BJU to Host Conference on Sexual Abuse; Choice of Speakers Draws Criticism

Update, 7/1/2012: BJU has changed the fourth session from “Embracing Christ’s View of Children” to “Applying Grace and Truth to Hard Issues”. The new session will also be hosted by David Shumate.

In apparent response to constant criticism from alumni, the media and the public, BJU has planned a conference this November on dealing with sexual abuse in the church. BJU and its networked churches have come under increasing scrutiny in the last few years as former students and members of those churches have told stories of hidden abuse and mistreatment stemming from systematic mismanagement of such situations. The most famous example was, of course, the trial of Ernie Willis, who was for years allowed to remain a member of a BJU-affiliated church despite being a known rapist. Then-BJU-board-member Chuck Phelps was at the center of that story, and former members of IFB churches feel many similar stories could be told.

Critics of the University may appreciate that such a conference is being held, but the speaker lineup could prove controversial. A repeated request from those critics has been for a third-party review of BJU’s sexual abuse policies and for outside groups such as RAINN or the local Julie Valentine Center to assist with constructing a new, more transparent policy to replace decades of perceived ignorance on the topic both at BJU and its feeder churches. The committee convened earlier this year to review  BJU’s sexual abuse policy was an in-house effort, and although an outside ombudsman was promised, it seemed another sign that BJU’s attempts to clean house are all too familiar and incomplete.  

This conference won’t break that mold. Every single speaker comes from the BJU fold and several are current employees.

Although BJU neglected to include most of them, we have dug up BJU associations on almost all the speakers and listed them below.

Session 1: “Facing the Challenges”

Dr. Dave Shumate, current director of BJU-affiliated Mission Gospel Ministries International, former BJU faculty member, former associate pastor of BJU-affiliated Faith Baptist Church. Also secretary of FBFI, serves on the board there with Phelps.

Session 2: “Understanding the World of an Abused Child”

Rev. Bob Crawford, BJU grad and also former pastor of the same BJU-affiliated church as Shumate. So intertwined is the IFB network that Shumate and Crawford appear to have pastored at the same church and also held the same post at FBFI.

Session 3: “Partnering with CPS & Law Enforcement”

Sgt. Ty Bracken Miller, BJU News was not able to locate any information on Mr. Miller. This LinkedIn profile appears to belong to him but has been removed.

Session 4: “Embracing Christ’s View of Children”

Dr. Steve Hankins, Dean of BJU’s School of Religion and Head of its Seminary. Holds three degrees from BJU and has years of experience pastoring in BJU-affiliated churches. Has held positions at numerous BJU-related ministries and fellowships.

Session 5: “Establishing Church Policies”

Mr. Daniel Hicks, BJU grad and board member at BJU-affiliated Valor Conservatory. Mr. Hicks was also Chief Advancement Officer at BJU, but that position appears to have been eliminated. Notably, Mr. Hicks is also responsible for assisting with donations to the Hispanic Assistance Fund, whose goal is “to see more Hispanic students enrolled at BJU to be trained for the service of Jesus Christ.” Mr. Hicks does not seem qualified to speak on the specific legal issue of sexual abuse outside of his general legal experience and, more importantly, his deep connections to the University.

Session 6: “Counseling the Abused”

Mrs. Debi Pryde, author and speaker in IFB churches. Known mostly for her work in the area of women’s counseling, her daughter is a BJU graduate and her books are sold in the BJU bookstore. Hosts seminars in BJU-affiliated churches and camps. Mrs. Pryde is a known proponent of Nouthetic Counseling, a technique which may prove controversial on the topic of abuse because it dismisses mainstream psychology in favor of a “biblical” model.
Session 7: “Handling Church-Media Relations”

Mrs. Pamela Groover Snyder, BJU alumnus and former member of the BJU PAC.

Session 9: “Meeting Trauma with Greater Trust”

Dr. Ken Casillas, current BJU faculty. Holds three degrees from BJU and has pastored at several area BJU-affiliated churches and served at various related ministries.

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27 thoughts on “BJU to Host Conference on Sexual Abuse; Choice of Speakers Draws Criticism

  1. Snark

    And why would any of us who have graduated from BJU expect anything different from what they have always done and continue to do?

