“Have you ever told your father that you love him?”
When the gray-haired, glasses-wearing lady sitting across the table from me in the Bob Jones University (BJU) Dining Common spoke these words to me after I had asked her to pray for my dad’s salvation, I felt like jumping across the table and choking her! How dare she expect me to speak such words to the man who had neglected me and treated my mother with such contempt!
At that moment, God convicted me. I still harbored negative feelings toward my father. I thought, “How can I ask people to pray that God would save a man that I don’t care for myself?”
As a seminary student at BJU, I received assurance of my salvation. God’s Spirit showed me that a right standing with God does not come through my own merits and actions, but it is founded solely upon the sacrifice and the righteousness of Christ. As I began to understand the unmerited love and forgiveness that God offers me in Christ, I knew that I needed to love and forgive my father in the same way.
Thankfully, by God’s grace and the help of BJU, I was able to forgive my father and cast off my negative feelings towards him. I know that forgiving my dad back then has enabled me to serve God and enjoy a healthy life today.
Of all the comments that I have read concerning the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) Report, fellow BJU graduate Michael Edwards best summarizes what is at stake. As an outspoken critic of his alma mater, he notes on the “Truth Seeking Graduates of Bob Jones” Facebook page: “For BJU, the actions are rooted in their theology…. They simply didn’t have wrong actions, they have bad theology in which their actions are rooted and affirmed.”
Edwards understands that the GRACE Report attacks the very culture that has defined BJU since its founding. It also seeks to discredit truths taught at BJU that have set many (including myself) free from the hatred and bitterness that hindered our walk with God.
Did BJU President Stephen Jones do the right thing by hiring GRACE? This question, which many alumni are asking, is pointless. A sovereign God allowed the GRACE Report to be published. Therefore, the best thing we can do is to read it and learn from it. (Go to: http://netgrace.org/wp-content/uploads/Final-Report.pdf)
So, what’s in the Report?
The Report chooses BJU’s dress standard as its first target for criticism. One GRACE Survey participant asserts, “The dress code and the stated philosophy behind it puts the onus of unwanted sexual attraction on the victim—the woman” (48).
Another reported hearing “comments made from chapel platform or other such forums alluding to sexual advances being made because of dress or actions of the victim” (49).
A female participant claimed Freshman Orientation at BJU taught that “if we don’t dress the right way or if we didn’t have the right amount of meekness we would be sinful. It was an aggressive environment and a graphic speech given by men to women” (49).
Another female said, “I just remember coming away from that [orientation] meeting feeling very ashamed for being female. I think there was a lot of blame put on us and a lot of responsibility put on us to keep people around us pure, and if we didn’t change who we were we were sinful” (50).
The GRACE Report concludes,
From the time of the university’s founding, focus upon a woman’s dress has been a point of significant concern. In addition, the university dress code’s stated objective is to ‘teach students to consider the impact of their choices on others, thus living out Jesus’ instruction about loving others as ourselves.’ These reported messages have communicated to some individuals—particularly to female victims of sexual abuse—an underlying sense of responsibility for the man’s lust, which may evoke shame and blame for the occurrence of sexual offenses. (50)
The Report continues,
Communicating that women are the source of lust also contributes to an environment where women are objectified. Because such thinking impacts how women are treated, abuse may occur easily in this environment. (55)
If a dress code encourages men to see women for their bodies—whether they dress modestly or not—then women become objects, and often, mere objects of lust. In effect, the messages about women that are expressed around BJU’s dress code place much of the responsibility of a man’s lust and a victim’s abuse upon the woman and what she was wearing. Any institutional messages that communicate that a victim has some responsibility for sexual abuse not only exonerate perpetrators for their actions, but these messages also fail to demonstrate love and compassion. (56)
GRACE alleges that the BJU Dress Code, which was put in place to protect the virtue of women, actually does the opposite.
The Report moves on to give helpful advice for those in ministry about how we should deal with sexual immorality in light of the fact that “one in four females and one in six males will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18” (57).
It says, “If there is no distinction between sexual sin committed by a person and sexual sin perpetrated against a person, then victims will reasonably process their experience as sin for which they are culpable” (57).
We are reminded in the report,
A group of almost any size will have victims of sexual abuse. When sexual sin is addressed, victims desperately need to hear someone make these distinctions with compassion. All BJU employees must clearly articulate with one voice the important distinction between the sinner and the sinned against…. Without this message, an emphasis on sexual purity can be a message of condemnation to abuse victims. (57)
A sexual abuse victim who attended BJU in the 2000s testified, “Virginity was the ultimate ideal. It was praised. It was talked about. And if you had lost it, then you would never be good enough. It was encouraged to the guys that you only marry a girl that is a virgin.” She lamented, “They had something that I would never have. The confusion about sex was so frustrating. I was so angry. Here I was being judged/blamed/torn to shreds for my horrible ‘sin.’ And I had never even had consensual sex” (52).
