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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Larry Nelson's picture

 

"There are some people and organizations within the Christian movement that have every right to establish arbitrary standards.  A Christian school, for instance, has the right to establish a standard of dress or deportment.  Their purpose is to educate their students. They have to define the right parameters (in their opinion) that best create a positive environment for learning.  They may choose to not permit tattoos, or extreme hairstyles (as defined by them), or certain clothing styles (even styles that are not immodest).  All schools, public and private, have the right to do this, too.

A Christian school is even within its right to have students sign on to certain standards of behavior that do not necessarily have moral connotations (like not allowing them to attend any and all movies or permitting them to engage in any and all types of dancing--even ballet and tap).  These issues may unnecessarily complicate matters for them, but independent Christian schools have every right to impose arbitrary standards on nonmoral issues.

Where they create huge problems for themselves is when they give these arbitrary standards "spiritual" weight.  By trying to use the Bible to defend their position on nonmoral issues (like goatees, sideburns, or nail polish), they drive an unnecessary wedge between them and the student as well as between the student and God.  Shrewd Christian schools do not make this mistake.  They simply state their school policy and give students the option to take it or leave it.  They do not present policies as "Christian" standards but as school standards.  If parents and students do not wish to sign on for these standards, fine.  But if they sign on, they are responsible to abide by them, regardless of how arbitrary or silly the standards appear to be.

Christian camps, Christian businesses (like a bookstore), and churches have the same right to create these arbitrary standards for people who work within their systems.  As long as they don't spiritualize them, these standards can serve them well.  But the moment schools, camps, businesses, or churches place some kind of moral or biblical weight on arbitrary standards, they establish a legalistic system for the people within their authority.  And legalism is one of the most toxic mind-sets any Christian ministry can embrace."

- Why Christian Kids Rebel (29-30)

 

Bert Perry's picture

Can an institution actually have arbitrary rules without moral and spiritual weight?  Let's take the example of movie bans, common at fundamentalist Bible colleges, right?  Student watches a Roy Rogers film, the matter comes before college administrators, what happens?

They are punished, of course, for breaking the rules.   And whether watching Roy Rogers is a sin or not, the connection is made in the minds of the students.   Watching Roy Rogers is wrong.

So I would submit that a church, Bible college, or other institution can no more make arbitrary rules without moral and spiritual import than can the government for the simple reason that those same institutions punish infractions of those rules.  As conservatives have reminded us for years, at a certain level, all law is moral law, and in the same way, are rules are moral rules with spiritual and moral import.  

If this is correct, then we ought to be very careful about making rules, because if those rules do not have a clear, and enunciated, moral justification, we are going to be confusing people about what is, and what is not, right or wrong.  The end result is tremendous damage to the Gospel.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

So I would submit that a church, Bible college, or other institution can no more make arbitrary rules without moral and spiritual import than can the government for the simple reason that those same institutions punish infractions of those rules.  As conservatives have reminded us for years, at a certain level, all law is moral law, and in the same way, are rules are moral rules with spiritual and moral import.

I'm not so sure this is always true.  Example: Speed limits are established not necessarily through some exact science or immutable dictum, but often largely some mutually-agreed upon whim (i.e. arbitrarily).  Local legislators (perhaps based on the recommendation of a traffic engineer) may think 65 makes more sense--for whatever reasons--that either 60 or 70 (or 57 or 67, for that matter).  If, on my way home today, through inattention or distraction, I get pulled over for doing 74 in a 65 zone, are there any moral or spiritual implications to my action?  (If I had decided to intentionally flout the law, then sure; but otherwise, is there?)  If I have simply carelessly broken this law (rule), is there any spiritual or moral import?  I would justifiably face a penalty, no doubt about that; but is my simple violation of that law/rule, in such an instance, a reflection of a moral or spiritual defect in character?

---------------

Addendum:

Student at Bible college breaks curfew because he thinks: "Meh.  I don't care what time they say I need to be there by, I'll get there when I choose."  Moral or spiritual import?  Absolutely.