    1. Mark Fitzhenry

      Agreed…sadly. BJU doesn’t have a very good reputation for protecting innocents. Bob Jones Sr. once said, ‘A crisis doesn’t make a man’s character, it reveals his character.’ I’ve watched the Joneses, their Jonesian adherents, and the FBFI crowd handle crisis after crisis – Masonry, interracial dating ban, Calvinism v. Armenianism, financial corruption, pedophilia, hyper separation, etc. – within fundamentalism. (Google the Open Letter to Bob Jones III from Charles Underwood to see the Jonesian pattern). Bob Jr., Bob III, and the FBFI crowd (including FBFI cronies, John Stevens and Chuck Phelps, two preachers who apparently share similar attitudes toward pedophiles) have revealed their collective character over and over. The calculated dishonesty of the Joneses and their religious cronies, coupled with the willingness of the Jonesian community to perpetuate that dishonesty, convinced me that I was watching blind religious leaders leading willfully blinded followers. Sharkbait is right. Vote with your feet and get out of the cult.

  2. Dani

    There aren’t words for my sadness over this. Once again protecting their own at the expense of the defenseless.

    1. Sharkbait

      It would not surprise me how many “closed door” meetings and conference calls they have already had about how they are going to handle every contingency to maintain control over their people to keep the wool pulled over their eyes.

  3. Sharkbait

    I am no longer THIS kind of Fundamentalist. Fundamentalism has as its centerpiece, not the Lord Jesus Christ, but control of their followers. They are having this kind of conference this way so they can continue to maintain control over the situation and the people. The only viable answer that I can see–and this is just opinion from my own perspective–is to vote with our feet and get out of these kinds of churches and ministries. Get out . . . and don’t look back.

    1. Joe

      “Fundamentalism has as its centerpiece, not the Lord Jesus Christ, but control of their followers.”

      You are confusing man and the message. Fundamentalism is the great message of the Gospel and the Bible, while any “control of followers” is an act of man.

      1. John E Baker III

        Seems to me that confusing the man WITH the message is what fundamentalism is all about. Jesus told us to love each other = Fundamental. Jesus told us to love each other *as long as they think like US* = Fundamental-ISM.

  4. John E. Baker, III

    The only reason to Circle the Wagons is to protect your own… Anyone stuck outside that circle well…You’re on the outside.

    Buncha arbitrary snakes, if you ask me.

  5. NotBob!

    So every single person involved is or once was a student at the university? Not a single, authoritative external source?

    Wow, they really are concerned with maintaining control over the message, aren’t they?

    To epic, cult-like proportions.

  6. Errol McInnes

    So I ask in here, what shall WE as a people do about this? It is obvious BJU is more concerned about spin doctoring, ministering to the money, strategic defenses in civil court, and swaying witnesses to the injustice, including potential victims, to protect BJU. Currently there are quite a few survivors who are also mortified to see what is about to occur. I tend to think perhaps action of some kind, and a presence in Greenville to represent those who cannot speak for themselves, may be called for.

  7. in shock over this conference

    I have known about this conference for a while now. I thought the shock would wear off, but it has not. I just can’t comprehend that they are doing this. WHY? How do they dare? Are they intentionally trying to humiliate those whose abuse they “mishandled”? Do they think that this will somehow silence or intimidate those people? Are they trying to somehow convince people that they care? I don’t get it. What can they possibly be thinking?
    1. Facing the Challenges? They have not yet faced their own. They have not yet acknowledged their failures in this area. Sure, they agreed to hire and ombudsman, but they haven’t yet. What are the chances that they will actually hire an outside agency that will truly be free to complete an independent investigation? HOW can they teach someone else when they have not yet done it right and have only vaguely alluded to their own “mishandled” situations? I just cannot wrap my head around this.
    2. Understanding the World of an Abused Child – seriously? These are the same people who in counseling those who went through abuse made the survivors disclose every moment of their shame and urge them to repent for the “sin” of not preventing it. These are the same people who ask the victims if perhaps they enjoyed their abuse. These are the same people who told victims that they are no longer pure. Really? They understand the world of the abused child?
    3. Establishing Church Policies? Ok, aren’t they still just trying to come up with their own policies? Don’t they still employ several men who did not report the sexual assaults of children? How are they able to teach others to address this area?
    4. Counseling the abused – if you have been abused, this has to be one of the most dangerous places to be. Your faith will be shattered. You will be shamed and humiliated. I have heard victims’ stories of going through their counsel. They say that the counsel was more traumatic than the original abuse.
    5. Meeting Trauma with Greater Trust – first of all, they do not hold anything in confidentiality. Going through their counsel in this area will only leave you alone. It will destroy the hope that God might just possibly care. And how do you trust people who protect sex offenders and put them in areas of ministry? Greater trust? Really?

