Preparing for the GRACE report on BJU

Soon, GRACE is expected to publish the report on its investigation of how Bob Jones University has responded to sexual abuse victims. This investigation has been closely watched around the country, especially after BJU terminated, then reinstated the investigation early this year. BJU’s response to the report might have national repercussions on Christian ministries.

A golden moment

There will be a lot of ugly stories and possibly criminal charges against perpetrators in connection with some of the cases. Nevertheless, publication of the report will be a golden moment for BJU. Full cooperation with the report recommendations would signal that real change is underway. It could provide a model for churches affiliated with BJU, for other fundamentalists and for broader evangelical Christians and ministries.

That would come none too soon. Some respected observers believe that evangelical Christianity in America is at a crisis point in responding to sexual abuse. Credible accusations of abuse and cover up have recently been made not only against BJU, but also against diverse ministries such as Patrick Henry College, Jesus People USA, Cedarville University, Pensacola Christian College and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Will we dig in our heels and be dragged into lawsuits and the hostile glare of cynical media reports, or will we initiate difficult but redemptive change because it is the right thing to do?

For many decades, the insidious way that sexual predators groom and prey on children and the long term harms that they cause were poorly understood, and often not taken very seriously. Tragically, churches made their children more vulnerable by their responses. Many pastors have heard victims report abuse, but took the “we’ll-handle-this-ourselves” approach. That meant no police report, perhaps a perfunctory perpetrator confession, pressure on the victim to forgive him—then church business as usual. Regardless of the intention, the net result was a very effective predator protection program—in the church!

Like many, I knew little about the damage inflicted by sexual abuse. Since my previous posts here and here on this subject, I have interacted with abuse survivors who participated in the GRACE investigation and with their advocates, individuals who do not hate BJU, but want only honesty and justice. Their insights can help BJU leaders, alumni and friends prepare for the results and recommendations of the GRACE report by beginning our response even now.

Withhold advice.

Sexual abuse causes profound harms that are not repaired by formulaic statements. Comments such as, “Forgive the person who abused you,” and, “Anger is a sin, so repent,” can actually cause more harm. This does not mean we should condone anger or lack of forgiveness. But what seems helpful to us only heaps extra burdens on abuse survivors.

Instead of giving unsolicited advice, we might try starting with Romans 12:15: “weep with those who weep.” Weep for the theft of their innocence. Weep for the betrayal of their trust. Acknowledge the pain of our sisters and brothers in Christ who suffered sexual abuse. Affirm their worth as His image bearers.

Suspend judgment.

Especially for children, sexual abuse is deeply degrading, causing sexual confusion and, in a Christian environment, spiritual confusion. The abuse has cut deeply enough, but further wrongs have twisted the knife. Abusers are seldom prosecuted for their crimes, and often remain as church members in good standing, or even in church leadership. That is a galling and outrageous injustice.

Instead of scolding abuse survivors for their anger, we should model James 1:19, “let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” In other words, suspend judgment and listen. Seek to understand the injury caused by abusers and by churches that hide them. Become well acquainted with GRACE and the invaluable service they are providing. Boz Tchividjian, GRACE’s executive director, has outlined how churches can understand abuse and protect their children from it. His post here offers practical ways and the best resources for stepping into a better path.

Begin now to correct the wrongs.

Correcting the wrongs that fuel the anger in abuse victims is perhaps the best way to respond to the anger. Can we acknowledge our failure as individuals and institutions to take sexual abuse in our midst seriously?  Can we affirm that the only acceptable way to protect a ministry’s reputation is to protect the vulnerable in its care? Can we see that it is perverse to show sympathy and support to the perpetrator, while virtually ignoring his victim?

Can we agree that protection requires us to put out the Unwelcome Mat for sexual predation? Sexual predators are experts at exploiting the willingness of Christians to believe the best and easily forgive their crimes. But the cost of handing out cheap grace to them is too high. Can we recognize that churches and schools have always had a moral obligation to report the crime of sexual abuse to government authorities? Can we agree that sexual abuse automatically disqualifies from ministry leadership?

What abuse survivors want

Tchividjian states that most sexual abuse survivors are not interested in lawsuits and costly settlements. They do want a humble, personal, heartfelt apology for protecting their abusers by not reporting. They want actions demonstrating repentance: bring perpetrators to justice regardless of who they are; fully support victims through the legal prosecution of their abusers, should they chose that course; correct the counseling approaches that tend to blame the victim.