Now consider: Student breaks curfew because he stops to help a vulnerable elderly man stranded by the side of the road.  Moral or spiritual import?  Well, perhaps in the sense that he was being Christlike, even though it resulted in him breaking a rule.

Would a legalistic school punish him in both instances?  Perhaps.  Should they?  That is the real question.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Actually, arbitrary setting of speed limits is another great example.  For example, let's take the classic speed trap--a stretch of highway that is clearly rural, but where the speed limit is set at a level appropriate to residential city streets.  Why are we angered at these?

It is because we presume that all law is moral, and it is clear to us that the speed limit was set for revenue, not safety, right?  Same basic thing we see in Bible colleges when the watching of Roy Rogers movies is banned.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jeremy Horn's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Can an institution actually have arbitrary rules without moral and spiritual weight?

 

 Let's take the example of movie bans, common at fundamentalist Bible colleges, right?  Student watches a Roy Rogers film, the matter comes before college administrators, what happens?

They are punished, of course, for breaking the rules.   And whether watching Roy Rogers is a sin or not, the connection is made in the minds of the students.   Watching Roy Rogers is wrong.

Bert, I want to deal with a couple of items in your post. Hence, I quoted only those portions.

 

Yes, they actually can have rules without a direct moral or spiritual reason. Some rules are simply organizational in nature. In the BJU student handbook(for example) the various categories and reasons for the rules are listed and briefly explained. As one of my Bible professors  in college said "There is a reason for the rules, it might not be a good reason, but there is a reason". Those reasons are not always Spiritual or moral in nature, but to disobey those non-moral rules still brings discipline.

 

With the Roy Rogers example, there are two problems in your situation. 1) In this case, there is a sin involved, disobeying those in authority. That is the sin and that is what is being punished, watching said movie was the vehicle through which the sin was committed. an institution may fail to highlight that distinction, but it is there. Which brings me to 2) The student in this example is really going assume that watching said Roy Rogers movie at any time in their life is a sin simply because he was punished for it while he was In college? I'm not buying it. Most students in such a situation understand that the sin is not in watching the movie in and of itself, but in the fact that having done so, in spite of the school rules stating otherwise is the sin.  Keep in mind that said institution may have a valid, non-spiritual,non-moral reason for banning the viewing of the Roy Rogers movie. Banning the movie doesn't automatically mean that they believe watching the movie to be sin, it may be that they want to free their students from distractions in their studies. And I believe that you are underestimating the reasoning capabilities of said college student.

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

BTW, there is science in properly set speed limits.  You can calculate the time needed for the average driver to respond to an obstruction, and then evaluate what speed will allow the driver enough time to avoid the deer/child/bicyclist/car surprisingly going out into the street.  That, and the lateral force from going around a curve vs. the gravity force on the car in the other direction.  Most people with a knowledge of response time, maximum g forces exerted by tires in various conditions, and 1st semester physics can actually calculate this.  

Now in a world of "click it or ticket" ads, one may be easily forgiven for not being aware of this.  And yet the science does exist.  Even the practice of setting speed limits according to the speed people drive has this justification--most drivers will indeed make the calculation of reasonable speed/response time internally as they drive.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Jeremy, while a student may sin by disobeying those in authority, I would argue that if the law is our taskmaster to drive us to Christ, the administrators also sin by making rules not connected to real morality.  

And if you look at the testimony of those disaffected by Bible college, you will see almost precisely the argument that I am making.  You may not buy it, but there is a very real confusion produced by the misapplication of rules.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

BTW, there is science in properly set speed limits.  You can calculate the time needed for the average driver to respond to an obstruction, and then evaluate what speed will allow the driver enough time to avoid the deer/child/bicyclist/car surprisingly going out into the street.  That, and the lateral force from going around a curve vs. the gravity force on the car in the other direction.  Most people with a knowledge of response time, maximum g forces exerted by tires in various conditions, and 1st semester physics can actually calculate this.