    1. Kimberly

      As a former BJ students who was there during this conference, I wholeheartedly agree with EVERYTHING you said. Even after this conference, they changed NOTHING in how they handled abuse cases. When everything happened with my family, who’s side did they take? My parents. Who isn’t saved? My parents. Who did they blame? Me! They turned many in the university completely against me! Expectations were to be open about what was going on, but if you did you were called a liar or told you did it to get attention! They were SO off the mark it was unbelievable. As a new Christian, I was sucked in to this mess so far that I didn’t even know what to think and then I got thrown out of it, going what just happened? Is this really how God is?

  8. What?!?

    Is there anyone out there that can look at this with half an open mind? I have seen more changes from BJU in the last 15 years than probably occurred in the prior 50. As far as who the University chooses to speak at a convention, is purely up to the University. They don’t take your tax dollars, so why should you care. If you want a voice in their decisions, start supporting them and get yourself added to the board. Easier yet, call the office of the President. The school is not going to have someone in their podium whose views they cannot support. That doesn’t mean they are closeted pedophiles. There is not a university in the United States that would put a speaker in their podium if they can’t support the ideals of the speaker. BJ didn’t come up with the idea, it was already there. I am constantly amazed at the closed view the Greenville Community continues to foster. I’m really wondering which, the community or the school, is the ‘real’ opponent to change?

    1. Phil Holmes

      “There is not a university in the United States that would put a speaker in their podium if they can’t support the ideals of the speaker.”

      Did you really think this statement through? Where did you go to school? Most quality higher ed. institutions regularly bring in speakers whose views they do not always espouse. It’s called open discourse. This is how true learning occurs and how beliefs are solidified. Anything short of this practice is indoctrination.

    2. Concerned about conference

      I think there are many looking at this with an open mind, however, our opinions are going to vary dramatically based on the background information each of us has. I can certainly understand that you appreciate the changes that have happened over the past 15 years. I also agree that generally speaking, it doesn’t matter to many of us what decisions the school makes. I, personally, don’t care what color they paint the rooms or how they spend their money. I don’t financially support them, so what they do with their money doesn’t personally concern me. What does concern me is any decision the school makes that actually causes or facilitates harm to others. You seem to be under the impression that some people just hate the university and want them destroyed. Perhaps there are some that feel that way, but there are many who just want to right some terrible wrongs from the past and protect current and future students. Sexual abuse is one of those areas. They have sheltered offenders by not reporting them to the police. Their past policy was to handle those situations internally. I can’t speak for why they did this, but it caused massive harm, to the original victims and to future victims that weren’t warned and protected from sex offenders. Some of the faculty (perhaps a very small, but influential percentage) actually view victims as deserving of their sexual abuse. That is a problem. Also, their counseling dept. is not equipped to handle sexual abuse issues. The counseling they offer in this area causes a great deal of further damage to those who have already suffered greatly. It does not bring about any healing. I can’t emphasize enough the level of further damage it causes. This is probably what I would consider the most dangerous aspect of the school. Any victim of sexual abuse should be aware of what they will encounter should they reveal their abuse. My concern about the conference is about the harm it will spread because they still don’t have it right. They haven’t yet corrected their wrongs from the past. They haven’t yet corrected their lack of training in the area of counseling sexual abuse victims. By putting on this conference, they are seemingly announcing that they know how to address these things, but that is simply not true. They are NOT equipped to do this right now. I don’t know why they are trying to. I question it wondering if they are doing it to hide the past? Are the doing it as their misquided way of being sorry about the past? Are they just trying to emphatically state that their way is right no matter who is harmed? I honestly don’t know and can’t comprehend their intentions. All I know for sure is that this conference is insulting to those who were hurt. It feels like they are despising and belittling our shame. They STILL know of sex offenders that they covered for and STILL have done nothing about them. How can they do this conference? What qualifies them?

