Grace

Responding to Bob Jones University’s Response to G.R.A.C.E

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.

–Anonymous

 

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.

–Kristi Wetzel

 

“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.

–Anonymous

  1. You can watch the video here  (back)
  2. Quotation from Steve Pettit  (back)
Some initial thoughts on depression

Some initial thoughts on depression

I read Spurgeon’s observations on depression today. He took portions of Psalm 23 and took the reader through a journey through the psalm. Each portion of the psalm paralleled a phase in the journey from despair to joy. Spurgeon immersed the despondent soul through each step of the Psalmist’s journey. Here is his paraphrased translation, which captures beautifully the sentiment of the author:

Yea, though I walk through the valley shaded by the mysterious wings of death, and though I know nothing of my way, and cannot understand it, yet will I fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thou knowest the way that I take. There are no mysteries with my God. Thou hast the thread of this labyrinth, and Thou wilt surely lead me through. Why should I fear? Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Gloom, danger, mystery, these three all vanish when faith lights up her heavenly lamp trimmed with the golden oil of promise.

He observed that at times men are driven to loneliness where his loyalty to God is tested.

Spurgeon concluded with this short story:

I have read of a little boy who was on board a vessel buffeted by the storm, and everyone was afraid, knowing that the ship was in grave danger. There was not a sailor on board, certainly not a passenger, who was not alarmed. This boy, however, was perfectly happy, and was rather amused than frightened by the tossing of the ship. They asked him why he was so happy at such a time. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘my father is the captain. He knows how to manage.’

The great Baptist preacher noted that there is a supernatural trust between child and father. The child, though tossed to and fro, still maintains an almost supernatural trust in his father’s ability to protect and direct his life. This type of trust needs to be categorized as a divine trust.

Spurgeon himself underwent profound depression in his early life. The story is told that when he was a preacher at the age of 18 someone in the crowd shouted ‘fire’! The congregation exited the building quickly and in the process one young lady was trampled by the crowd. Her death, it is said, led Spurgeon through prolonged periods of depression. He was largely absent from the pulpit ministry of his congregation.

One can hardly imagine that the greatest Londoner in evangelical history struggled with severe bouts of depression. That episode, in fact, was the valley that Spurgeon walked before becoming the evangelical titan as he is known today. Depression is no respecter of persons. Whether it is referred to “hell on earth,” or “the dark night of the soul,” depression happens and when it does we need to be prepared to deal with it wisely and graciously.  Here are some practical and initial steps in dealing with those near you who reveal the outward manifestations of depression:

First, don’t overwhelm them with words. There is no remedy that works with everyone. Pet remedies to cure depression or cliches that we hear so often do nothing more than accentuate the problem and possibly end the possibility of further progress. It’s important to keep in mind that depressed people are not looking for quick tips on getting over depression. For many, to be depressed is the only place they have been for years and to offer quick solutions is to offend the history that has shaped this individual’s life and led him to this situation.

Second, and this seems very simple, but profoundly fruitful: talk less, listen more. Depressed people have unique stories; these stories need to be told and someone will need to be there to hear them. The story of Job’s friends in Job 2:11-12 who stayed with him for seven days in silence is a remarkable testimony to the nature of dealing with pain. The rest of the story changes our view of Job’s friends, but it’s important to affirm that their silence echoed an important truth. The truth is that to listen is more difficult than to offer our supposed quick fixes.

I once knew a man during my theological training who believed he could  fix his mother’s problems. His mother was in profound pain after the death of her husband. This fellow student thought he had the theology to fix the situation. But every time he tried he only made matters worse. He failed to understand that his mother was not interested in solutions, she was interested in grieving her loss. He should have listened to her, cried with her, and taken her pain as his own.

The sooner we learn this lesson the better. We live in an age where depression is increasing at a rapid rate. Technology, relationships, a world where money moves quickly and where bankruptcy can be declared the day after you gained tremendous wealth, all these things make depression a reality in the lives of many people. This is not to say that some people mistake sadness or sorrow for depression, this happens often I would assume. Some rush to attach a title to their woes to validate their emotions. But we must remember that in most cases depression tears down the life of those closest to us and we must be prepared to be the embodiment of the first aid kit with wisdom, love, care, and tenderness.

Someone depressed may have been the protagonist to their own story of depression, or they may have bee recipient to the excruciating pain that seems to never go away. But you don’t have to know why a person is in pain in order to show mercy. God shows mercy, whether our troubles are caused by ourselves or someone else. a

Finally–and so much more can be said about this–be prepared to go through this process of healing for the long haul. Depression does not generally cease in a day or a week, but may take months or years to overcome. Be patient. Stay active in the person’s life. Read to them. Call them. Text them. Pray with them when they cannot pray for themselves. Encourage walks. Do not allow the slowness of the process to discourage you from persevering. When a strong relationship has been established, when the one depressed understands that you are a friend and not a foe, then be prepared to be honest about details that need to be worked on.

David Powlison once told the following story:

A thirty-five-year-old man had struggled with depression for almost a year, and it was beginning to show in his physical appearance. When he came to church he was unwashed and unkempt, and, as a result of his indifference, his clothes where so mismatched that they called attention to him. Everyone at church saw these outward signs, but no one said anything because he was “clinically depressed.” Yet one friend who saw him on a particular Sunday was loving and honest. You look horrible! Your hair is a mess, you are gaining weight, and your clothes look like you are a street person. Tomorrow I am going to pick you up at 9:00 in the morning. I’m going to take you to the barbershop, then we are going to go clothes shopping.

