BJU Scandal: Do Right ’til the Stars Fall

Bob Jones University (BJU) has made the news recently, after firing the group (GRACE) they hired to conduct an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual abuse.  To get up to speed on what led up to this investigation, please read this very thorough article:


The investigation began in January of 2013. One of the tools used was an online survey, as outlined here. GRACE posted an update on the investigation in November of 2013. At that point things were going well, students had responded, and some 80 in-person interviews had been conducted. GRACE’s final report was scheduled for sometime in March of 2014. Then, on January 27th, 2014, BJU backed out of the contract and sent GRACE this message. On February 6th GRACE publicly announced the situation (much to BJU’s chagrin, judging from the response given by BJU) in this update:

With a very heavy heart, GRACE announces that on January 27th, 2014, we received a ‘Notice of Termination’ from Bob Jones University.
This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered. Furthermore, this termination occurred days before GRACE was to conduct the last interviews of this 13-month investigation and begin drafting the final report scheduled for publication in March.
Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated.However, due to the fact that GRACE certainly wishes to keep all options on the table in order to complete what has been started, we have spent the last week in communication with BJU and we remain open to continued dialogue.
At this point, we are most concerned about the potential impact of this termination on those who participated in the investigation and are waiting for the final report. We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete. Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain. GRACE offers its assurance that we will do our utmost to protect your confidences in the interviews and surveys from unauthorized use or disclosure. You have honored us with your courage and trust. We are privileged to have sat with each of you.
GRACE will post updates should the current situation change. Above all, we continue to have hope in the One who makes all things new and never lets us go.
The GRACE Team
February 6, 2014

BJU had this to say in reply:

… Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. …
BJU sincerely appreciates all current and former students who participated in this initiative thus far, and the University regrets any delay BJU’s cancellation of its agreement with GRACE may have on this important project.
We grieve with those who have suffered abuse in their past, and we desire to minister the grace of Christ to them. Our prayer for the abused is that God will be their refuge and strength.

The situation has received outside attention from both local media and the not-so-local Washington Post. Bloggers, activist groups, and people who have previous connections to BJU (or similar groups) have used social media to spread the word, even starting a petition demanding BJU reinstate GRACE. Since learning about BJU’s termination with GRACE, I also learned about another Christian organization that had also terminated with GRACE in the past. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) canceled its contract with GRACE two years into the investigation. ABWE’s reasons for terminating are listed here. GRACE’s response is found here. Blogger Tamara Rice – who was personally involved in the sex abuse scandal at ABWE – wrote about GRACE, ABWE, and the BJU termination in her post: The Realist Speaks: 5 Reasons the BJU Scandal Will Go Away.

On February 7th, BJU’s current president Stephen Jones gave this speech to students and staff at BJU.
Here are some important quotes from the speech (thank you John Shore for taking the time to type up these quotes):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.
. . .  We have not shared the reasons for our termination … with GRACE or with anybody else, because that needs to happen at the table, so that we can fully explain it, and they can have the opportunity to hear it there the first time. … [Grace] is our partner in this.
We are committed to achieving our original objectives. …
I’m most greatly concerned today for the people who’ve been interviewed in the process. Which is one of the reasons we wanted to deal with GRACE … because there were people who shared horrific personal stories of abuse with GRACE. … GRACE has done a great job at making those people feel at home, and secure, and free to share those stories. … I just want to reiterate that we are committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

Blogger John Shore‘s response to this speech sums it up pretty well:

In other words:
“We hired GRACE to look into allegations of sexual abuse at BJU. Just as GRACE was concluding its 13-month investigation, we decided that we were dissatisfied with them. We wanted to talk with GRACE about our unhappiness with them, but instead decided to say nothing to them before suddenly firing them. But we still very much want to work with GRACE. We fired GRACE so that we could immediately rehire GRACE. We have no idea why they would have a problem with that.
“We’re going to find out from GRACE who they talked to, and what those people said. Because we care.”

Now to the opinion part of my post.

BJU screwed up… majorly. Everything I’ve seen thus far from BJU has made me more suspicious of the school and its motives for canceling a sex abuse investigation weeks before its finding were to go public. I find this quote from the February 7th speech particularly damning (words in bold highlighted by me):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.

What do I take away from this (and the whole speech)? BJU had very specific ideas of what they wanted GRACE to look at and/or find through an investigation. As soon as the investigation started to uncover things that didn’t fit with “our objectives,” BJU pulled the plug. Now, unless GRACE agrees to do only what BJU says it can, the investigation will have been for naught and the results will never see the light of day. The point of hiring a third party to look into the situation is to get an independent opinion that will not be controlled by the parties involved. What else does that speech tell me? It tells me that BJU will not publicly entertain the notion that sexual abuse was happening on its campus. The only reason BJU hired GRACE to conduct an investigation was to assess how the school handled students who had been abused elsewhere, usually at some previous point in their lives. Given the Baptist/religious/fundamentalist tendency to sweep such thing under the rug, no matter how old or new the accusations are, this investigation is important at all levels.

To those who point to ABWE’s concerns about GRACE as a way to defend BJU’s decision/actions… it’s not working for me. I’ve read ABWE’s accusations and I’ve read the other side’s opinion, and I find ABWE’s accusations far-fetched and fantastic in description.When sexual abuse is involved – particularly in religious, male-dominated organizations – I doubly question the concept of trying to prevent a “flawed report” from going public. Also, GRACE spent months getting the trust of the students – not something to be taken lightly. Survivors of sexual abuse will have trust issues, especially if they’re worried about potential backlash from administration. There is no way students will be as ready to trust a new attempt at an investigation after having their hopes dashed in this manner. Were I a college student at BJU (or any other similar institution) who had suffered sexual abuse, I would certainly be worried about how things would be handled and would fear I wouldn’t be allowed to remain a student if I were to speak out about the abuse.In light of my personal experiences, the experiences of people around me, and what I’ve read and heard, I have a hard time trusting any large fundamentalist organization to do the right thing rather save face. A college friend told me her sexual abuse story – it ended with the religious leaders involved sweeping it under the rug and telling her to keep quiet and get over it. Another friend was severely mistreated by the administration of the Baptist college she was attending – read the story here. So many more stories out there, all terrible and impossible to believe… but they’re true.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I doubt the full truth will ever come to light. BJU committed PR suicide with its handling of this event – I hope this has been big enough that people will not forget it. I hope that GRACE’s full report is allowed to be made public and BJU will not try to censor the truth to save face. I also hope that the victims of sexual abuse who are involved will get the support and help they need so they that they can find healing.

Update: News story posted by the NY Times on Febuary 11th. Abusers allege they were told by BJU counselors to keep their stories private because going to the authorities would hurt the cause of Christ.
Update as of 2/27/2014: GRACE reinstated by BJU

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “BJU Scandal: Do Right ’til the Stars Fall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s