  9. Allyce

    So, no matter which course taken by BJU, they are still wrong? If they had not addressed this matter, they would be wrong. Since they are addressing it, they are wrong. Furthermore,
    no one who attended BJU at any point in history could ever be qualified to speak on this subject?

    A BJU graduate & board member found himself in one of the most difficult possible situations – which most of us wise people will not face in our lifetimes. He dealt privately with the persons, trying to find the best manner in which to proceed, with the prospect of no good outcomes for any of the parties involved. Possibly he did not find the best solution that all of us sages understand, with our 20-20 retrospect.

    This young girl was violated by an older man, a member of the church she attended. There is no justification for the (married) man’s actions. The pastor discussed the situation with police, but no action was taken by them. Why has the local police department not been disciplined? Whether or not this pastor had previously dealt with such a situation, the police had, and should have acted according to the law… The girl’s mother agreed with the previously standard solution of sending her daughter to live elsewhere for the duration of the pregnancy.

    The results of this sin will follow these two persons for the rest of their lives. The young girl has a child resulting from rape (regardless of any perceived relationship the two had). The man has to live with his guilt – and should have spent time in jail. Does God allow forgiveness to such a person? The Bible teaches that he must truly repent of his sin, as do all of us for our sins. Will the girl ever be able to forgive him? He must truly repent before her and ask her forgiveness as well. If the pastor made mistakes, he too must repent and ask forgiveness. Then it will be between her and God. [At that time, was BJU even aware of any of this? If not, how could they be at fault? Most of us learned about it some years later when when as a married woman she gave an interview for a network TV program.]

    After discussing the issue with him, BJU believed this pastor had done what he thought was right in this situation. The ultimate decision was to allow him to resign from the board rather than dismiss him. Isn’t this what the Bible tells Christians to do – go to the person in order to resolve problems?

    Some of these posts give the impression that BJU is guilty of horrendous neglect for not addressing this sensitive issue PRIOR to the occurrence of this sad situation. Whereas, the problem evidently showed necessity for helping pastors know how to deal with such a horrible thing. Some also seem to wrongly imply that BJU employs people who shelter sex offenders. (“Don’t they still employ several men who did not report the sexual assaults of children?”)

    It isn’t to be expected that most people who post on this site will become pro-BJU any time soon. But it would be good if only those who have first-hand knowledge of a subject would make such broad statements concerning issues that affect God’s people.

    Also, regarding the following statement: “Most quality higher ed. institutions regularly bring in speakers whose views they do not always espouse. It’s called open discourse. This is how true learning occurs and how beliefs are solidified. Anything short of this practice is indoctrination.” Perhaps on a rare occasion some universities allow a few who disagree with their extremely liberal philosophies to speak. However, since hardly any faculty can be hired who are not politically & culturally liberal, there IS indoctrination. Now-a-days faculty and students often try to drown out conservative voices, if they are actually invited to speak.

    1. Rebecca

      Allyce, just wanted to let you know that at least one of the commenters here who’s appalled at the conference truly does have first-hand knowledge of the hypocrisy and cover-ups that have been going on for years. Hosting a conference like this one, from this perspective, appears to be the height of hypocrisy.

    2. Concerned

      I can respect your questions, but I personally know of those who sheltered sex offenders from legal consequences that are employed at BJU. The current school administration is aware of who those people are. Whether or not they have had private conversations or not, I don’t know, however, they have not made any public statements that I am aware of that states that what these men did was wrong. I do NOT hate the school. I do not want to see them destroyed. I only want them to do what is right. That includes repentance in a few areas. For them to do a conference about sexual abuse when their own has not been resolved is a problem. IF they resolved their own issues first, then it would seem appropriate to hold a conference based on what they learned from openly addressing their own failures. It diminishes their credibility to do this while still trying to cover their own past actions.