The depressed person later stated that that comment of concern was what marked the turning point in his life.

That comment made  a difference because of an established relationship of trust. Depression is pain. Those who suffer in depression need to see that their situation is not beyond hope. And you are the embodiment of that hope to him. Be that hope. Show that hope. And live that hope to him. In God’s grace he will learn to live his days in the house of the Lord forever.

  1. See David Powlison on depression; Journal of Biblical Counseling  (back)

Pronouncement and Process in the Pastoral Call

The pastoral task requires a prophetic and priestly vision. The prophetic dimension comes through proclamation in word. This proclamation fills the ministry of word with grace. Grace is riches in the Bible. So the pastoral proclamation is a form of gifting the body with riches. These riches serve as tools for dominion. They equip God’s people to perform their task in the world with wisdom and discernment.

But the prophetic word needs to be followed by the priestly work. Every priest knows that he cannot skip steps in his duties. Rituals and rites demand preparation and a process. A priest is aware that a pronouncement is not enough. He needs a process. This requires patience and care as he leads, cares, and shepherds his own.

The prophetic task is not an alone role. In order for any pastoral work to be successful, whether in the pulpit or in counseling, a minister needs to exercise patience as his congregants take each step. At times they may take a step back, and at times it seems that they are willing to walk towards their goal. The minister needs to re-direct their attention to the original goal.

The prophetic and priestly role bring people into their kingly status. We are all kings and queens in God’s new world, but this kingship does not come by virtue of adoption alone, but by virtue of maturation. Maturation is an exercise in faith and perseverance in truth.

Parishioners who do not grow in their faith become weak kings unable to defend themselves against the assaults that will surely bombard their kingdom. But when the prophetic pronouncement is heard and the priest steps are carefully exercised, God’s people can grow into grace and knowledge knowing that they have heeded the word of the Lord.

Pastoral Meditation on God’s Justice for the Season of Lent

We treasure by our very nature as new creation beings (II Cor. 5) the justice of God upon injustice. We are imprecational beings. The Psalms are given for and to us for a particular reason. They are our prayers. They belong to righteous sons and daughters of the King. They are our means to communicate our hunger for justice in this world.

The blessedness of these prayers is that they begin to shape us in a new way. Mixed with the blessings of the covenant are the many curses the covenant brings to those who despise Yahweh. Of course, God’s judgments are pure and perfect and they are acted upon in His time and way. Since this is the case, they usually befuddle our expectations. And naturally, this can be frustrating. While we live in this justice-paradox, we also live knowing that God does not forget His justice. Though time passes painfully for us, God is not emotionally moved by His passion to see His Name and children vindicated.

So as we seek the kingdom of God above all else, let us also seek His justice in that kingdom. And while we do, let us continue to pray faithfully and continue to wait patiently for the God of war to act. His kingdom will prevail and His justice will not fail.

Guilt, Grace, and Galileans

The Gospel Lesson for this Lord’s Day is from Luke 13:1-13. Pilate’s brutality is fully on display right in verse one: “Pilate had mingled Galilean blood with their sacrifices.” “Are these Galileans worse than other Galileans because they suffered in this way?, was the question our Lord posed.

Jesus did not spend his time in Luke’s account offering a philosophical exegesis of theodicy.[1] Rather, he simply “said, “If you don’t repent, you will likewise perish.” “But Rabbi, I want a more profound answer to this intellectual dilemma. I want to know the ins and outs of your divine and decretal will. I want to be able to rationalize every detail of your purposes in life and in death.” Jesus had a different agenda. Jesus sees death, as Richard Hays observes, as “an occasion for metanoia.[2] Jesus did not offer words of religious comfort to appease the inquirer, no; he used it as an opportunity to express something very central to his Kingdom Gospel: repentance. The word repentance implies turning away, or a change of mind. But biblically, it is more than that. Repentance means turning away from something and embodying a view of life diametrically opposed to the one previously expressed.

It is not enough to turn from something without knowing where you are turning to. Otherwise, that turn might lead you back to the sin that entangled you. Jesus wants us to avoid this vicious cycle.

Suffering and pain are caused for a host of reasons that many times are unknown to us in this life. But one response is absolutely sure: repentance. The tragic events that occur in this life are tragic because they expose the mortality of humanity.[3] The sudden difficult events that shake our very beings (and in some cases our faith) deal with the uniqueness and temporariness of the un-resurrected corporeal nature.

The human tendency is to compare sinners so that we may excuse ourselves. After all, it is easier to point to someone else’s sinfulness than our own. But Jesus wants Israel to consider her sins, and as a result, our own, and see if repentance is being expressed in light of what has happened.

The patience of God endures, but it is not forever. Historical tragedies of great and small proportions should cause us to seek forgiveness and to consider whether we are bearing fruits of repentance.


[1] Though the prophets before Him and the New Testament provides a healthy theology of good and evil, and God’s Just and Perfect ways.

[2] Hays, Richard. On Hearing Bad News, Living by the Word; The Christian Century.

[3] Bock, Darrell, The NIV Application Commentary, 365