“The lack of distinction between sexual abuse and consensual sexual sin,” the GRACE Report concludes, “has caused some victims of sexual offenses to feel impure and shamed even though they did not choose the sexual act perpetrated upon them” (52).
The Report then begins to contrast its views of how victims should deal with sexual abuse with those taught at BJU.
BJU professor Gregory Mazak said in regards to dealing with sexual abuse,
When bad things happen to us, what do we do? We look at them God’s way. We become like Job, we get spiritually transformed. We realize that God has a purpose for things, and He has a way for us to deal with even the bad times. Spiritual transformation. That’s the biblical way of doing things. Realizing we are created in the image of God, realizing that God allows bad things to happen to us because it perfects the image of Christ in us. OK? Count it all joy when you encounter diverse trials. Count it all joy knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience, and more verses we can cite than that. OK? That’s the biblical way of dealing with things. (63)
The pressures around us (the unfavorable circumstances, the temptations, and the commands of God to love Him and our neighbor) merely draw out of our heart what is already in it. We cannot blame the hot water for the taste in the cup…. Similarly (like the tea bag in hot water), we cannot shift the blame for any bitterness, anger, despair, deception, cruelty, and so forth that we display when we are under pressure. The pressures merely expose how unlike Christ we really are. (65)
Another leading counselor at BJU, Executive Vice President Emeritus Bob Wood, concurred,
I think that people internally are angry at God for allowing this to happen. So you have to get beyond that and it is a very difficult thing to get beyond because I can’t tell you why something like this happened. I can tell you it did happen but I can’t tell you why it happened or why the Lord allowed it to happen. I assume that there is some reason that this has happened and that you have to work it out within your own mind about why, and it is interesting that in many cases that it really is the root problem. (68)
The GRACE Report analyzes BJU’s counseling philosophy:
“The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.” This adage aptly captures a central tenet of discipleship among BJU counselors: Many struggles in people’s everyday Christian walk are rooted in sinful attitudes of the heart that can be remedied by repentance and adjustments in thinking. The application of this discipleship tenet to sexual abuse counseling is fraught with risk for the abuse victim. Misapplication can result in victims being grossly ill-served. Abuse victims will be underserved to the degree the impact of sexual abuse is misconstrued to be an issue of sinful heart attitudes that requires detection and repentance, rather than recognized as evidence of possible psychological trauma requiring skilled assessment. In such a case, the counseling needs of the abuse victim will likely be underestimated. Biblical knowledge rather than trauma expertise will be the primary criteria for counselor selection. Abuse victims will be ill-served to the degree that the misapplication of the “heart problem” tenet adds to their guilt, shame, and self-blame. This is likely if common psychological responses to sexual victimization such as sorrow, grief, and fear are mislabeled as deliberate sinful choices, rather than as pre-wired symptoms of soul injury. (76, 77)
Despite the recognition that medical problems can affect behavior and emotions,” the Report notes, “there seems to be little appreciation among BJU counselors of the substantial scientific evidence that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma-related anxiety and affect conditions are likely to have neurobiological causes. As a result, BJU counselors may not be referring abuse victims for appropriate medical evaluation. (77)
A Survey participant observed, “Everything [at BJU] is a spiritual problem. If you are depressed it is a spiritual problem” (83). A second claimed that BJU teaches that “people did not need outside help except knowing the truth of God” (83).
Mazak defended BJU’s position, “All problems are spiritual. I think it all goes back to presuppositions. If we are all struggling with problems, [then] all problems are spiritual…. There is no problem that does not have a spiritual aspect” (85).
Mazak explained the sin nature,
Maybe what you are asking is: “Are my mental problems the result of my individual sin?” I don’t believe they are. Yet, sin is a part of who I am, and I am struggling with it 24/7—all day. I am a firm believer in total depravity …theologically, everything I do is tainted by sin. (85)
Mazak rebuffed the Report’s criticisms:
Here’s an example that you use, rape. Now when I say it’s a spiritual problem, I don’t mean the girl had a problem in her life and thus she was the victim of rape. That’s ridiculous, that’s not what I’m saying. But dealing with it is a spiritual issue. It is. And every aspect is answered, is dealt with by God in the scripture. (85)
GRACE asked Mazak “how he responds to victims who raise the complaint that he identifies problems associated with abuse as sin” (86). He replied, “I honestly believe that Jesus Christ is great enough to allow me to respond to anything I face; and, ultimately, the answer is getting to know the Lord Jesus Christ more” (86).
