Tag Archives: Scandals

Six Questions About the Impending GRACE Report

As the promised date of completion for the GRACE investigation of BJU nears, here are six questions we are pondering:

1. Will GRACE specifically implicate high-ranking BJU officials in its findings? We’ve heard reports over the last few weeks that GRACE will not be afraid to name names in its report, but it remains to be seen whether administrators like Jim Berg will have their dirty laundry aired. GRACE could opt instead to describe systemic abuse and mismanagement at the school without including details about individual staff. There’s been rumors that disagreement over this decision was what led to BJU’s temporary firing of GRACE earlier this year, but no confirmation.

2. What scope will the report have? For instance, will GRACE only consider on-campus incidents and reports, or will it also explore related situations such as Jim Berg’s questionable “abuse counseling ministry?”

3. Will BJU attempt to spin the report’s findings, or accept them and seek to change? Since the investigation began, BJU has repeatedly stated its only goal is to learn from the report and address any mistakes it’s made. However, those familiar with the school’s history have reason to wonder what response a damning GRACE report will elicit. A battle over the report’s findings would doubtless be damaging to BJU’s reputation, but it’s not inconceivable: the two organizations traded social media posts expressing “disappointment” in each other during the firing fiasco earlier this year. And BJU’s unfortunate descriptions of victims (see “underserved”) may indicate a lack of willingness to accept culpability. Another interesting caveat is Bob Jones III’s very public claim that the school has never mismanaged any case of abuse in its history. How will the school reconcile that claim with the report?

4. How will alumni and supporters of the school react if the report is wide-ranging and devastating? We’ve seen supporters defend BJU in dire situations before, but a report showing a long history of abuse mismanagement would likely still be a big blow. For several years now, BJU has been attempting to rehab its public image: social media efforts, a new mascot and sports program, relaxed rules, a non-Jones president, showing movies on campus–regardless of how you view these efforts, there’s no doubt the school’s intent has been to appear more welcoming. A bombshell from GRACE would set the school back years in terms of reputation, and require a massive new PR campaign. With declining enrollment and SACS watching closely, it may simply be too late even for that.

5. How and when will alumni be notified of the report’s findings? Who will do the notifying, BJU or GRACE? It would seem natural that BJU would send letters and/or email to alumni explaining what GRACE publishes, in addition to social media. However, the organization that sends out the notifications could also seek to control the spin. If BJU is allowed to exclusively notify interested parties, there’s the distinct possibility that the news will be softened, or that not everyone will be contacted.

6. Will media coverage be sufficient to force BJU to implement major change? Depending on who you believe, BJU has repeatedly been convinced to change its policies due to media scrutiny–from the miscegenation controversy to their firing/re-hiring of GRACE, BJU is always aware (if scornful) of media attention. We saw a historic amount of media coverage earlier this year when BJU fired GRACE, so it’s likely than any GRACE report (especially one critical of BJU) would be similarly well-covered. The question is whether or not the coverage reaches a critical mass that puts BJU administrators on the hot seat and requires action.

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BJU Grad Pens Lengthy Letter to Steve Pettit, Gets a Terse Non-Answer

A BJU grad critical of the school sent us this letter, which the grad sent to new BJU President Steve Pettit early this month:

Dear Mr. Pettit,

I watched the town hall meeting on the web last night and came away with the distinct feeling that I needed to write to you and share my thoughts. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an outspoken “disaffected” graduate of BJU. That said, I love our Lord, Jesus Christ, and sense that you do as well. I also have nieces and a nephew currently attending. While I would not choose to send my own children to BJU, I do want the best for my extended family members.