    3. anonymous

      Allyce,
      I would like to reply to your post. I can understand your questions regarding this specific situation. It is entirely possible that BJU did not find out about Chuck Phelps’ handling of the incident in his church until many years later. I don’t know if they knew about it prior to that, however, when they did learn about it, they listened only to Mr. Phelps version of the events. Even when his version was contradicted by his own personal notes, they stood by him. It would have been a little different, perhaps, if Mr. Phelps had immediately apologized to Tina publicly for how he had handled the situation, but he did not. He painted her as culpable as did Bob Jones III. Later, when Phelp’s own notes were presented to the court, his own notes contradicted his public statements.
      I don’t know your background with BJU, but can you consider that there are many, MANY more stories out there? BJU will admit that they have not seen themselves in the past as mandatory reporters, meaning that when they knew of sexual abuse, they did not see it as their duty to legally intervene. This allowed perpetrators against children and adults to simply move on to the next victim. Some of their faculty members teach that children who are victimized are impure and attract the abuse. Their counsel focuses on the victim finding all the moments in the assaults where they could somehow be blamed for something – fear, anger, some physical response, etc. All of those things are considered sin and victims are to confess. If they struggle at all afterwards with what happened, it is considered sin on their part. Meanwhile, the perpetrator just has to say they repent and they can move on. There are currently people who are employed at BJU right now who knew and know about sex offenders that they themselves covered for. It is provable. I don’t even think they deny it. They just stay silent. Whether they regret these decisions or realize now in hindsight that they were wrong, I don’t know, but they have not apologized. You said, “Some also seem to wrongly imply that BJU employs people who shelter sex offenders. (“Don’t they still employ several men who did not report the sexual assaults of children?”)” On what basis do you say that we are wrongly implying these things? I could stand on a witness stand in a court and state emphatically with a clear conscience that I know that BJU has in fact NOT reported sexual abuse that they were aware of (sexual abuse that was reported directly to them and they addressed “in house” with “forgiveness”). I am not trying to shame them, but I also want to speak the truth. They DO employ people who knew/know of sexual abuse and did not/do not report it. I could list out some of their names. You say that it would be good for those of us who have first hand knowledge to comment. I have first hand knowledge and I’m telling you that they don’t/didn’t report sexual assaults. I don’t really know how to say this any clearer.

  10. Jim Racke

    Why don’t you wait till the conference is over and see what they have to say? MAYBE…they will say something significant that you will approve of…I do agree it would be great to have some speakers outside of the fold of BJU like other universities do when they have some kind of conference

  11. Dan Keller

    Maybe we don’t wait because we already know what people are going to say. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

  12. Rebecca

    Jim, the main point is that they shouldn’t be doing this conference, no matter how nice the words are. Sort of like the pastor preaching an eloquent sermon about how you shouldn’t kill who has allowed his brother-in-law to hide a skeleton in his closet. It really doesn’t matter how great his sermon is.

  13. Anonymous2

    Just as a clarification of information regarding one of the speakers at the conference, Sgt. Ty Miller is a woman and it looks like the conference website has her bio as follows:

    “Sgt. Miller began working at the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in 1999 in Uniform Patrol. After breaking a triple homicide case, she was transferred to the Investigations Division Sex Crimes Unit in 2001. She was promoted to Master Deputy in 2007 and worked sex crimes cases in Greenville County until she was promoted to Sergeant over the School Enforcement Division in 2011. Her specialty is dealing with crimes against children with a focus in child molestation and abuse.”

    As a side note, she is a board member of the Julie Valentine Center and is heavily involved in advocating for appropriate prevention and response in local schools and churches. She has training from the National Child Protection Training Center (http://www.ncptc.org/) and is highly and truly qualified to speak on the topic of her session. Sgt. Miller is not affiliated with BJU in any way, so as the only truly external speaker, I hope those in attendance will give great weight to what she says.

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