Bob Jones University has been in the spot-light in these past several months. After hiring and firing and hiring again G.R.A.C.E, Bob Jones found itself in the middle of a firestorm. The multitude of responses came immediately from local pastors in Greenville, SC to well-known figures in the media. BJU finally offered the green light, so that GRACE would finish its report.
The report released on December 11, 2014, offered 300 pages of meticulous accounts and recommendations for the well-known fundamentalist university. The recommendations were specific. The university asked for 90 days to respond to the report. The response came recently through BJU’s president, Steve Pettit. You can read the entire transcript here. a
Though some were pleased with the university’s response, those who were directly affected by the poor and irresponsible counsel given to victims of sexual abuse and those who understand that abused victims need more than theological propositions to heal from the profound belittling of one’s humanity that occurs in sexual abuse, found President Pettit’s response to be a disgraceful attempt to rescue the reputation of BJU. Rather than reaching out compassionately to those who were damaged by the university’s dangerous counsel, BJU’s response proved that there is no inherent interest in following GRACE’s detailed recommendations. There was no attempt to offer a systemic undoing of the university’s overarching counseling narrative.
What follows are the testimonies of three such people who felt betrayed by BJU’s response and understood the response to be nothing more than beautifying the dead:
Almost two years ago, BJU asked people like me to take an online survey. They told us that they wished to learn about the experiences of those whom, during their time at BJU, received counseling for sexual abuse. BJU told us that they wanted hear our stories to assist them in evaluating their counseling program. And almost two years ago, I went online and took that survey. Then I was asked to travel and meet with some people who wanted to discuss my experiences in greater depth. So I went and met a team of 4 people. Four strangers. And I told those four strangers my very darkest secrets; memories that I had tried very hard to forget. It shredded my soul to revisit those parts of my life. But I believed I was doing something helpful. I was helping BJU to evaluate and improve their counseling program. The counseling that misapplied scripture and shamed me. The counseling that sent me back to my abuser to make sure he knew he needed God’s forgiveness. Interviewing with GRACE was a painful experience from start to finish. But I had no regrets. I felt that what I was doing was important.
I read the GRACE report, and was proud of the work they had done. They compiled our stories. Many voices, from different generations. Yet our voices echoed each other. Our stories were similar. Some so similar, that I wasn’t sure if I was reading my own words or someone else’s. And those stories clearly showed that BJU did need to make changes. And I believed that the University would listen to us. When many others didn’t, and when cynicism abounded, I still believed.
Then, the apology. An apology from a person who was not guilty of anything other than being the president of BJU on March 10, 2015. He, personally, had no reason to apologize. He read his scripted statement. Told me that they had listened; that they were sorry that we had been hurt. That we didn’t receive adequate “comfort and guidance.” Please forgive them. And I continued to believe that the cynics were wrong. But as I continued to listen, I slowly began to grasp that I was the one who had been fooled. According to him, BJU had already put in place changes. They were already doing things the right way. They had their lawyers go over everything; all of their files and papers and notes, and everything was ship-shape.
BUT, they want to meet with me. They want to hear my story personally. They want me to call them and share my experience. Why would I do this? They asked me to meet with GRACE and share my experience. And I did. At a very great price, I did what they asked. And they have said that they did everything according to Biblical standards, and in compliance with all laws. What would be the point of meeting with them? I’ve told my story already.
Now I sit and watch from the sidelines – the armchair commentary. Every kind of opinion. Some, upholding that the University can do no wrong. An attitude of complete and total idolatry. Others, that the University can do no right. An attitude of anger and revenge. And I feel lost in the middle of it all. On the one side, I feel scorn. On the other I feel pity. It’s said I must be a tool of Satan to destroy God’s school. It’s insinuated that I must be a needy desperate soul whose entire life has been derailed by the trauma I suffered. I’ve been called brave. I’ve been called bitter. I’ve been accused of being in such poor spiritual condition that I have no right to instruct BJU on any spiritual matters. Some nod along, some shake their heads. The cynics still tell me I should have known; they knew how it would turn out and I’m foolish for not seeing it too. It’s easy to try to “paint me by numbers;” to determine what kind of person I must be. Because I’m faceless. I’m nameless. My story, detailed in the GRACE report, is easily torn apart and dissected. Each side for their own purposes and motives. My story, pieced together with the stories of others; resulting in opinions, and more opinions, and even more opinions.
