Chris Anderson open letter to BJU Trustees

From FB:

LONG post warning! I love Bob Jones University. Love it. And I hate disunity in the body of Christ; I certainly don't want to foster it. With both of those facts in mind, I have written a letter to the BJU Board of Trustees with some help from like-minded friends. We are inviting ministry leaders who are in agreement with the letter to join us as signers. The goal of the letter is to be intentionally gracious while also (1) expressing to the Board of Trustees why we believe Dr. Pettit is doing an exceptional job leading BJU, and (2) advocating for them to support his continued ministry. If you are a ministry leader (pastor, chaplain, missionary, etc.) who agrees with the sentiments expressed in the letter, please indicate your desire to have your name added by commenting with your NAME, MINISTRY NAME and LOCATION, along with any pertinent MINISTRY ASSOCIATIONS. And if you disagree with the letter, no worries at all; don't sign it. (Please don't let this thread devolve into accusations and debate. Let's all be careful what we say, and be even more prayerful.) Grace to you, whatever your take on this important issue!

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Dave White's picture

Board of Trustees of Bob Jones University,

Bob Jones University has been a significant institution in American Christian fundamentalism for nearly a century. For almost a decade now, Dr. Steve Pettit has served BJU as its president. This letter is intended to represent a collective voice of support for the leadership of Dr. Pettit. Those signing include ministry leaders who serve as pastors, educators, chaplains, camp directors, publishers, mission leaders, and missionaries. We are unabashedly orthodox in our doctrine and conservative in our ministry practices. Like you, we are separatists who are unwilling to tolerate or cooperate with unorthodoxy. Those signing include members of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI), IFCA International, General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC), Associated Gospel Churches (AGC), Southern Baptist Convention (SBC),

Reformed Baptist Network (RBNet), Bible Faculty Summit, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), Fellowship of Missions (FOM), American Association of Christian Schools

(AACS), and many other organizations—as well as independents. Many of us are alumni of BJU. Others have ministered in classes, chapels, or conferences at BJU. Several have sent our children and church members to BJU. Our churches and ministry constituents include BJU alumni. We have been blessed by the ministry of the school and its representatives. We are friends of BJU and have been its ardent supporters.

First, we want to thank you for the responsibilities you have undertaken. Spiritual leadership is a privilege, but it can also be exhausting, especially when critical decisions must be made. You have positions of tremendous influence and stewardship, and we are praying for the Lord to grant you great wisdom for His glory.

Although we represent a great breadth of ministry associations, we share a deep appreciation for Dr. Pettit and the leadership he has provided for BJU. We do not claim lockstep agreement on every issue. Fundamentalism has never required or achieved unanimity on everything; from the beginning it was a multidenominational coalition. But we believe the University has been well served by Dr. Pettit’s principled and balanced leadership, and we are pleased to go on record in our appreciation and support for Dr. Pettit. We are particularly grateful for the following progress which BJU has made under Dr. Pettit’s leadership:

• Expository preaching in chapels and at Bible Conference is exceptionally strong.

• Dr. Pettit’s intentional focus on discipleship in addition to compliance to behavioral standards is helping students to grow in Christlikeness.

• The vibrant singing of intentionally theological and gospel-saturated songs is good for the student body and glorifying to God.

• The dress code in use now still requires modesty and neatness but makes an appropriate adjustment to a business culture that is less formal than it once was. While we agree that it is important to consistently apply the standards which are in place, this is a challenge for every institution in every era.

• Principled cooperation with churches based on like faith and practice—including select conservative churches in the SBC and PCA—has been good for the school and has given the parents and pastors of students the opportunity to shepherd them through important decisions.

• Compassionate activism and leadership within the Greenville community has provided BJU with a positive Christian testimony and useful working relationships.