Here is how Wood responds to sexual abuse victims,
Now, the least important part of you has been offended in this sexual act and what have you allowed Satan to do with the offense of your body? What did he do to your imagination? What did he do to your reason? What did he do to your memory? What did he do to your conscience? Ah. It’s only the throw away part that’s offended, but all the important parts of your soul have been destroyed by Satan…. Are you willing to go on the rest of your life with your life destroyed by something that happened to your throw away part, the least important? Are you willing to allow Satan to use your body to destroy your soul? That’s what these people [abuse victims] are doing. (87, 88)
Berg agrees. He explained,
No matter what has happened in your past, working on becoming the most godly person you can be …is like this Styrofoam cup. You go out to the athletic field and you buy some hot apple cider on a winter night here, and you drink the cider and you throw away the cup …because that is not the most important part—the most important part is what is on the inside. I say, “God is going to resurrect our bodies and our bodies are important; they are a part of our personhood. But the condition of our body, whether I lose a leg in an accident or whether you lose your virginity because of your choices or because of somebody else’s choices, the state of your body is not the determining part of your freedom, and your fruitfulness, your joy, your peace. What is going on in the inside is the important part of your soul. God is going to resurrect your body and make it all new at some point” (88)
Disgusted by BJU’s counseling advice on dealing with the effects of sexual abuse, the GRACE Report charges,
The epitome of victim blaming is to tell rape victims that their severe symptoms of PTSD are their own fault. Their debilitating fear, their wildly unpredictable flashbacks, their frequent dissociative blackouts, and their terrifying nightmares would all disappear if only they would: Stop dwelling on the past, forgive and forget, memorize more scripture, and be a better Christian. (89)
The approach taken by Dr. Mazak and Dr. Berg can be heard by an abuse victim as saying that suffering from PTSD is sinful. The stronger the symptoms and the longer they linger, the more evidence that the abuse victim is failing their ‘trial’ or not making enough spiritual effort to know Jesus…. For abuse victims, being blamed for the psychological after-effects of their abuse is the final insult…. Heaping more blame and shame on the abuse survivor because he or she is suffering is both hurtful and counterproductive…. The counselor and the psychology professor both have roles to play in emphasizing God’s tender mercies for the abuse victim rather than suggesting God is displeased with the abuse victim for their response to their trial. (90)
Do sexual abuse victims bear any of the blame for their struggles? Wood observed,
You know what happens to people who are abused or who have serious spiritual or emotional problems? Their every view is inward: ‘Me, me, me, me, me, me. This happened to me. I can’t get over this. I’m mad about me. I’m mad that they did this to me. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been offended.’ …Me is not important. Joy is just like you learned in the primaries: Jesus first, others second, yourself last. You have to get your perspective right. (96)
“You want to stay very mechanical and shallow and robotic in your walk with God?” a chapel speaker at BJU asked. ”Then do this: Keep a bitter spirit against someone who hurt you.” He told of a conversation he had with a girl whose stepfather had sexually abused her:
I said, “Young lady, you have lived a very difficult life, a very hard life. But let’s look at your sin in this situation.” When I said that, she lost it. She said, “My sin? It wasn’t me! My mom, my dad, my step-dad!” I said, “Yea, you allowed the sin of these folks to create such anger and hatred and bitterness in your heart.” I took her to Hebrews 12. You gotta look diligently, and some of you need to do that. You better search your heart to wonder why you just can’t get over this plateau thing and walk with God. (94)
A Survey participant who was present for the aforementioned sermon analyzed it:
I realize that as Christians we are called to forgive from the heart, but I think that comes later. It comes way later after you have walked through a lot of other steps before then. Seriously, if [the speaker] is at camp and a little girl camper is there for one week and she comes to him for help and he says “you need to have forgiveness,” is that seriously all that happens? I really hope to God not. (94)
However, Berg concurs with Wood and the chapel speaker,
The thing that will stop the growth and the process and the change more than anything else is this (holds up clenched fist). “Where was God? He can’t do that. I won’t trust Him. You can’t expect …nobody can expect.” This clenched fist is what stops the growth and stops the change and stops the progress because this clinched fist says, “I will survive my way. I will do it my way. I will live life the way I see it.” We are going to see that coming up again and again and again. Now, the first time I sit down with an abuse victim and she is going through her story, I don’t first of all go, “Well, I know what your problem is. It’s this (puts up clenched fist) right here. Fix it!” But we are going to have to get to that. At some point, we are going to have to get to that because it is at the root of the problems that keeps people from changing. We have got to get back to that at some point. “I will not trust Him, He hurt me. I am going to listen to Satan because he said there is another way to do this, and I don’t have to do it God’s way.” That is a clinched fist. Augustine was the first one to really articulate that. “The problems of men are this clenched fist,” he said. It is never a question of “I cannot.” It is always a question of “I will not.” (104, 105)
The Report disagrees with Wood, Berg, and the chapel speaker,
Jesus understands and shows compassion to the afflicted. He knows the terror of abuse and the agony that forgiveness costs. In the garden of Gethsemane, before He faced the cross’ torture, Jesus asked the Father if there were another way. There was nothing easy about Jesus’ decision to obey His Father’s will and go to the cross so that sinners might be forgiven. Insisting that forgiveness can and must be extended harms victims and cheapens forgiveness….