So, here goes…thoughts, constructive criticism, ideas…

1. BJU has a massive image problem.

To my knowledge, BJU has never apologized once in its 87 year history. That racism one doesn’t count. BJU came across as a petulant child being dragged kicking and screaming (by its own alumni) and mumbling something about “cultural ethos”…IOW, everybody was doing it. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. At my church we regularly ask for forgiveness for many a thing that I didn’t directly take part in…slavery being one of them. You know why? Because had I been around back in those times, I would have probably taken part in it. I hope I would have stood up to it, but few did. Confession allows us to clear the air with our neighbor and realize that but for the grace of God, it would have been me.
Many a non Christ-like word has been spoken from the chapel pulpit over the years…Al Haag, Betty Ford, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell…the list is long, but distinguished.
BJU says they are conservative yet they took a bailout offer for the their art gallery downtown. I also hear (yet to confirm) that BJU’s downtown gallery receives money somehow from the sales of wristbands for alcohol at downtown events. I’m not a conservative but if there is one thing you have to do as an organization, it’s be consistent.
In all of these cases, confession is not only good for the soul, it’s good for business.

2. Accreditation

We need a better explanation of why accreditation and government money are OK now but were verboten when we were students. The explanation that SACS is the one who has changed was weak at best. Better yet, just apologize again for being wrong about accreditation and government money, ask for forgiveness and move on. Side note…government money was bad but the GI Bill essentially built the Greenville campus.
TRACS was an easy way to get the money flowing but without SACS, the school should close. A non-regionally accredited liberal arts school is just a government investigation waiting to happen.

3. Enrollment

By all means, be a distinctively Christian school; however, in order to attract enough students to survive you need to…
Dump the crazy rules and handbooks. If the Ten Commandments was good enough for Moses, it should be good enough for us.
You’re a Citadel grad…institute an honor code, make the golden rule and the Sermon on the Mount your ideals.
Let students go to church at a much broader array of churches and make it voluntary…encourage, yes. But, they need to learn to make the decision for themselves.
Treat students like the adults they are…I agree with most of what you said about extended adolescence but we get the behavior we expect.
Students having authority over students…this needs to be re-visited in earnest. Prayer time is great. APCs and PCs…not so much.
Hold a press conference with all the local stations when you do this. Make a big deal about it. Slide a stack of handbooks into a trash can…sell it!
Be self-aware enough to realize that when Mr Jackson’s grand-kids are not going to BJU, when Mr. Franklin’s son left home to avoid BJU, and many an influential local alumni (read Dr Stratton) are not sending their children to BJU that the problem lies not with the alumni. It lies directly with the owners.
Which leads me to this. You are going to need to “pick a fight” with the owners of the company and win it. Your’re a smart guy so you probably already know this. Make your alliances. Assert your leadership. The Board is old. You’ve got this.

4. Safety

Put locks on the dormitory doors.

5. GRACE
Now, there’s a conundrum! Your only bet…follow their recommendations to the letter.
I would ask Boz to recommend someone not currently affiliated with BJU who would be willing to shepherd the school through their list of recommendations so that you personally can rise above the fray as much as possible. And, every knows it wasn’t the Penn State situation that made BJU hire GRACE. It’s a good story except that it is not true. BJU has had incidents on campus that have been swept under the rug.
Stop counseling on site. Refer students who need help to licensed, Christian counselors in the local area.
You come across as an honorable man. Do the honorable thing when the report is made public and you’ll have the support of all your alumni.
Lastly, I want to wish you and your wife the best. I hear she is not well and for that I am truly sorry. Nobody should have to watch the one they love suffer, I promise you that before I go to sleep tonight, I will say a prayer for both of you. Should you ever like to meet or get outside the BJU circle of churches for a weekend, let me know. You would be welcome to worship with my family at ——– United Methodist Church any Sunday. You might be surprised to know that among some of the older congregants that I hear things like “BJU is a good school” and “BJU has a fine music program”. The Greenville community has much going for it. I would like to see BJU be a positive part of it instead of reminder of unhappier days gone by.

Sincerely,

———-

To this lengthy letter, the grad received this reply today:

Dear Brother ——-:

Thank you for your candid email in follow-up to the Town Hall meeting last week. I apologize for the delay in my response; however, since my correspondence has increased exponentially in these last few months.

I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and suggestions. It’s helpful to know other perspectives and to look for ways to improve. That being said, I’m not going to take the time to respond to every point you listed. I simply want to say that some of the things you suggest are simply not what Bob Jones University is or what we are called to be–in the context of our mission here at the University, there are certain things that we will not do (e.g. completely rid ourselves of the handbook).

