BJU grads seek removal of board member

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Dave Doran's picture

I would like to make very clear that my post was not about the Phelps situation. I never mentioned it in my post and was speaking to the larger question as to whether this mechanism is the right way to pursue righteousness. There are at least three online petitions that I am aware of currently. Given the rise in popularity of this tactic, my aim was to address the concept.

My concern on it is pastoral. When God's people embrace the spirit of the age, it inevitably will influence life in the local assembly. My post was aimed at expressing concern that online petitions aimed at effecting some righteous outcome reflect more of the spirit of the age than the Spirit of Christ.

I am not defending the status quo. I am addressing how change should happen in ways that are consistent with the Scriptures. I certainly will concede that authoritarian leadership styles have contributed significantly to the sense of frustration which results in petition-like tactics. No debate from me there. It doesn't seem, though, wise to advocate an approach which only entrenches more distrust. If you are connected to a leader or institution that will not listen to biblical truth, then separate yourself from him or it. But do it consistently with the Scriptures and in a way that does not bring reproach on the Gospel.

DMD

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Dave Doran's blog wrote:
The three arguments are that online petitions designed to pressure a person or organization to act righteously: (1) are adopting a carnal, not biblical, methodology learned from the culture around us; (2) are trying to coerce spiritual change rather than appeal for it; and (3) seldom a display of biblical love.

These are legitimate, Biblical objections to the practice of signing petitions, as well as organizing protests and public boycotts.

With all the fuss about who is holding hands with whom on platforms and at conferences, I would also think folks would have a problem 'associating' with people who have demonstrated behavior that God calls an abomination (Proverbs 6:16-19) by putting their name next to theirs on a petition. And for those concerned about 'the triumph of evil when good men do nothing'- if petitions and protests were the only means to affect change and rebuke wickedness, then that would bring up a viable argument. But they aren't, so it isn't.

Sometimes we act as if God needs our help, that He doesn't know what is going on and if we don't step in, He is going to allow evil to flourish. We are being tested all the time to see how we will handle different situations, and since the only person I can truly control is myself, an appropriate and Biblical response is my highest priority and only responsibility, not the results.

Shaynus's picture

Dr. Doran,

We interacted on Facebook a few nights ago. Thank you for that interaction, and after some thought I wonder if we could interact a little bit more.

I have a question or two for you. If you don't have time to answer all of them, maybe just one.

What in your mind are the essential components of an online petition?

If you were going to advocate for some form of institutional change how would you do it on the internet without a petition?

Your original article combined with your follow-up seems to suggest that you offer two ways to deal with disagreement: (1) go to someone privately or (2) separate. What about other biblical means of going to someone in a group (I'm thinking Matt 18). If it is a good thing to confront in groups, how does the internet play into that confrontation?

Best,

Shayne

JG's picture

I can't speak for him. But I strongly agree with his take on this, so I'll give my own thoughts on this, Shayne.

Matthew 18 is a church context. It implies an existing covenant relationship. The principle would not apply only to a church, but it really only applies when there is an existing relationship. So, for instance, if Dr. Doran were on a board of FBFI (I don't know whether he is or not), and he saw a problem, it would be entirely appropriate for him to contact other board members and address it as a group.

If I, as a non-member of FBFI, were to see a problem, I don't see any Biblical basis for addressing it in a group form. You either walk away or you address it personally with someone within the institution / association who is in a position to either make changes or involve others in the group.

Now, since everyone is thinking about BJU, there is arguably a covenant relationship with alumni. So group contact is appropriate. If the school walked away from historic Biblical Christianity (my term for "fundamentalism" these days), I would not only get involved, but I would seek to involve other alumni. How does the Internet play into that?

I would think it could be a forum for discussing the facts of the problem. It can certainly be a tool for communicating the issues, and encouraging other people to get involved. It is doubtful whether that would be appropriate in a completely open forum, however. In general, I don't see much Biblical basis for airing my brother's faults before the world unless/until the time comes when it has to be somewhat public because I'm making a complete break.