Now in a world of "click it or ticket" ads, one may be easily forgiven for not being aware of this.  And yet the science does exist.  Even the practice of setting speed limits according to the speed people drive has this justification--most drivers will indeed make the calculation of reasonable speed/response time internally as they drive.

I acknowledge this, which is why I make mention of "traffic engineer" in my post above.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Jeremy, while a student may sin by disobeying those in authority, I would argue that if the law is our taskmaster to drive us to Christ, the administrators also sin by making rules not connected to real morality.  

And if you look at the testimony of those disaffected by Bible college, you will see almost precisely the argument that I am making.  You may not buy it, but there is a very real confusion produced by the misapplication of rules.

Bert, I would think it's not in the making of a practical (vs. moral) rule that there is a problem, but there is a problem in not adequately distinguishing the two types.  Whether it's at a Christian college or just at our places of work, we all have to deal with a significant number of "practical" rules.  There will always be people who complain about some of these rules, and even for those of us that have the right attitude about them, we still might believe the rule is silly, stupid, or worse.  We still have to deal with these rules, but outside a Christian context, it's usually easier to distinguish the moral vs. practical context (e.g. it's fairly easy to distinguish the difference between a work dress code and rules about ethics and confidentiality).

When I was at college, the line wasn't always made clear.  Over time, people confuse the morality of disobedience to a longstanding practical rule with the rule itself being moral.  If the authority itself doesn't make clear which is which, the confusion grows, and many then assume the morality of a practical rule.  Much as we are expected to be, at least minimally, adults in the college context, most students still have a lot to learn, and even if we expect some measure of common sense, it's not always present.  I personally felt, and still do, that the rules themselves are not a real problem for those with the right attitude and a desire to do right.  However, when there is a notable lack of grace and common sense  in the application of the rules, and a culture that allows and even encourages students to "turn one another in," combined with a complete lack of understanding of the difference between rules that are moral and those that are simply practical by many students, that in itself will generate many of the problems that are obvious among former students who have become detractors.

That's why, rather than going after rules (even some of the stupid ones), I believe it's much more important to change the culture for the better, which can be done without conceding all principles to modern norms.  That's what is so frustrating in this conversation.  Some feel that even changing to become more gracious is a moral decline, and on the extreme other end there are some who will not be happy unless the university caves on its morals and principles.  The Grace report gives an opportunity to learn to walk a more scriptural line, which does NOT mean that all non-moral rules need to go away.  It will mean no change where it would be wrong, but will also mean changes in places the university has been wrong or unwise and will need to do things differently.  I'm praying that God gives them the wisdom to know which is which.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

I would suggest that one cannot really separate "practical" from "moral" here.  The premise behind a "practical" rule or law is that somehow, things will go better with it in place.  Now the premise may be true or false, but that is the premise, and it is an inherently moral argument.

For example, two cultural, practical rules I can think of is that I'm told you belch to tell an Inuit host the meal was good, but you do not do that in most places in the U.S., men's colleges and fraternities excepted of course (J/K).  The moral principle that combines both is respect for your hosts.  In the same way, colleges impose curfews because students have trouble learning if they're awakened at 3am by people coming back from wherever, and also because there's not a whole lot to do at that hour that's not spelled "s i n".  It's respect for neighbors and (here's that in loco parentis thing again) helping to keep students out of sin.

The trick--and one trick to reforming culture as dcbii notes--is to make sure that the rules actually do promote some Biblical moral stance and are easily understood by those in the prevailing culture(s). 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I would argue that if the law is our taskmaster to drive us to Christ, the administrators also sin by making rules not connected to real morality.  

Bert,
Are you sure you want to compare the institutional rules at BJU with the Mosaic code? I don't think you can validly argue that the dress code at BJU is a taskmaster designed to drive the students to Christ.