Are incoming president Steve Pettit and other administrators at BJU prepared to take these steps? Are the leaders of BJU-affiliated churches and other ministries prepared to take these steps? Are we who love and appreciate BJU prepared to press for these steps to be taken? May God help us do right.

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14 Responses to Preparing for the GRACE report on BJU

  1. Healing says:

    Now that the GRACE report is out and people have likely had time to read it, I’m wondering what the feedback is. I have seen the media cover it a bit, but I haven’t seen or heard anyone calling on the school and encouraging them to do right.
    Currently, they are in their 90 day time period to decide what to do with the report. Wouldn’t it be helpful for individuals, churches and various leaders to publicly encourage them to respond well?

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  2. Stephen, why do people not affiliated with GRACE feel the need to “prepare” us for the GRACE report? I can understand if people want to get together in small groups and pray but frankly I find all these blogs from various people “preparing us for the GRACE report” to not only be disingenous to Boz Tchividjian and his team of professionals (who have not asked anyone to speak for them), but stressful to survivors who don’t need any more stress. Why don’t we all just wait for the report to be released and let it speak for itself?

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    • Linda,

      My site for some reason stopped notifying me of comments, so I am sorry for the delay.

      I am appealing to the BJU community to make difficult changes and treat survivors with justice, better understanding, and compassion, which some have not been prepared to do. So my question to you is, why do you, someone not affiliated with BJU, feel the need to discourage that?

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    • Healing says:

      Hi,
      Your question is for Stephen and I can’t speak for him. I can’t speak for other survivors either as we are each individual people with varied opinions. I cannot speak for Boz and/or the GRACE team and I cannot speak for anyone at BJU. I can, however, speak for myself. I am a survivor who reported my experiences to GRACE.
      For me, it has been a hard journey. I am finding a measure of healing through it and am incredibly thankful for GRACE’s willingness to complete this investigation, but that doesn’t mean the wait is easy. I believe that GRACE made the right decisions in taking their time to ensure that their final report is accurate and I am deeply thankful for their dedication to accuracy. I respect them, however, and believe that they will finish the report with integrity.
      As I wait, I struggle with confusion and with the painful memories of the past. I struggle in seeing the many who are critical of those of us who reported with no understanding whatsoever of what really happened. Many have condemned us without knowing the facts.
      When I see someone post like this, it is encouraging to me as a survivor, to realize that there are people who care. I don’t expect anyone to have all the right words or perfect understanding. I’m just thankful that they are willing to listen and care. I’m glad to see their are people who are willing to read the report.
      I wish more people would speak out like this!

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  3. Stephen,

    Thank you for a balanced approach to the information available to you and your appropriate sharing of your concerns and hopes for ultimate resolutions to this issue..Our counsel, when sought, ought always to be graceful and caring for those who are the victims. I believe, indeed hope, that the University’s response will set the example for many years to follow on how the “Church” can reflect the compassion of Christ to those who hurt.

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  4. Mary says:

    Thank you, Kristi and Rebecca. God bless you.

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  5. Mary says:

    I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask, but there’s something I haven’t been able to understand about the whole BJU sexual abuse thing. Why aren’t more people encouraging sexual abuse survivors to report sexual abuse to the law? Because if they reported it to the law instead of the university, then they would be talking to people whose entire job it is to be informed about the crime of sexaul abuse, and who would have the ability to do something about it, such as put the perpetrator behind bars for the rest of his life. It would have nothing to do with BJU. I’m struggling to understand how an educational institution got so involved in the proper methods of dealing with crimes, criminals, and their victims. I don’t know very much about sexual abuse, and though I’ve read a lot about BJU’s activities, it’s hard for me to piece together anything coherent about their actions, so maybe this is just me being thick, but if someone could explain it, I would be grateful.