A message of “move on” shows a lack of understanding and compassion. Without acknowledging the hard process of forgiveness, the righteous anger of victims is invalidated. Several investigative participants mentioned a 2009 sermon where the speaker confronts a sexual abuse victim about her own ‘sin’ because she was ‘allowing the sin of these folks to create such anger and hatred and bitterness in your heart.’ Based on the information provided by the speaker, he did not lament over the crime of the abuser, but instead focused on the sin of the abuse victim. The speaker stated that the girl at the camp had been abused by her step-father, and in light of her suffering, she told the preacher, in effect, “[God], why have you forgotten me?” According to the speaker’s own statements, rather than express outrage at the crime committed against her, sorrow for her personal losses, or compassion for her circumstances, he instead told the victim, “let’s look at your sin in the situation,” and then cautioned the audience against a similar attitude of bitterness. (103)
The Report concludes,
God knows that when faced with abuse and oppression, people need to stop and take the time to acknowledge the depth of the perpetrator’s sin. (104)
Rather than cautions about bitterness and a push to forgive and forget, the most urgent and ongoing need of a victim is to have the community surround the victim with love and cry out to God. (106)
There is a righteous expression to anger. The perfected martyrs in heaven cry out for God to take vengeance upon their murderers and execute justice. God gives his people the words to express these sentiments, ‘How long, O Lord?’ and ‘Why, O LORD, do you stand afar?’ Is this bitterness? Is this an unforgiving spirit? No, this is a godly posture toward great evil. God gave these words to His people in the Psalms so they would have the right words to say in the face of terrible evil like sexual abuse. (107)
Since someone has been sinned against in a sexual abuse case, does the victim have any responsibility, according to Matthew 18:15-17, to confront his or her perpetrator? Mazak said, “I think that as a brother in Christ, you owe it to that person. I think on multiple levels it is the right thing to do. God may use that appeal or rebuke in a number of different ways to bring about change in that person’s life. It may be [that] the Holy Spirit uses that” (111).
Wood agreed: “I am very confrontational. I believe that you need to confront the people as near as possible to the crime and deal with it head on” (111). Berg concurred in principle but qualified his support for confrontation by claiming that “Matthew 18 would not apply to a child or to university students” (116).
There are at least two other important factors about sexual abuse that Matthew 18 does not address, but which other biblical passages do address. First, abuse is a particularly horrific degree of sin that involves a power differential between the perpetrator and the victim. Second, abuse is a crime, not just a personal offense…. The sin of sexual abuse is on a scale that simply cannot be adequately addressed by these steps, and Jesus never intended His statement to be misused and misapplied to sexual abuses. (115)
Misapplying the steps of Matthew 18 to cases of abuse is just what an abuser would want. Following Matthew 18 in cases of abuse ignores the power differential and the Bible’s call to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable. Abusers are master manipulators. Having a victim confront the abuser plays right into the perpetrator’s hands. Applying Matthew 18 to sexual abuse allows abuse’s reality to stay hidden and unexposed. Perpetrators can then remain in a position to abuse and avoid any consequences for their offenses. God never intended for Matthew 18 to undermine the clear moral imperative to protect the vulnerable. (116, 117)
The GRACE Report then goes after another trademark of BJU: Its disciplinary system.