Petitions, though, are simply pressure, and as has been stated on another thread, response to pressure is not repentance, nor is it trustworthy change. In the scenario I've laid out, I would use the Internet as a means to let people know about the problem and encourage them to contact the school directly. For one, I believe that is more consistent with Biblical principles than putting a petition out for all the world to see. For another, from a strictly pragmatic perspective, I believe that 500 letters from individual alumni is more effective than 5000 or more signatures on an on-line petition.

A petition gives one of two impressions. Either the target is so stubborn that they won't listen to people (if they refuse to do what the petition demands), or they did the right thing, not because it was right, but because they gave in to pressure. It puts a weapon in the hand of those who are opposed to the truth. They can mock, whatever decision is made in response to the petition. And they can, under false pretenses, start petitions which do not have righteous motives even if they sound good.

As Dr. Doran stated, Paul's way in Philemon is a much better model, and I do not think the current BJU administration is immune to the working of the Holy Spirit when appeals are made in such a spirit. If I thought they were, I still wouldn't join or start a petition -- I would just break all contact.

When the school released their statement on race / interracial dating, they said that the on-line petition was not helpful in the process. People ignored that, but they shouldn't have. The petition made it harder, because it gave the impression that they were giving in to it, and that undoubtedly made some people want to dig in their heels and say, "No way."

When people are Spirit-led, petitions are counter-productive. If they aren't Spirit-led, petitions are ultimately a waste of time.

Shaynus's picture

Regarding Matthew 18, I do realize it's not a church context, and I think you're right to give more weight to the alumni relationship. I think Matthew 18 shows a pattern for conflict in all of life. I think Jesus gave a pattern of escalation knowing how humans work. He made us, and he knows that if we don't respond to individual confrontation, group confrontation can work.

One interesting side-note for BJU is that most alumni sign a pledge that if the school ever strayed from teaching the Bible, that we would work to close the school. Interesting huh? Simply walking away doesn't seem to be an option should that happen (and I don't think it has).

During the race-related petition, we actually removed non-alumni (as best as we could tell) from the petition and called it an "alumni" petition. That petition was simply a different spirit than this one. For example, all online materials for it have been deleted from the internet, and are even hard to find in internet archives. Petitioners themselves were encouraged to privately write and talk to the school. I did and was answered. We treated the petition like a sample letter for alumni to use.

Of course the University would release a statement that the petition wasn't helpful for the process. No one likes confrontation. I would expect any organization who is confronted to say the confrontation wasn't helpful to the process petition or no. They were even quoted in the press as saying the statement on race had nothing to do with the petition, which is totally ridiculous. The final statement was exactly what we asked for a day before the deadline we asked for it. So I don't think I can believe the statement that says it wasn't helpful. If the school had intended to release a statement at a later time in a better process, it could have just told us. Instead it answered previous letters stating that it wasn't going to happen.

This is all to say, I don't think a petition is always the same in every case. It can be done better or worse.

Anne Sokol's picture

as someone born on that campus, as daughter of former alumni/staff (should I admit that my dad was BJIII's first executive secretary?), former staff myself . . . someone who has lots of very dear family friends there and good memories, and lots of love and goodwill and gratitude toward that institution, to the Jones family themselves--they can be so very gracious and fun,

maybe i'm feeling a little disappointed by the whole bju's-lack-of-help to abuse victims in general that is coming to light . . .

and have you ever watched the movie "Amazing Grace" about William Wilberforce and his (and others') work to get slavery banned in England? . . .

I feel like it's like that. Maybe a petition is a drop in the bucket to eventual change (and I mean eventual b/c I don't think that anything has really changed in the blood system regarding this issue), and it gives a collective voice to people who otherwise would not be heard individually.

I'm happy to keep my fairly good opinion of BJU, my gratitude for what they've done in my life, and still see their faults and blind spots, and ask them to change . . . esp since I have two girls that I am teaching how to recognize and handle s`xual impropriety and abuse . . . and would like to know that the U is on my girls' side with that, too. (And I would feel the SAME WAY if I had a son!)