We are thankful for you and thankful that you love our Lord Jesus Christ. We appreciate your prayers, and I personally thank you for your prayers for my wife and for her health.

Although we most probably will agree to disagree on many of your points, there are some helpful perspectives that you shared that we will keep in mind.

May you grow in our Lord’s grace and experience a closer walk with Him every day.

Sincerely,

Steve Pettit
President
Bob Jones University

This reply from Pettit should end any question of whether the new BJU administration is willing to truly entertain pointed questions from graduates about the future of the University. Despite Pettit’s repeated requests for feedback and accountability, it seems the same old playbook is still used for the difficult topics: defend, deny, and dismiss.

If you’ve written a similar letter or gotten a similar response from BJU, feel free to let us know in the comments.

Petition Demanding BJU Apologize for Rape Counseling Reaches 7,000 Signatures in 4 Days

Update: 5 days later, the petition has reached 14,000 signatures.

After an Al Jazeera America report found evidence that BJU has systematically counseled rape victims to “repent” and “forgive” their abusers, an online petition begun in response to that report has amassed over 7,000 signatures in under a week.

The petition asks BJU to change its counseling tactics and apologize to those affected.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

In 2011, a petition signed by just 1,200 BJU alumni and others resulted in the resignation of Chuck Phelps from the school’s cooperating board.

New Gothard Revelations Hint at BJU’s Ugly History of Abuse

Recovering Grace, a website dedicated to publishing documents and stories related to abuse in Bill Gothard’s various organizations, has recently unearthed a few troubling tidbits that point to similarly abusive tactics used at BJU over the years.

Recovering Grace has been in operation since 2011, but has made headlines in recent weeks because its revelations finally reached critical mass, resulting in Gothard being put on administrative leave by his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (known as the Institue in Basic Youth Conflicts during its early days). You can read more about this news from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, among many others.

The scandal involves a wide array of allegations spanning decades. According to dozens of victims who’ve told their stories on Recovering Grace and in its comments, Gothard and other IBYC leaders used their “spiritual authority” to control, abuse and manipulate employees, mainly young women. Gothard himself stands accused of sexual harassment and failure to report child abuse, among other things.

An investigation of this scale necessarily implicates more than one organization, and in this case BJU is among those named. In 1980, two BJU officials (only one is named, a Rev. Van Gelderen) were summoned by Gothard to help him downplay a scandal that was about to overwhelm his multi-million dollar ministry. You can read more about that scandal on Recovering Grace, but suffice to say that the two BJU men were used by Gothard in his attempt to hush up accusations of sexual harassment against Gothard’s brother. Gothard asked the two BJU officials to help convince the IBYC board not to send a letter to supporters admitting the scandal and apologizing, and they obliged. Their plot failed, however, and when the board overruled Gothard and the BJU staffers and demanded that the sexual harassment be dealt with, Van Galderen reportedly reversed his stance and regretted coming at all. This incident is a fascinating parallel to BJU’s current PR troubles, as the school clearly still clings to a strategy of withholding potentially damaging information until the story has already exploded in the media.

Most damaging in this narrative, though, is a remark Van Gelderen made to the IBYC board when trying to dissuade them from properly handling sexual abuse:

They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.”

This ominous declaration can only mean one thing: in the 1980s, BJU already had a firm process in place for dealing with cases of sexual harassment and scandal within its administration. Whatever else that process might entail, it’s clear from Van Gelderen’s testimony here that covering up information and keeping supporters in the dark was key. Here’s the full text of this passage:

At the end of May 1980, discussions were still ongoing as the directors and staff attempted to approve a draft for a letter explaining the situation to the seminar alumni pastors. Bill was strongly against sending out this letter, but IBYC staff and leadership had almost completely lost confidence in his judgment by this time. Bill had lost control over his staff, and he knew it. They refused to remain under Bill’s asserted authority and were insisting upon straightforward and public transparency about the scandal. Bill pulled in two men from Bob Jones University—the administrative vice president and a BJU board member, Rev. Van Geldren, to help confront the staff. The BJU delegation rebuked the staff, stating that “a letter to pastors should not be sent out, and that it was wrong to inform the pastors and supporters of the Institute what was happening.” They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at the [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.” In the end, though, Bill did send out a letter. The public and the media had picked up on the story, and he decided that he needed to make a statement.