Discipline has been a hallmark of BJU’s existence from its establishment, and BJU officials highlight discipline as one of the school’s greatest assets. The university’s current Student Life structure, however, invites role conflicts between discipline and counseling because it oversees both functions. (119)
BJU Chancellor Bob Jones, III disagrees with GRACE’s assessment:
I don’t see it as a conflict at all. This is the way we have always operated as the Dean of Students…. Disciplining students is not fun. It is not what we delight in, but at the same time, not disciplining when discipline is needed is not in their best interest either. You can’t grow character by turning your head the other way and pretending something wrong did not happen. So, there is no problem with the Dean of Students also being a disciplinarian when he needs to be; it is just like a parent. What parent who is a decent parent wouldn’t discipline their children when it is needed? The Bible is full of admonitions for parents to discipline their child when they need discipline, but also plenty of admonition to love your children. A parent is both a counselor and disciplinarian. Why shouldn’t the Dean of Students? (121)
Jones, III then explained to GRACE how BJU operates:
We are all there in loco parentis like most schools used to be, like most colleges used to be and now very few are. We are there in loco parentis. So if the Dean of Students acts in loco parentis, he would be a disciplinarian when he needed to be and a counselor when he needed to be just like a parent. (121)
Berg agreed with Jones, III, “In a Biblical model, I don’t see comfort and chastening as conflicting roles. Prophets did both. Isaiah, half of it is comfort and half of it is pretty strong. From a theological standpoint I don’t see conflict in that” (121). “The investigation,” in contrast, “found that this conflict can and does have some negative consequences for the counselee” (122).
The Report gave an example. A sexual abuse victim
revealed to the counselor that she had begun smoking cigarettes at work. According to the university records, the counselor “challenged her to repent and get right with God and her parents.” The Women’s Counselor also told the victim that she needed to report her rules infraction to the Dean of Women. The Dean of Women documented the smoking in a 2013 discipline report that was circulated to BJU administrators…. The university, thus, placed a victim of childhood sexual abuse on probation, who expressed her struggles with the counselor and disclosed this information in a confidential setting. (123)
The conflation of disciplinary and counseling roles places the counselee, the counseling relationship, and the therapeutic process in direct jeopardy. It is critical that victims are able to trust that what they reveal in counseling will not be shared outside the counseling room and will not place them at risk of adverse consequences. (137, 138)
According to the Report, the in loco parentis model that BJU operates under not only creates conflicts of interest for the counselees, but it also led to widespread breaches of confidentiality. The Report says, “Dr. Berg acknowledged that the university’s internal communications about confidential disclosures of abuse had been ‘sloppy’ due to the university’s ‘family’ structure” (128).
Concerning poor confidentiality standards, the Report asserts that “another contributing factor is that BJU includes Resident Counselors as partners in this family dynamic structure and does not view them as ‘professional counselors.’ The university appears to view information sharing as collaboration” (128). Berg understands a student “looking at the climate today and saying, ‘they are breaching confidentiality all over the place’ but from in loco parentis it doesn’t feel that way. It might feel that way to a student or to the public in today’s eyes, but it didn’t feel that way to us here. It was a collaborative effort” (129).
The Report criticizes Berg as unqualified to help sexual abuse victims:
Dr. Berg stated that he had no formal education specific to counseling victims of sexual abuse; however, he gained a fair amount of ‘on-the-job’ training. His training to address sexual abuse came from reading books, articles, and attending a conference. The complexity of sexual abuse counseling does not at all lend itself to such an informal approach to preparation. While some of the knowledge needed to counsel sexual abuses victims can be self-taught, professional judgment is typically learned through competent professional supervision with an experienced counselor. (141)
That being said, “Dr. Berg’s lack of formal training and professional supervision was evident in several judgment errors in the counseling he offered” (142).