There are certainly portions of the BJU constituency who regret the changes listed above. You have undoubtedly heard from some of them. On the other hand, part of the constituency desires more aggressive changes. Poles on both the right and the left have other educational options. But the great majority of the BJU constituency, in our judgment, rests in the middle of these two extremes: they are grateful that the University has made wise and principled changes on non-essentials while continuing to be unbending regarding the true fundamentals of the faith. This vast core of the constituency has been vocal in its support of Dr. Pettit; it cannot have escaped your notice how many people signed the recent Change*org petition, and how positive they are about BJU under Dr. Pettit’s leadership.

Further, we encourage you to maintain a sense of proportion regarding the changes Dr. Pettit has made at BJU. We are battling an ever-encroaching secularism in our society. Nevertheless, BJU continues to do “battle royal” for the Scriptures under Dr. Pettit, even increasing its commitment to teach students a biblical worldview.

• Has BJU abandoned its commitment to six-day creationism or its opposition to evolution?

• Has BJU softened in its opposition to immorality, homosexuality, or transgenderism?

• Has BJU altered its biblical stance on male headship in the home and church?

• Has BJU eroded its emphasis on the substitutionary, penal atonement of Christ?

• Has BJU shifted its stance on the inerrancy of Scripture, the existence of a literal hell, and the exclusivity of the Christian gospel?

The clear answer to each of these questions is a resounding no. Does it not seem out of balance, then, to imperil what God is doing at BJU over less vital issues on which conservative Christians have always allowed each other to differ? The ability to differentiate between essential doctrines and tertiary issues was once an identifying mark of fundamentalists.

The genius of Bob Jones University has never been dress codes, demerits, or musical styles. The genius of fundamentalism and of BJU has always been the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)—not for versions, skirts, or songs. We believe that BJU is as unapologetically orthodox today as it was in

1927. In fact, we would argue that the University is actually more conscientious in applying the totality of Scripture today than in the past, when it was sometimes schismatic and racially insensitive.

This letter is not an ultimatum. It is a demonstration of support, and we hope it will be received as such. However, we do fear that a change in leadership intended to effect a change in philosophy and direction will be devastating and perhaps even fatal for the University we so admire. We believe that you chose well when you chose Dr. Pettit, and we are therefore urging you to extend Dr. Pettit’s contract and to give him your enthusiastic support. He has stewarded BJU's legacy well. We pray that he will do so for many years to come.

To the degree that the obstacle to unified collaboration is a breach of Christian fellowship, we pray earnestly for full reconciliation. Please model for the student body and a watching world the humility and grace of our Savior, Who commanded us to love, showed us how to forgive, and blessed those who make peace.

Be assured of our prayers during this critical time and of our genuine Christian love. Grace to you!

 

AndyE's picture

I have two girls at BJU now, and a son who recently graduated.  I really hate how all this has been handled, as I don’t think that any of this serves the students or the school very well.  Obviously, the board is divided, otherwise they would have just renewed Pettit’s contract without any fuss as they have in the past.  It seems to me that the responsibility of a divided board, especially one in which all members want the best for the school, is to come to some sort of consensus, even if that consensus comes from the result of a vote.  Once consensus has been reached, or the vote is in, speak with one voice.  Instead, one or more people on the board have chosen to make this division public and cause sides to form, within the alumni, within the student body, and within the faculty and staff.  Now, whatever happens, you are going to have a large group of people disillusioned and ready to abandon the school if they don’t get their way. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

I have two girls at BJU now, and a son who recently graduated.  I really hate how all this has been handled, as I don’t think that any of this serves the students or the school very well.

Obviously, you're more connected than I am.  The first I heard of this whole thing was the change.org petition that was forwarded to me this past Saturday night.  I didn't even hear anything from the typical religious sources.  However, I haven't been on FB or Twitter in almost 2 years, so I have cut myself off from some of the more obvious sources of information.

Given what you wrote above, I would agree that the board should have made the decision and then said whether or not the contract was renewed, rather than all this division being made more public.  On the other hand, I would expect that depending on the relative numbers on the board, the losing party would have wanted to express support for Pettit if the vote was against, and if the shoe had been on the other foot, those who wanted him gone would probably want to let their supporters know that rather than just go along with the decision.  But I agree that (given my relative lack of information) it sounds like this was handled poorly.