JG's picture

Shaynus wrote:
This is all to say, I don't think a petition is always the same in every case. It can be done better or worse.

No doubt. It's still public pressure, which has all the problems mentioned, but certainly some of the problems can be mitigated.
Shaynus wrote:
Of course the University would release a statement that the petition wasn't helpful for the process. No one likes confrontation. I would expect any organization who is confronted to say the confrontation wasn't helpful to the process petition or no.

Three thoughts:
1. If someone confronts me and I recognize any merit at all, I thank them, rather than say the confrontation isn't helpful. That's true even if their description of the problem is hopelessly flawed. I don't think I'm all that more spiritual than the people at BJU.
2. Effectively, you are accusing BJU of dishonesty about the petition. Perhaps you might want to re-think that.
3. You are conflating improperly. "Not helpful" and "no impact" are not the same thing. The petition may well have had an impact on timing and other aspects -- but that doesn't mean it helped. In fact, it might have delayed matters by increasing internal resistance which wouldn't have been there if it had been a letter-writing campaign, rather than a petition.

Shaynus's picture

There is a kind of pressure that is public that uses the force of ideas instead of merely working on the will. I like Tim Keller's preferred method of persuasion: speak to the heart, through the mind, changing the will. If a petition campaign works directly on the will ("change or else") without persuading the mind to change the heart, then of course a petition drive would be unhelpful and wrong.

I'm not accusing them of dishonesty about the helpfulness or non-helpfulness, but rather a poor interpretation of events. However, it is dishonest to say that the statement on race had "nothing to do with" the letter writing campaign.

If a petition drive was unhelpful, then so were the responses from the administration in the months prior to the start of the petition. There was a letter writing campaign prior to the petition and during the petition. If we believed the responses from the University were meant in good faith, they said they would not apologize. So should I believe them that they would not apologize or that the petition was not helpful? Not every press release spin or letter is to be believed in the long run.

I fail to see any real difference between a publicly organized letter writing campaign and a petition. The only difference is that everyone uses the same letter. That's it, both are done well.

Shaynus's picture

Also, I've seen repeatedly that people make statements that petitions are just for pressure. Yet I haven't found it to be supported, just stated. Sure petitions can and often do contain pressure. But what kind? the pressure of persuasive argument? Is all pressure created equal?

PLewis's picture

I reading the article linked at the top of the thread I found it interesting that it quotes a former staff member. It seems that in the past few years every time there is a "scandalous" thing brought out regarding the university it can be followed back to a few individuals and websites. The same folks every time. All they seem interested in doing is slinging mud and hoping SOMETHING sticks..

I am a firm believer in speaking out against things I perceive as wrong and/or unjust. I believe there are times people HAVE to take a stand.. In fact I have somewhat of a record of shall we say "protest" ..

That being said - I rarely participate in letter writing campaigns with canned letters, or petitions. I find that often they are started by people who are not interested in actual CHANGE .. but rather use it as part of the mud slinging process. The mud is slung - there's some uproar .. now lets start a petition or write letters .. ( I'm not speaking specifically about the mud slinging at BJU - but I've seen it in a number of "protests" .. ). So often those types of campaigns seem more about "getting" the individual or organization rather than about the actual subject of the campaign.

To me an organization or individual is more likely to respond to someone in person. If someone makes a personal sacrifice to address an issue - whether showing up for a meeting, going to the individual .. or even picking up the phone and speaking directly it makes for more of an impact. Anyone can sign a petition .. (sometimes numerous times) .. anyone can print and write numerous letters .. it's anonymous .. (sorta like slinging mud on the internet) ..

Mike Durning's picture

Dave Doran's blog wrote:
The three arguments are that online petitions designed to pressure a person or organization to act righteously: (1) are adopting a carnal, not biblical, methodology learned from the culture around us; (2) are trying to coerce spiritual change rather than appeal for it; and (3) seldom a display of biblical love.