Bert Perry's picture

Pvawter; absolutely not.  What I am saying is that all rules are moral rules because (a) they are enacted because of perceived benefits, which are moral and (b) infractions of the rules are punished.  I am also saying that when rules do not derive from objective sources of morality, like the law of God, they engender a great disrespect for all rules and....the law of God as well.  

And really, if a rule is truly arbitrary, what is the defense that the lawmaker or enforcer can offer for that rule?  "If you don't like it, leave." Or "It's the law--click it or ticket."  Right?  And what is our response to rules that we think infringe our freedom without a real moral reason?

We ignore them, and we start to ignore other laws because we have the assumption that rules and laws are arbitrary.  Including the ones that count.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Bert,
As several people have pointed out in this thread, the basis for a student obeying an "arbitrary" rule is his own word which he gave when he agreed to attend the rule-making institution. Far from being arbitrary, his obedience is based on his integrity, not the perceived quality of the rules. That is why I feel little sympathy for students who complain about the rules.

Larry Nelson's picture

pvawter wrote:

Bert,
As several people have pointed out in this thread, the basis for a student obeying an "arbitrary" rule is his own word which he gave when he agreed to attend the rule-making institution. Far from being arbitrary, his obedience is based on his integrity, not the perceived quality of the rules. That is why I feel little sympathy for students who complain about the rules.

...here is how the rules at *some* Bible colleges are administered in practice:

1. Rules provided to student in promotional materials, on college's website, etc. are viewed by student, who agrees to abide by them.  Upon enrolling, plunking down $$, and arriving on campus, student is handed the actual, far more comprehensive/onerous  rulebook, which he is far less receptive to.  (This has happened!)   Let's call this the "bait & switch."

2. Student discovers there is a plethora of "unwritten" rules (which are nevertheless strictly enforced), which may be college-wide, or even dorm-specific.

3. Student sees that the school's expectation of compliance with rules is applied selectively.  Some students appear to be exempt from various rules or held to a different standard (for whatever reason).

Jay's picture

Pvawter-

You said: 

As several people have pointed out in this thread, the basis for a student obeying an "arbitrary" rule is his own word which he gave when he agreed to attend the rule-making institution. 

Yes, but that may be a little too simplistic.  When I first attended NBBC, I knew that there would be a rule against CCM, so I took any birthday money that I received and bought a bunch of hymn CDs that would (ostensibly) pass NBBC's music check. Well, it turns out that they didn't because of a 'contemporary style' for the hymn singing, and all of them were confiscated by the hall leader and retained by the Student Life office during the semester.

I was frustrated about this, and so I asked for a brief meeting with one of the then music professors.  To my surprise, he actually had the CDs in question in his office, so we listened to some of them and then he explained the reasoning to me.  I didn't agree with it at the time, but didn't have a lot of choice since the school had taken the CDs from me.

For another example, towards the end of my time at NBBC, Student Life became concerned about the video games in the dorms.  Imagine my surprise when my hall leader's room mate was playing DOOM II, but my copy of SimCity 2000 hadn't passed for 'music' reasons - which lead to another polite but frustrated conversation between myself and the hall leader.  The issue there, as it became very obvious very soon, was that the guidelines for what was acceptable and what wasn't hadn't been clearly thought through; to the school's credit, the rule on games was revised the very next semester (it may have even been that semester - it was a while ago!) to be more comprehensive and clear.  The Dean of Men, if I remember right, actually apologized to us when they rolled out the new guidelines because the old rule seemed so arbitrary.

My point is that they had rules I knew about and was OK with, but the application of that rule went a lot farther than I ever expected that it would, and I had no idea just how broadly applied that rule was going to be.  That's unfair to the students who may be signing up to agree and then getting hit with something that is not as easy or narrow as they thought.

"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

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, Pvawter, you can make the argument that way, but I might as well argue that if I were a school administrator, I could justifiably require all students to strap a live duck on their heads during school hours because they'd agreed to the rules.  That's nonsense.