The GRACE Report concludes,
Beneficence and non-maleficence are two widely accepted principles for guiding counseling ethics. These principles mean that the counselor should strive to benefit those whom they counsel and take care to do no harm…. The university’s counseling services transgress beneficence and non-maleficence in its conflicts of interest, breaches of confidentiality, and inadequate training. (137)
Next on the Report’s list of targeted BJU traditions was its process of holding people spiritually accountable. One way BJU does this is through Residence Hall Evaluations (aka, Spiritual Evaluations). The Report explains their purpose:
The university requires that students who live in the residence halls undergo Residence Hall Evaluations each academic year. Though these evaluations have changed through the years, they have generally covered various issues including spiritual life, personal consistence, response to authority, effectiveness in dealing with others, effectiveness in personal performance of duty, personal efficiency, emotional control, social life, and appearance. (144)
The selection process for student spiritual leaders within Student Life has been, in large part, determined by these Residence Hall Evaluations. (145)
GRACE warns that, “Evaluations critiquing various factors such as ‘spiritual life,’ ‘emotional control,’ and ‘appearance’ can have a negative impact upon some already fragile victims of abuse who suffer with other effects commonly associated with abuse” (157)
Berg defended BJU’s system of spiritual accountability,
It would be difficult for a teacher to note any progress and development if she never recorded grades. So our demerit system and these kinds of things were a way to track, are we seeing spiritual development in the student and what they are learning. It is sort of like we have all these academic files and the grades and tests and things that teachers are keeping and then there is a character component going on over here. So we have two huge record-keeping things going on. If we didn’t care about the students and their progress, then none of this would have happened. (146)
The Report provides instances where it thought BJU’s accountability system went too far. One former BJU employee testified that she “confessed to the campus clinic doctor that I thought I might be gay.” As a consequence, she stated that “there was an emergency meeting called and I was fired and kicked out of University housing” (148) In another incident, “The clerk at the drugstore knew [a friend] was a Bob Jones student (pretty obvious given the dress code) and called the administration and turned her in for buying a pregnancy test” (148)
A former student described the atmosphere at BJU:
Expulsion was a constant and real fear. Students “disappeared” all the time, expelled and vanquished from campus without any goodbyes. I can’t really describe it fully. It was like a low cloud always being there over head. Like a “grip” on everything you did or said. It was a real fear with real consequences. It extended to things as simple as cleaning your room and the shoes you wore, but it wasn’t just about physical things, it was about “attitude,” which is where the real meat of the trouble was in my opinion. A wrong “attitude” would get you expelled, or at the very least interrogated. I saw it happen. Grumpiness, sarcasm, skepticism, questioning and even quiet sadness could be seen as “decent” [sic] and could lead to “counseling” or even expulsion if they continued. (149)
The GRACE Report notes,
Some individuals explained that some of the university’s sanctions, including discipline probation and spiritual/character probation, have had a chilling effect upon the disclosure of sexual abuse, and upon the disclosure of symptoms or effects associated with sexual abuse. For example, one victim of sexual abuse explained, “let’s say a student was drinking over the summer and raped by a boyfriend. Or, was making out with a boyfriend and then he ultimately raped her. A student would be way too afraid of revealing those situations, because she could get kicked out of school for the drink/immorality even if the rape component wasn’t her fault.” (150)
Jones, III assured GRACE, “Nobody who is a genuine victim of rape would ever be expelled. She would be dealt with with great compassion and a desire to help her put her life back together. It would not be a discipline matter for the university. She would receive no discipline for that. That would be unheard of” (151).
A BJU student from the mid-2000s had been in a sexual relationship with her pastor since she was 15. She “lied about her whereabouts when she obtained the overnight passes to leave campus” to spend nights with him at a hotel. When she found out that she was expecting a child by him, she packed up her bags and left BJU. “Consequently, she was asked to withdraw at the request of the administration for lying about the overnight passes” (153) Months later, “she called Dr. Berg to ask if she could be allowed to take her final exams since she had been very near the end of the semester. This request was denied” (154).
GRACE suggests that BJU should have handled things differently (this woman is called “777” in the Report):
777 is a tragic example of someone who needed compassion and healing but instead received discipline…. 777’s rules violation needed to be put in its context. She was the victim of a large scale campaign of abuse by a shepherd who preyed on his sheep. She needed compassion and grace but received neither. Though Dr. Berg and Dr. Jones, III each expressed that the situation was “heartbreaking,” sanctioning a victim under these circumstances communicates a concern more for policies than for people. (160)
The GRACE Report concludes,
Instead of feeling safe, some victims reported feeling isolated, scrutinized and shut down” at BJU. (159) “Counselors must remove fear and create a space where the love of God in the gospel casts out any fear of disclosing difficult circumstances. The fear of punishment created by the role of disciplinarian is in direct conflict with this objective. The net result is many students did not receive the counseling they needed. (161)
Should contacting the civil authorities be the first reaction of those who hear about the possibility of sexual abuse? “BJU’s Dean of the Undergraduate School of Religion explained that it is important to report offenses to law enforcement, but he noted that they teach students that it is important to first be confident that an offense occurred before reporting it to law enforcement” (201).