And today, one day after BJU’s response, I can only think of one word to describe my current feelings. Regretful. I wish I had never taken the survey. I am told that “they” are sorry, but not by the ones who have something for which they should be sorry. I’m patted on the hand and assured that they are doing better. Which I suppose should please me, except that I’m told they were already working their way there long ago. They were already getting it right. Without me. My voice, just one among many, wasn’t needed after all. And both the scorn and the pity, they have tugged at me. Scorn coming from ones who don’t realize that they know me. From critics who don’t realize, while they look down on me, that they sat at dinner with me many years ago. They were my friends. And now they assume the worst of me. Pity coming from people who mean nothing to me, who assume I need it because it benefits them. I am a useful tool in a vendetta that has nothing to do with me.
I can’t say, exactly, what Dr. Pettit could have said yesterday that would make me feel satisfied. I’ve struggled to come up with the “right answer.” I’m not writing this to figure all of those answers out. I’m weary of trying to figure it out. I’m writing this to say – I wish I had never taken the survey. I wish I had never interviewed. My voice has been heard, but not valued. If they didn’t truly want to hear it, why did they ask for it in the first place? I’m quite certain I would have been better off had I never been involved. But I wanted it to mean something. And, ultimately, it didn’t. An extravagant waste.
I believe that Steve Pettit’s apology was basically a non-apology because only external things have been changed. The heart of the problem is the way they SEE people and how they SEE themselves, and that has not changed. I don’t know how they can say with a straight face that they want victims to come to talk to them and that they want the university to be a place of solace when they continue to offend by holding onto their pride and refusing to submit to deep change at the level of the heart.
I am heartbroken over their stance, but I still have hope. My hope is in Christ, not an institution of flawed people. I think the GRACE report has exposed their condition, so the report was not in vain from that standpoint.
“Over the years, we have had a number of students come to BJU who had experienced sexual abuse prior to their association with BJU. Many of these victims reached out to our faculty and staff for help and were lovingly served and comforted. However, there were some who came to us and did not experience the loving and comforting environment they deserved in their time of need.”b
But he doesn’t mention what we received instead. In my case I received blame from Jim Berg for my problems of flashbacks and dissociation. I was told the reason I had the problems I did was because I wasn’t thinking on things that are lovely. I was at fault for not appropriately applying Phillipians 4:8. He told me I was choosing to dwell on the past and think about those things and that’s why I was there like I was in a TV show that was playing. I didn’t have the word for flashback and Jim Berg never told me there was a word for what I was describing to him about what was happening to me. At the time he was counseling me I also described to him my experiences in leaving his office after counseling and “waking up” somewhere way on the back side of campus. There is a word for that too, “dissociation”.
I really want to write out a well reasoned response to how BJU has responded to the GRACE report. I don’t know that I can. I am still reeling from their claim that their counseling is not the problem and they don’t intend to change it. How in the world can they have read the GRACE report and come to that conclusion?
I filled out the questionnaire and later interviewed with GRACE. It took me almost two years to get back to a place of stability. Right now I am reeling and am still basically in shock, even though I expected them to do nothing substantial or to truly own up to the damage their counseling causes. Maybe way down deep I did have hope for change. Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.
When Steve Pettit said, “I know many of you are saying to yourselves that what I’ve said about our discipline culture and counseling response isn’t a fair reflection of BJU as a whole. I know it’s not. But we have to own this problem, and we have to have the courage to deal with it in the right way for God’s glory.” They aren’t owning the problem. The counseling at BJU is woven throughout the entire school. The things said to me in private counseling by Jim Berg were also said in chapel and also appeared in his book Changed Into His Image. This is the same counsel that caused me such incredible harm. And they are keeping it. They aren’t following the recommendations to remove all of Jim Berg’s, Walter Fremont’s and Bob Wood’s counseling material and books.
I’m out of words, I’m left with shaking and sweating hands. Just this attempt to corral my thoughts that are flying a thousand directions, in order to express my reaction, is emotionally exhausting and I’ve even found myself sobbing uncontrollably.