BJU really doesn't need this right now, no matter how it goes.

Dave Barnhart

Craig Toliver's picture

https://wutbju.tumblr.com/post/699814651087781888/heres-the-whole-letter...

Snip:

This open letter is first a call to action and as such written to raise awareness among the greater BJU community including students, parents, faculty, staff and those who love the university of the BJU board’s pending decision to not renew Dr. Pettit’s contract December 1, 2022 or possibly earlier. It is anticipated that Dr. Pettit’s last day could be as early as January 1, 2023. This is an urgent moment for the University; ending the Pettit administration will significantly influence the future of BJU. Hopefully there is adequate time remaining for people to understand these matters, the board’s intent, their motivation, Dr. Pettit’s situation and still have opportunity to provide the Board input prior the vote – which we cannot assume will be December 1st. I’ve written the board members several times over the past two weeks. I’ve had a video conference with board members addressing concerns, corroborated the general direction of this letter with board members, given the chair and President time to comment on this letter and tried carefully to consider the tone of the letter. The general content of this letter will be no surprise to the board – some will applaud the letter while others will loathe it.

The strain between some on the board and Dr. Pettit began nearly a year ago. Prior to that, Dr. Pettit was re-appointed to two consecutive terms with unanimous votes and glowing board endorsements. Obviously things have deteriorated leading to the current impasse. There are two aspects to consider. The first is the actual issues between the parties. The second issue is the process of contact renewal – has the board been fair and objective. I address the later topic first. There are several challenges interfering with the fair and honest contract negotiations.

Don Johnson's picture

The many open letters, the petition, etc.  seem to be just playing power politics. Using the arm of the flesh to achieve their ends. 
 

I think the board has handled this badly, but so has Pettit. Why persist when you don't have full support? I saw his daughter commenting in defence of her father (naturally, don't blame her) on the petition site. So Steve is obviously aware of all this. To me it looks like he is in support of this fight. Is his vision for BJU so important that he is willing to throw the dice on allowing this fight to go on? 
 

at this point, there is no way this can end well

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:
On the other hand, I would expect that depending on the relative numbers on the board, the losing party would have wanted to express support for Pettit if the vote was against, and if the shoe had been on the other foot, those who wanted him gone would probably want to let their supporters know that rather than just go along with the decision. 
To me, this would be toxic and really hurt the school.  Hopefully it won't come to that, but I fear that is where we are heading.

AndyE's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
I think the board has handled this badly, but so has Pettit. Why persist when you don't have full support? I saw his daughter commenting in defence of her father (naturally, don't blame her) on the petition site. So Steve is obviously aware of all this. To me it looks like he is in support of this fight. Is his vision for BJU so important that he is willing to throw the dice on allowing this fight to go on? 
Don, you may have more insight into what is going on behind the scenes than I do, but it sort of looks to me like Pettit is caught in the middle here.  He obviously cares for the school and the student body and probably thinks it is best for the stability of the school for him to stay on while all this plays out.  It seems clear that there is division within the board regarding what is best for the school. It is unclear to me that Pettit would not support a slightly more conservative direction, if that is what the board wanted. Maybe that is the rub, but it is pure speculation from my standpoint.  I'm not in the know at all. It's just hard for me to believe that the major changes that Pettit instituted did not have support from the board, and so I doubt that a major correction is in play here.  But what do I know....

One thing is for sure, a lot of people care about the school. That is obvious.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

Why persist when you don't have full support? I saw his daughter commenting in defence of her father (naturally, don't blame her) on the petition site. So Steve is obviously aware of all this. To me it looks like he is in support of this fight. Is his vision for BJU so important that he is willing to throw the dice on allowing this fight to go on? 

Don, having read some more on this since last night, it sounds like the board already took a vote to change the threshold needed to keep Pettit on board to 2/3, rather than a simple majority.  If true, this makes it sound like the change was made because a simple majority already do support Pettit.  If he is ousted only under those conditions, it will mean a minority don't support him rather than the majority not supporting him.  In that case, who will they get to fill the post that would satisfy a majority on the board?  And how would that fight be better than the fight to keep Pettit on?