And really, the Bible has a BUNCH of places where God specifically condemns man-made rules, starting with Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees.  Jesus did NOT honor their authority as synagogue administrators and tell the people that they'd just have to go along or leave Judiasm.  Rather, He called them out on it and pointed out that they were voiding the Word of God for the sake of their traditions.  You see the same thing in the Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 58), Acts 15, Galatians, Colossians, and elsewhere.  God calls this kind of thing sin.

Not that there isn't a place for genuine, Biblically based rules.  But when those rules would prevent Moses from marrying his Cushite wife, or the students from attending Jesus' first miracle, or (Aaron's recent comment) from listening to music featuring the instruments of Psalm 150 and responding as the Psalmist says ought to happen from time to time, I think we've got to have a sanity check and ask ourselves what we're doing.  Arbitrary rules undermine fundamentalism and the Gospel.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Arbitrary rules undermine fundamentalism and the Gospel.

Here's my summary:

Many rules at Bible colleges are established arbitrarily (and lack any biblical support).  But then, arbitrary rules are common in other venues too.  (See my "Tim Kimmel" post for a "fleshing-out" of this.)

If a prospective student at a Bible college is aware of whatever the school's rules happen to be (and he or she freely still chooses to attend), then said student should accept the consequences/repercussions of violating said rules.

Now, as I tried to point out, it's often not that straightforward.  The rules may not be honestly spelled-out, and are not always uniformly enforced.

Moreover, I feel sorry for students who really didn't make a free-will choice to attend a school at which they chafe under the rules.  These situations certainly exist: such as when students are compelled by their parents to (unwillingly) attend a particular school.  (These situations usually turn out badly...)

And believe me, I'm no fan of arbitrary rules.  In fact, call me a "rules minimalist."  A couple of years ago, Aaron published (as a 5-part series) an article I wrote on Christian schools.  Here is an excerpt:

"One element of a Christian school that influences enrollment is its rulebook. Every organization needs a solid framework of rules to facilitate its operation. Rules maintain order by governing conduct. Rules also may adversely affect a school’s enrollment by becoming too much of an impediment, if not judiciously administered. In this regard, superfluous rules can be as detrimental as a lack of prudent ones.

In his books, Christian author and conference speaker Dr. Tim Kimmel has proficiently examined the complex interaction of rules and behavior. He counsels that cultivating a gracious spirit in a school may actually reduce infractions of its rules. Students are less apt to develop or harbor rebellious attitudes in an atmosphere where mutual respect and evident concern for students’ well-being are norms. Conversely, rules which are seen by students as being authoritarian or capricious can stimulate the types of behavior they were ostensibly established to prevent. Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 are germane to this point, as undue provocation of the young can occur in the classroom as well as in the home. Although fathers are specifically addressed in these verses, Christian schools wield a fair degree of parental surrogacy in dealing with students.

So what constitutes a “good” rule in a Christian school? A good rule is one which honors God and does not impede a school from accomplishing its mission. In this definition, there should be no conflicts. Of course, some rules may be mandated by legal requirements; others may be the result of health or safety considerations. Nevertheless, all other rules in a Christian school should be predicated on bona fide biblical precepts, to the utmost possible extent. Any other basis can undermine a school’s credibility.

Here is an example of a dubious rule: “No excessive cheering at school athletic events.” At first glance this rule seems ill-conceived. What is its rationale? How is “excessive” defined? How are infractions measured? What punishment is justifiable? Many parents would look askance at a rule which could penalize their child for what they see as completely acceptable youthful exuberance.

Some rules in the dress code category can be similarly equivocal. Wearing lime green nail polish? It becomes an act of rebellion by schoolgirls only if a school elects to treat it as such. Unlike truly rebellious acts, it is not inherently so.

The bottom line is that unnecessary rules at Christian schools should be deliberate abnormalities, not desultory norms. Since they can create dissension and can function as a deterrent to both new and re-enrollments alike, they should exist only if in support of some greater good."

http://sharperiron.org/article/cars-and-christian-schools-rulebook

 

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