I have been troubled by this for days. It’s clear that we have a disagreement of Godly men. Bob Bixby thinks this petition was legitimate. He signed it. Dave Doran says these things are not right. Dave’s point 1 may be shaky (still trying to attach Scripture to it). His point 2 is completely valid. Point 3 has to be taken on a case by case basis.

Susan R leads me into what I want to say about Dave’s second point:

Susan R wrote:
And for those concerned about 'the triumph of evil when good men do nothing'- if petitions and protests were the only means to affect change and rebuke wickedness, then that would bring up a viable argument. But they aren't, so it isn't.

Correct, Susan. Petitions and protests are NOT the only way to make an institution change. And “make” is the ugly part of that. But they seem to be the only way to make some Christian institutions change at anything greater than a glacial pace.

In some matters, it seems that certain Christian organizations and even large churches have raised their objection to Political Correctness to an art form by making sure they behave in the most insensitive of ways. And when people object, they are castigated, lumped with the bitter, their objections over-ruled.

Christian brother should approach Christian brother, yes. But many times some of the bigger Christian institutions seem like Gulliver, and all the Lilliputian brethren need to shout as one for them to hear.

It is this simple: If errant Christian organizations will not listen to the calls and letters of a few Christian brothers who courageously challenge them to look again at what they have done or what message it is sending, then let the people speak up en masse.

The crowd can be wrong (“Give us a king, Samuel”). But sometimes, even great and good leaders are wrong (think David numbering the troops).

Shaynus's picture

Mike Durning wrote:

Christian brother should approach Christian brother, yes. But many times some of the bigger Christian institutions seem like Gulliver, and all the Lilliputian brethren need to shout as one for them to hear.

It is this simple: If errant Christian organizations will not listen to the calls and letters of a few Christian brothers who courageously challenge them to look again at what they have done or what message it is sending, then let the people speak up en masse.

The crowd can be wrong (“Give us a king, Samuel”). But sometimes, even great and good leaders are wrong (think David numbering the troops).

Great points, Mike, and well said.

Dave Doran's picture

I'll start with Mike...not sure if you read my initial post or just the follow up, but the text that I based my first point was 2 Corinthians 10:4 and I believe it is appropriate because Paul was engaged in a battle over what was right. My contention is that the methods which may be fitting and effective in a secular cause are not appropriate when it comes to effecting spiritual change.

Shayne, I apologize for the delay in responding. I was actually out of town last week, hence I had a little more time to interact as I sat in my room at night. I typed a much longer reply, but for everybody's sake I'll just boil it down to the essentials as I see it.

The only kind of petition I'm concerned about is one that seeks to effect change. That stands in contrast to those which express agreement or simply state an idea (e.g., "We believe that Christian institutions must maintain the highest standards with regard to protecting children and reporting abuse"). I probably could have made that more clear.

As for the matter of pursuing institutional change, I don't think I would try to do that via the internet. At least not directly by means of an effort to demand change. I have no problem with ideological debate, so expressing one's view on ideas, principles, etc. would be fine. I am even fine with stating one's opposition to something and seeking to persuade people that you are correct. Maybe I'm misguided in my assessment, but all of these seems to be something quite different than making a demand and trying to gather signatures to help give it more weight.

I don't have a problem with anybody "going to" someone or some institution in a group, but I find it hard to think signing an online petition is actually "going to" anybody. And, in the cases of some of these pettitions, forwarding them to news outlets, etc. hardly seems to be aimed at "going to" anybody for the sake of convincing them and regaining them. I am prepared to be corrected on this, but it does not seem that petitions operate at all close to the process of confrontation and restoration we see in Scripture.

Now, I'll grant the objection that educational institutions are different than the church, having more of a place in the marketplace. I'd just say that we should, then, talk about these efforts with that fully in view--they are efforts to bring economic impact on a service provider in order to change the way it provides service. I'd still be opposed to them, but it would seem more honest.