And how are open letters to the board "using the arm of the flesh to achieve their ends?"  Are interested parties not supposed to comment or get involved in any way?  Should Esther have been silent in the court of Ahasuerus?  Many of us believe in the school and don't want to see it close over a petty disagreement (which is how it sounds now).  What about the promise we all signed when we graduated to use any influence we have to attempt to close the school rather than let it go into modernism?  Would that not also imply that we should fight to keep the school open when the disagreement is on something non-doctrinal?  It's at least a question worth asking.

Of course I have no idea what is going on internally, particularly given Pettit has had board support for every contract extension until now.  But knowing only what I know, and without further forthcoming information, I can still certainly express my wish to keep going forward with the current administration rather than wanting to see the school descend into irrelevance or close like so many others.

Dave Barnhart

Darrell McCarthy's picture

On "arm of the flesh" - you've got:

  1. Principals (the board with fiduciary responsibility, obligations and authority)
  2. Stakeholders (alumni, church pastors and others who influence potential students)
  3. Donors (all are stakeholders while not all stakeholders are donors)
  4. Clients / consumers (the students of whom some are minors)
  5. Family (in the case of BJU this would be BJ III who's the Big Kahuna. He's got to be highly influential in what's happening!)
  6. The serfs: all employees of BJU
  7. The interested outsiders - watching for the potential dumpster fire (it's stinky but insignificant)
  8. Oblivious outsiders - if they heard about it (and they likely won't) would think "Who or what is Bob Jones?!) (The 99%)

I'm #7.

  • It's OK for 2,3,4, & 6 to petition!
  • Obviously Pettit doesn't have 100% support from 1,2,3,4, & 6
  • The big question is BJ 3's position. I think it is obvious!
Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

Don, having read some more on this since last night, it sounds like the board already took a vote to change the threshold needed to keep Pettit on board to 2/3, rather than a simple majority.  If true, this makes it sound like the change was made because a simple majority already do support Pettit.

 

I don't know if this is true or not. I saw the same claim. It seems irrelevant anyway. If the board allegedly has a majority in favor of Pettit (but not a supermajority) then why would they vote to make this change? Makes no sense.

 

dcbii wrote:

And how are open letters to the board "using the arm of the flesh to achieve their ends?"  Are interested parties not supposed to comment or get involved in any way?  Should Esther have been silent in the court of Ahasuerus?

It just looks like playing politics to me. Let's shout and scream as loud as possible until we get our way. Sounds like they are taking lessons from the Dems, but maybe that's just me. Please note that Esther made a personal and relatively private appeal.

 

dcbii wrote:
Many of us believe in the school and don't want to see it close over a petty disagreement (which is how it sounds now).  What about the promise we all signed when we graduated to use any influence we have to attempt to close the school rather than let it go into modernism?  Would that not also imply that we should fight to keep the school open when the disagreement is on something non-doctrinal?  It's at least a question worth asking.

Let me put it this way... I know some of the men on the board. I think they are godly men. I don't know specifically what their concerns might be (I haven't talked to any of them). If some of them are concerned, then they have reasons. I don't think they are trivial, or are merely personality conflicts (I don't think they are anything of the sort!), but they are likely related to the various shocking moments we've witnessed over the last few years at BJU. Search the threads here and you will find enough to give an idea.

I should also say that Steve is a friend. I've known him since his first connections at BJU. We sat in classes together and also on a couple of occasions that famous class, "Snack Shop Theology." I think he is a great preacher, a good communicator, and a good man. I don't entirely agree with all the decisions/changes he has made at BJU, but I agree with some of them.

What BJU needs is a strong administrator with a commitment to its founding principles. Steve could be  that person, but I think some adjustments from the past few years must be made.

