothers and Christ is Head).

Christian soldiers (metaphorically) fight the flesh, the devil, and the world but victory does not derive by coordinating with other Christians but by the Spirit. The military relies on fleshly means but a Christian has completely different foes, it (the means) do not apply.

Fundamentalists (I have concluded) are carnal in their means: outward appearance, achievements, rules, etc. Whereas Paul counted all his natural advantages as dung. 

And, Jeff, I do not want any back and forth either but you said something that should be countered. I am out the door anyway.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

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