I didn't offer it in my original post or follow up, but I've been wondering what significance Paul's concern abut public disputes in 1 Corinthians 6 has for this discussion. Using internet like this certainly makes it an issue which takes the fight outside the circle of God's people. Granted, the existence of parachurch entities throws a wrench into this all, but I wonder if we dismiss Paul's basic concern too easily.

On that last point, I can remember hearing Rod Bell boast from the chapel pulpit about taking out a full page ad with the line, "God or Billy Graham?" because BG was coming into his area. When I heard it then, I thought to myself, "Why would you take a family fight out into the street like that?" My concern then about that is the same now about this. Sadly, the prevailing culture that applauded that tactic "in the name of fundamentalism" is also the one that has produced the culture that now uses it against "the name of fundamentalism." Little leopards still have spots even if they hate their parents. Smile

DMD

Mike Durning's picture

Dave Doran wrote:
I'll start with Mike...

Dave, thanks for those thoughts. I am digesting them. Will respond when I have thought a bit more.

Shaynus's picture

Dr. Doran,

Like Mike, I'm chewing a bit.

One thought, if 1 Cor 6 has anything to do with petitions then it also has anything that is publicly available on the internet, such as this forum and your blog. Even though neither of our attempts are to try each other in the court of truly public opinion, the fact remains that non-Christians could come across some of what both of us write, which could be kind of scary (at least for me!).

Like you, I don't like the tactic Rod Bell (I keep wanting to say Rob Bell. Oh well, Rod Bell. . . tee hee) used to directly confront Graham in the press. But I might apply Col 4:6 "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." (ESV) Maybe that's the best verse of all for this subject, but it's also the most flexible, if you know what I mean.

Thank you for the thoughtful response.

Shayne

Jay's picture

when I have a few more minutes to fully think this over, but let me interject with one reason, and some of this was touched on in Dr. Doran's post.

The policy of SI is that people register with their real names. It's a good policy that has saved us a lot of trouble, in my opinion, because we don't allow "Haxx0r348" to post - you have to sign your name to what you write. Granted, we may not have a way to verify that people are who they say they are, but at least it makes life easier for everyone here, and it *should* remind people that they're talking to real people, not just anonymous faces in the cyberether.

One of the biggest problems with online petitions of any kind is that there's no way to verify the names on it, and there's no way to verify that some person isn't just making up names to add to the petition - to 'stuff the ballot box', so to speak. So when I read the BJU petition a few days ago and a lot of the names were 'anonymous', the petition lost credibility. When I read comments that indicated that the signer wasn't a Christian (there weren't a lot, but there were a few), much less a Christian that operates in the "Fundyverse" (whatever that is anymore), the petition lost credibility with me.

That, combined with the fact that Scripture tells us to approach our brothers directly when there are issues (Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3, etc), and it commands us to approach others if we are aware of something held that they hold against us (Matthew 5:23-26). So I don't see how putting my name on a collection of people who may not know anything about BJU other than what is available online (from whatever sources available, both official, unofficial, and poisoned), is at best problematic to me.

So while I sympathize with the desire to make sure BJU officials listen to the complains and criticism, I am not sure that petitions are the way to do it; that's my position on online petitions of all kinds.

"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

Shaynus's picture

Jay C.,

You keep saying "petitions of all kinds." What if an online petition were organized differently than you describe? For example, non-alumni were not allow to sign the "Please Reconcile" race-related petition a few years ago. To the best of their ability, the organizers removed offensive or non-alumni names and comments. It wasn't perfect, but a whole lot better. In fact, the comments section in an online petition is a method of being direct (in the sense that it's a personalized letter to the institution) while signing a unified position statement.

Shaynus

Anne Sokol's picture

Mike Durning wrote:
Dave Doran's blog wrote:
The three arguments are that online petitions designed to pressure a person or organization to act righteously: (1) are adopting a carnal, not biblical, methodology learned from the culture around us; (2) are trying to coerce spiritual change rather than appeal for it; and (3) seldom a display of biblical love.