Having said that, I'll bow out. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Barry L.'s picture

I'm an alumn form the 80's, I have a child who graduated and one who is currently a Junior. My firm has recruited from the business school for 20 years. I live in Greenville and I see how the University has impacted the students and the world for Christ before Steve Pettit and since Steve Pettit.  i also see how the students that attend our church are taught to serve others. Before Steve Pettit came, the school was on  the brink of possibly shutting down. Everyone knows this.  The board chair even acknowledged the list of Pettit's accomplishments in the meeting with the faculty.  Everyone knows if the board does not renew Pettit's contract, we are back to the brink of possible closure.  It is obvious to the board that this is the case, but, unfortunately, to some on the school's board, shutting the school down is a better alternative than to renew Pettit. The suicidal pill, so to speak. 

So, I pose the question to those on here.  Is it better to shut the school down than to renew Pettit's contract?

 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

What BJU needs is a strong administrator with a commitment to its founding principles. Steve could be  that person, but I think some adjustments from the past few years must be made.

Not sure who would dislike your post, but I think you spoke sense.  It's possible adjustments would be necessary, but I'd much rather keep Steve than go back to where the school was on the brink of closing.  If the issue were a change to doctrinal modernism, then it would be better gone, but I think even the dissenting board members know that's not the case.

Dave Barnhart

Darrell McCarthy's picture

http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2022/11/bob-jones-iii-appeal-to...

Dear _____:

Your concerns for the future of the University are not unwarranted. I delight in you and all other graduates like you who want the University to stay spiritually strong and aligned with its founding purposes. If I sat where you sit, I would see a favorable picture of BJU just as you do. There is so much to be thankful for over the years that Dr. Pettit has been at the helm. I consider that we are personal friends and by many important measurements the University is doing very, very well.

However, over the last year some embarrassing, antithetical things, historically uncharacteristic things, which would have never happened in the past have occurred. From all over the country the Board received pleas from graduates and others, to look into these matters fearing that the University had veered in its direction, and unique distinctives without which it would become irrelevant. Naturally, the Board was obligated, by reason of its existence, to step in.. One Board member put it this way. “BJU has no future if we have a Board that has no say so in BJU’s future.” The Board did the right thing by coming to the president, who is their employee, for answers. These discussions are ongoing.

If a successful solution results, it will only occur if both parties maintain an overarching understanding that the University’s best interest is to be served more than the personal interest of either side. Each side must show that no ones [sic] wins unless the cause wins. Only one side, the university’s side, must come out the winner. That will not happen if the permanent is sacrificed on the altar of the immediate.

I find myself–by request both from the president and from the Board–deeply involved. There is so much more I would like to share with you but cannot. I do ask that you realize that the Board would not be involved if it did not feel its bylaws mandated it to be the protector of the institution’s character, and as the one to whom the president is accountable. Hopefully, everyone involved in this wants the outcome to leave the University in a stronger place than before, and with its mission protected from the seepage of religious or cultural compromises.

I would simply ask that every graduate who has “continued in the things which you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14) and wishes the University to maintain it spiritual character and mission give the board wisdom to know the root cause from which the declensions of the last year have emanated and firmness to do whatever is necessary, however painful, to stop the hemorrhage.

Kind regards,

Bob Jones III

JohnS's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

So Steve is obviously aware of all this. To me it looks like he is in support of this fight. 

Dr. Pettit would be as aware of this as anyone who is mildly aware of the situation and knows how to use a search engine.  "To me it looks like" - that's the tell.  Assuming we perceive properly and likely without talking with the person we accuse is at best unwise.  What this does actually reveal is our own perceptions and possibly biases.

W. T. O'Harver's picture

Many of you men on this board are far more aware of the goings-on at Bob Jones University than I am; however, I have corresponded with Bob Jones III throughout this year regarding a biographical project on which I am working, and have found him to be a charitable and genial Christian man.

Three days ago, I received news of the ongoing negotiations between Steve Pettit and the Board of Trustees. The individual that informed me of the discussions claimed that the hardline stance being taken by the minority of the Board was engineered by Bob Jones III to "take back the University and restore its original militant nature." Such comments perplexed me, as Dr. Jones does not appear to be "militant" in the least.

Were such statements mere speculation, or is there an element of truth to them?