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    • Kristi says:

      Mary, for starters, the issue of sexual abuse just isn’t talked about much – that is until recently. So, young girls may struggle to speak up because they are afraid of what will happen next. Secondly, if you are a woman student living in the dorms, you cannot go off campus without going through their established protocol of seeking permission. And depending on your classification, you may not be able go off campus by yourself. So, if you’re a woman student living within these boundaries, you end up having to talk to someone if you want to get help off campus or you want to make a report that requires leaving the premises. Thirdly, I think there’s a tendency in a lot of Christian circles to handle their own problems ‘in house’. Sometimes they think that this protects the cause of the gospel from being tarnished. In reality, it gives the appearance of caring more about the reputation of an institution than it does about caring for the needs of the hurting individuals.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Rebecca says:

      To add to Kristi’s great response, I want to say that the two ideas (going to the police and going for counseling) aren’t mutually exclusive. If a young lady goes to school at BJU and wants to get help for the sexual abuse in her past, it’s only natural that the first people she would talk to about it— something that is so very, very difficult to talk about—would be someone she knows and trusts, like a friend, a roommate, a peer leader of some sort, even a trusted teacher. Many in these settings haven’t even thought about going to police. (I certainly didn’t when I was a 21-year-old senior at a Christian college and an 18-year-old told me about her sexual abuse.) The logical next step for these people would be to get help from a school employee, like the dorm supervisor, the dean of women, the school counselor.

      Where it goes wrong is when the higher ups to whom the young people go for help are told, many, many abuse survivors have said that the administration people have never even mentioned going to the police. For a young person who has been raped by her father or brother or youth pastor or boyfriend, the police station would certainly not be the first thought. But it should be the first thought for the leaders in the institution. Traditionally at BJU, it hasn’t been. They have traditionally turned the focus away from the perpetrator and on the victim and her sin. They even said things like, “You wouldn’t want to turn in your father and break up your family.” Or “You wouldn’t want to keep this young man from finishing his education.”

      I know that by 2009 this had changed somewhat, because I know an abuse survivor who went to the BJU doctor sometime around there to try to find out how bad her internal damage was, and the doctor told her “if” she really was raped, she should report. The abuse survivor hadn’t at all worked through the trauma of the abuse, and the thought of going public with a crime she hadn’t even begun to process was terrifying. The doctor told her that every legitimate abuse victim would want to report to the police so she must not be telling the truth. Of course this isn’t correct at all—often abuse victims are so traumatized by their abuse that it can take them quite a while to be able to be strong enough to report—this is the reason people are pushing for the statute of limitations for reporting rape to be extended in all fifty states.

      In an ideal recovery situation, a rape victim, when she finally decides to tell someone and start on the path to becoming a survivor, will find friends who will believe her and walk with her as well as counselors who will not blame her and will help her understand the truth about herself and the perpetrator and the overarching love and goodness of God, and will be encouraged by everyone to report the crime when she is strong enough to face the perpetrator in the courtroom, at least in part in order to keep him from hurting others.

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    • Healing says:

      I’m going to answer primarily based on my own experiences. As a student who grew up surrounded primarily by BJU feeder schools and churches, I was already aware that admitting to having been sexually abused was to be marked with a stigma that would erase any value I had as a person. That view was strengthened through attending classes and receiving some counseling at the school.
      Anyone outside of the insulated BJU environment is considered to be “of the world.” To tell someone on the inside our experiences would only bring condemnation. It was widely seen as an offense against God himself. It is always incredibly difficult to speak of abuse. When it also labels you as having no further worth to God, that is an additional shame that is too much to bear.
      From all that I was taught, I believed that it was sin to report to the police. I wanted to please God, so it never occurred to me that it was even an option. I was also taught that actual counseling from trained professionals was sinful. I believed this as well, so there really was no possible source of help. All I knew was the teachings of the BJU/IFB world.
      The teachings are clear that there is no such thing as a victim. Any struggle that anyone has is directly the result of their own sin. For me to admit nightmares, flashbacks, fear, etc. was to invite school discipline and punishment from God. I truly believed that all they taught was true and tried very hard to perfectly comply with their teachings of God’s demands.
      I don’t think I even saw or understood that the abuse was a crime. Since we were taught that all comes from God’s hand, it seemed to be just a tool of God’s judgement on my not living a perfectly sinless life. I didn’t have any idea that the police would or could help. Even if the police had directly asked me back then about what happened, I would have been terrified of being expelled and/or sent to hell for telling.