I realize there are legal things when you are dealing with somebody’s children. We try to caution the students, you do want to be careful, you don’t want to get the Department of Social Services involved needlessly. In other words, you don’t want to be a loose screw, just, oh I bet there is sexual abuse going on here, let’s call them and let them sort out the facts. You don’t want that for sure…. You need to be very careful if you are going to accuse somebody of something that you know what you are talking about and you don’t get unsaved government employees, if you will, involved and as nice as they want to be, you just don’t call them needlessly and say, well they can sort it out. (201)
GRACE did not like the Dean’s answer:
The Dean of the Undergraduate School of Religion explained that they “try to caution the students” to be “sure” that the abuse has occurred before reporting it to “unsaved government employees.” The admission is concerning, because a top faculty member admits training future ministers about sexual abuse reporting standards in a manner inconsistent with the legal requirement to report known information to authorities. All university policies, as well as university administrators and its agents, such as professors, must communicate clearly and unequivocally on this issue. (209)
“Dr. Jones, III stated that the university does not involve the law when it is unnecessary to do so, but will when an issue is ‘deserving of the law’s attention or mandated by the law to do [so]’” (183). The Report replies to Jones, III’s comments,
Dr. Jones, III appears to have taken the position that sexual abuse need not be reported to the police when it is not mandated by law to be reported. Unfortunately, this position has resulted in needless suffering by those who came to university officials for help…. Regardless of whether there is a legal obligation to report, Christians have a sacred and moral obligation when confronted with abuse. (193)
The Report declares, “In cases where university officials did not report abuse or do everything possible to encourage and assist the victim to report the crime, they failed to show victims God’s love” (194).
On a positive note, the Report applauds BJU for its 2014-2015 abuse and neglect policy.
These improvements are highly commendable and signal an increased awareness of mandatory reporting laws. The abuse policy should take the critical step of reporting all known sexual offenders, regardless of the victim’s age and regardless of mandatory reporting obligations unless otherwise prohibited by law. (205)
GRACE also speaks highly of BJU’s new Chief of Public Safety. He “appears to have aided BJU officials in recognizing and reporting sexual crimes quickly” (207).
At this point, the Report takes aim at BJU’s pursuit of excellence.
Some individuals described the spiritual damage experienced at Bob Jones University as resulting from what they termed the showcase mentality, noting, “there is this emphasis on being perfect.” The showcase mentality has been reported to be a cultural attitude at BJU that emphasizes the importance of external appearances. Those who described the showcase mentality explained how this ideal harms victims, enables perpetrators, and distorts their view of God. (210)
“The narrative that BJU is a showcase institution,” proclaims the GRACE Report,
can easily contradict the gospel’s basic principles. Jesus rebuked what could be labeled as showcase Christianity when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” …This showcase mentality impacts the community as a whole, because it gives the perpetrators of sexual crimes significant freedom to reoffend. A BJU graduate, who is now a counselor, explained how the showcase mentality benefits perpetrators because, “a lot of abuse is covered over because it tarnishes that image of perfection…. I think that breeds abuse and it breeds failure.” (213)
The GRACE Report concludes,
The choice of an idealized showcase culture by BJU has impacted victims of sexual abuse negatively, particularly with regard to their spiritual lives. Ironically, victims see this chosen culture to be more welcoming and supportive of perpetrators. Change in this aspect of life at BJU could make a real positive difference in the lives of many present and future students. (219, 220)
As we come to the end of the Report, let us ask, “Who are the Survey participants? What do they think about BJU?” The attitude of the majority can be summed up by this participant’s quote: “If I can prevent one family from sending their kid there, that would mean so much” (59).
Here is how some of the Survey participants describe their spirituality:
- “At this point, I identify as a secular humanist, which is an atheist…. The idea of the concept of God as a father is a weird, scary one for me” (215).
- “I believe in God. I pray. I just don’t go to church” (215).
- “When people describe God or Jesus as someone to draw close to like a father, or something like that, I feel physically sick. I feel panic. I want to run and get as far away as I can” (216).
- “I haven’t been to church in years. I have not met a pastor yet that cares any more about his congregation. He cares about his paycheck…. I am not ready to deal with people that are put in a position of spiritual ‘authority.’ I’m kind of tired of men and their spiritual authority over my life” (217).
- “I don’t read the KJV. I fact I don’t read the Bible at all” (217).
- “I don’t read my Bible anymore because I don’t know how to pick it up and read it… I just don’t know what I believe… I don’t want to believe in their God” (217).
- “I walked away from attending church. But I wouldn’t say I have walked away from God. I have been to church maybe four times in the past three years. When I’m ready, I will go back… I see God as I see man, completely untrustworthy” (217).
- “Me and God are not on the same page right now” (218).
- “I found a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church where my faith was nurtured and my gifts flourished” (219).
- “I have never meditated on the gospel and my abuse. I guess to a degree I have because I thought what if [the perpetrator] got saved before he died, and he is in Heaven. I thought that if he did then that means that Christ died on the cross and paid for my abuser’s sins against me. That makes Christ’s death more brutal and his grace all the more wild” (219).