I have been troubled by this for days. It’s clear that we have a disagreement of Godly men. Bob Bixby thinks this petition was legitimate. He signed it. Dave Doran says these things are not right. Dave’s point 1 may be shaky (still trying to attach Scripture to it). His point 2 is completely valid. Point 3 has to be taken on a case by case basis.

OK, been mulling this over. I don't agree with point 2; it's not valid. First, I don't think people are trying to "coerce spiritual change." They are simply asking:

ipetition wrote:
Please add your signature in support of asking Bob Jones University to remove Chuck Phelps from the board.
Now, I'm sure people, like myself, are hoping for change on other levels as well, but sure, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

I wasn't going to sign the petition b/c I have so many close connections there, but then I read what Bixby wrote, and I had to ask myself if I was really just being afraid of speaking up for what is really a problem that needs to be addressed generally at BJ, or am I willing to put my courage where my heart is. And I did consider signing anonymously, but then I threw that idea out the window.

You know, I'm not all gung-ho about the attitudes of people who signed that petition. But it's not something I can control either. I can sign my name and state my own concerns. If I'd written a personal letter, it would've been taken worse, I am fairly sure.

Jay's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Jay C.,

You keep saying "petitions of all kinds." What if an online petition were organized differently than you describe? For example, non-alumni were not allow to sign the "Please Reconcile" race-related petition a few years ago. To the best of their ability, the organizers removed offensive or non-alumni names and comments. It wasn't perfect, but a whole lot better. In fact, the comments section in an online petition is a method of being direct (in the sense that it's a personalized letter to the institution) while signing a unified position statement.

Shaynus


If there was an online petition where names of alumni were kept on and all others were removed, then I might be inclined to sign; I *think* I did sign the BJU Reconcile petition that you brought up. It all depends on what it is, how it's set up, and what the issue is.

My biggest issue is that 99% of the time, the person/org. petitioned has no idea who I am or why I care. That makes it a lot easier to disregard the petition; as others have said, I'm not sure that demanding change via a petition is a Scripturally correct method of asking for change or reconciliation. I read a book on communication this weekend that talked about avoiding ultimatums, and a lot of times, that is exactly what petitions are about - "you change this or we'll __________________".

"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

Mike Durning's picture

I would suggest the following:

1). The language should be structured without threats. It should be a plea to brothers in Christ, based upon well-thought out reasons and well-applied Scripture.
2). The language should avoid listing disputed facts or circumstances.
3). It should be advertised only by mentioning on Christian blogs and forums, not by press releases or other mass-media involvement.
4). It should have check-boxes to indicate the "connection". "I am signing because I am a). a alumnus b). a financial supporter c). a concerned brother/sister in Christ d). Other (please explain in message)."
5). It should be moderated, so that signatures that do not provide a connection or that include rude messages are removed.
6). If the person signs as "anonymous", they must express a valid reason for remaining anonymous, such as "I am a current employee."
7). It should be unchangeable after the first signatures are given. It may be withdrawn if information causes the creator to question the validity of the process later, but not edited.
8). A space might be given for an institution to post their responses, though I'm not sure that this is workable.
9). Upon receiving a favorable response to the petition, the news should be posted at the original petition site, with humble thanksgiving for brothers in Christ who listened to a Biblical plea from their fellow-believers. No press releases should be made.

Within the limits of possible abuse flying under the radar with a faked signature or two, I find it hard to imagine what could be objected to in this format. Thoughts, everyone?

Mike Durning's picture

With regard to personal vs. public appeals to change...

One of the examples I was thinking about was in Galatians 2, where Paul confronts Peter. Peter is, by his actions and associations, looking as though he espouses a particular position.*
Paul confronts him publicly, because the message his actions send is confusing the church there.

I'm not saying this example overrules the teaching of Matthew 18, but it may be indicative that leaders and messages sent by their actions may be dealt with a little differently (I Tim. 5:19-20).
I also realize that none of the situations we are talking about here directly garbled the gospel message itself.

Just something I'm thinking through. Ideas?

*I'm surprised more Fundamentalists don't use this as a separation text.