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  6. Healing says:

    I am really encouraged by this article. It is obvious that you have spent time listening and hearing. Thank you for that! There are so many points that you brought up that will be really helpful if people read and really try to put into practice the things.
    With all my heart, I hope and pray that BJU, associated churches and schools, and many around the country and even the world, will be open to hearing and changing some things that they perhaps don’t yet understand. I hope that their response will be genuine and humble.
    As one who reported to GRACE, I want to share a bit of my own perspective. I agree that much of what you posted reflects my views. I can’t speak for others as each has their own unique perspective.
    I see it as critical that BJU and the connected churches and institutions take all of this seriously and implement some significant changes. If they are willing to truly be open, to truly embrace accountability for past wrongs, and be willing to make true changes, I think that much good and healing may come. BJU has an opportunity to really embrace past and current wrongs and to humbly seek assistance to correct them. I think it is critical to realize that this will not be a quick fix. There is no way to take some completely wrong thinking and wrong patterns and just implement a few changes in policy to “fix” it. While I hope for a sincere and humble confession of wrong, a simple “I’m sorry” without some evidence of changes in understanding isn’t enough. For me, it isn’t an issue of forgiveness, it is a desire to see real change. Just as victims take time to heal, BJU will take time to learn a completely new way of thinking.
    One area where it does not appear that BJU is willing to completely see in truth is the area of counseling. For decades, there have been huge blinders in this area. I can only compare it to looking at the world through a telescope, seeing a very tiny piece of a problem and honing in on one miniscule part of the picture, completely ignoring what the actual problem is. They have focused so much on the “sins” of the victims, that they have created a false reality. They have seen sin in victim responses where there is no sin. They have labeled normal, healthy reactions to trauma as sins to be confessed. From my perspective, this harms the victims at least as much as the original offenses. It takes away any ability for the victim to actually find healing and instead leaves them broken, filled with hopelessness and shame that are false.
    One area where I would see things in a different light from your post is the area of anger and/or lack of forgiveness. You mentioned, “This does not mean we should condone anger or lack of forgiveness.” I have thought these exact thoughts on occasion, but I see it from a different perspective now. I am learning that anger is just a feeling. It is not wrong to feel angry. There are many examples of Jesus feeling and expressing anger. When it is implied that a victim should not feel anger, it prevents healing.
    The other area that I question is forgiveness. I don’t think, personally, that forgiveness should be the goal in encouraging a survivor. That will eventually come in various stages and will look different for each person. It often will not mean future contact with the offender. It will not mean being silent about the truth and it will not eliminate feelings of anger, feelings of fear or continued struggles with the pain of the experiences. If BJU confesses wrongs, it should not be with the intention of finding forgiveness. It will be for their own humility, repentance and growth.
    I AM healing. Some of the things that have been helpful in my healing is being heard, truly heard, being free to question – even question God’s love and goodness, and letting those questions remain unanswered for awhile. When someone gives me a quick answer, perhaps some verse meant to encourage me, it doesn’t encourage me. It leaves me confused and unable to sort through my questions. When someone walking with me gives me the freedom to just be confused and have some unanswered questions, it gives me the time to learn what is really true, step by step.
    Forgiveness also does not mean pretending the past didn’t happen. It is okay to speak of the past. The Bible is full of stories of great sins and harm that were done by people who were followers of God. I believe it is okay to openly look at things that were wrong and learn from them. An apology should never be offered if the goal is to silence and cover the past or just to make it go away.
    Healing is hard. It is ugly at times. It is full of ups and downs, times of clarity and times of confusion. That is OKAY! God is big enough and patient enough to give us that time. We need to see his love in the middle of the brokenness. When we learn that he is big enough and loving enough to not walk away during those times, healing begins to come.
    I have been very fortunate and blessed by a few who are walking this journey with me. It has been a long and complicated journey. I can’t explain why they have continued to be patient and show me constant love, but it has given me and is giving me, for the first time, a picture of God’s love. He loves me while I am broken. He loves me while I am confused. He loves me even when I am not sure he can be trusted or that he is good. THAT is a love I can learn to trust. That is a love that changes me and draws me to him and towards healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristi says:

      Thank you for sharing some of your story of healing. I agree with your perspective about anger and forgiveness. These two topics can be very complex in the context of abuse. I love the way you share how much you feel loved by our very patient, compassionate God. May God continue to bring you hope, healing, and strength!

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  7. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much, Stephen. As some of us are waiting for the GRACE report, anticipating that it might be very bad, we pray that the response from BJU will not be one of knee-jerk protectionism, but one of open-armed willingness to admit wrongs and truly change, along the lines of what you’ve talked about here.

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