What does this sampling of spiritual views tell us about the Report? Are the Survey participants competent to counsel BJU in the area of Christian counseling?
In conclusion, the GRACE Report offers recommendations for BJU. They include BJU’s issuing a public apology, making reparation payments to sexual abuse victims, and inviting victims to come to campus so that BJU can listen to their stories, acknowledge its sin, and repent “of its failed response to their disclosures of sexual abuse” (224). Other recommendations include erecting a memorial to sexual abuse victims on campus, engaging “outside child protection and assault prevention experts to review and revise all current BJU policies and procedures related to sexual abuse prevention, response, and reporting,” and giving regular sexual abuse training to BJU employees and board members (225, 226).
The Report constantly praises the Julie Valentine Center and recommends “that BJU refer all counseling for sexual abuse victims attending BJU to outside licensed and trained trauma counseling such as the Julie Valentine Center” (227). It calls on BJU to adopt stricter confidentiality standards, move the Women’s Counselor’s office out of the Administration Building into a “private, relaxed, and accessible place,” discontinue “Resident Hall Evaluations,” hire a “third-party victim advocate who shall be available to assist any and all sexual abuse complaints,” and annually celebrate Sexual Abuse Awareness Week. (228, 229). It advises BJU to “remove…from public access…sermons that include statements that are insensitive or hurtful to sexual abuse victims” (230).
GRACE then strikes at the heart of BJU’s counseling program by demanding that BJU stop selling and remove/prohibit “all endorsements and recommendations by BJU or any of its representatives of any and all counseling related materials, books, teachings, or curriculum associated with Bob Wood, Walter Fremont, and Jim Berg” (230). Furthermore, GRACE expects BJU to
consult an outside expert to review the content of all materials, curriculum, and teachings related to sexual abuse and victimization with the goal of ensuring that curriculum is not harmful to sexual abuse victims [and to] work with outside experts to develop some form of curriculum for seminary, elementary education, nursing, and criminal justice students that properly equips them to understand the various issues and dynamics related to sexual abuse. (230)
Of course, “the expert shall be made in consultation with GRACE” (230).
Last, the GRACE Report calls for “personnel action” to be taken against two individuals: Jones III and Berg.
“Personnel action” includes, but is not limited to, termination, suspension, probation, transfer, remedial education and training, or any other form of corrective action consistent with transforming the employee’s teaching, conduct, or overall disposition regarding sexual abuse matters. (231)
Concerning Jones, III, the Report decrees:
As President of BJU during much of the time that was the subject of this investigation, Dr. Jones, III is ultimately responsible for many of the difficult findings in this investigation. Dr. Jones, III has also repeatedly demonstrated a significant lack of understanding regarding the many painful dynamics associated with sexual abuse. (231)
As for Berg, the Report decrees:
As the most influential member of the BJU community regarding the many issues related to the counseling and discipline of sexual abuse victims, Dr. Berg bears a responsibility for much of the pain caused by BJU’s failure to understand and respond adequately to matters related to sexual abuse. It is recommended that as long as Dr. Berg is employed at BJU, he no longer be authorized to teach on any issue related to sexual abuse or victimization. It is recommended that Dr. Berg also no longer be allowed to provide any counseling and/or discipleship on or off campus. It is also recommended that Dr. Berg not be allowed to speak or consult on any issue related to counseling on or off campus. (231)
Certainly, the Report contains helpful information. Sexual abuse victims to whom we minster need to understand that God does not judge involuntary sexual activity. Also, we should always follow mandatory reporting laws where we live when we first hear of probable sexual abuse.
However, the Report mainly provides a wonderful opportunity for BJU to defend its Bible-based, Christ-centered counseling techniques. Far from going on the defensive, BJU ought to boldly reply to the criticisms leveled against it. The GRACE Report is the opinion of fallible people based upon the input of mostly dissatisfied acquaintances of BJU. The Report is in no way above criticism.
BJU presents a greater hope for victims than that offered by GRACE. It disagrees with the Report’s assertion that “sexual abuse is a devastating crime that impacts the personal and spiritual lives forevermore” (219, emphasis added).
BJU should not change its current dress code, disciplinary system, spiritual accountability system, or emphasis on excellence. Without these key elements, BJU will lose its niche within evangelicalism and will follow the devastating examples of other fundamentalist institutions that have declined precipitously after lowering their standards.
Do we really believe that “[God’s] divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3)? Do we really believe “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28- 29)?
Eternal truths are at stake in this debate, and I pray that BJU will not retreat on the biblical counseling principles that many of its alumni continue to embrace. Those principles radically transformed my life, and I pray they will continue to impact others as well.