In a sharp turn of events, two days after confronting the staff, Rev. Van Geldren had already apologized to the chief pilot (who was involved in uncovering the scandal) for his blind support of Bill, and apparently informed him that he had come to the conclusion that Bill could not be trusted. Rev. Van Geldren then did what we pray many parents are doing right now as they read these reports thirty years later—he withdrew his daughter from working at the Institute.

The second incident reported by Recovering Grace involves one of BJU’s longest-serving (1967-2013) Board members, John McLario. McLario was called in by Gothard to be a replacement for his father as IBYC chairman and president. This revelation shows a strong connection between BJU and Gothard’s ministry at this time, and a willingness on McLario’s part to help smooth over the scandal that was then threatening to destroy the IBYC. McLario did more than just accept the positions at IBYC, however. On his first day as new leader of the IBYC, McLario demanded that all of Gothard’s former staff, many of whom were victims of sexual harassment, declare their allegiance to the IBYC or lose their jobs. Here’s the full quote:

The media frenzy was being held at bay with partial truths about mishandling of Institute properties. Some prominent members of the IBYC staff and of the evangelical community began to step forward to help handle things. John McLario, an attorney and executive council for Bob Jones University, was asked on July 8, 1980, to take over as IBYC president and chairman of the board. William Gothard, Sr., submitted his resignation to the IBYC board on this same day. McLario took a heavy-handed approach to what he believed to be a rebellious staff. According to one timeline, “McLario meets with the entire staff and, without anybody saying who he was, he commenced to inform the entire staff that they have one hour to decide to resign immediately from the ministry or continue to work without any more resistance or questions. This action of McLario was fully supported by the Board and Bill Gothard.” At least one of the girls who had been involved with Steve received a phone call from McLario pressing her to remain compliant and silent about all that had happened (we are told this inspired exactly the opposite reaction from her). Within days, approximately one-half of the IBYC staff had resigned or been fired…

…As is often the case in fact versus fiction, what happened next was both anti-climactic and profoundly remarkable. John McLario abruptly resigned only seventeen days after assuming Institute leadership, reportedly to avoid dealing publicly with his own alleged sexual immorality.

Drawing conclusions from these incidents is simple enough: some of BJU’s highest-ranking, longest-serving and most-respected leaders were complicit in the horrifying abuses perpetrated by Gothard and his minions upon their staff. BJU was the first place Gothard turned to when he needed people to help him cover up scandal. And according to his own words, a respected BJU leader said that BJU, even in 1980, was already long practiced in “handling” scandals in a manner meant to protect leadership and silence victims.

BJU and GRACE Agree to Complete Investigation, BJU Promises “Commitment to a Thorough, Transparent and Objective Review”

Bob Jones University announced today that GRACE will continue and complete its investigation into the school’s history and policies regarding sexual abuse.

Nearly three weeks after abruptly terminating its contract with GRACE, BJU now says the two organizations are “united in our commitment to a thorough, transparent and objective review.”

The announcement comes as a seeming victory for all sides of this controversy, as supporters and detractors of the University alike decried BJU’s termination of GRACE and called, nearly unanimously, for their reinstatement.

GRACE has not, as of yet, commented on the announcement.

BJU published a Q&A about the recent events here, which among other things plainly answers the accusations of its critics:

Of note here are a number of subtle attempts by BJU to spin this announcement, and re-define the last month of news as nothing controversial:

-BJU acknowledges on its Timeline that the GRACE contract was terminated, but still tries to get away with using the word “suspended” several times in the Q&A.

-BJU attempts to frame the GRACE investigation as a “review”–as primarily an administrative action meant to update BJU’s policies and ensure the school meets legal requirements. However, the main focus of the GRACE review has been on victims who have spoken out about the school’s neglect and systemic abuse.

-BJU seems confused about whether or not any victims do, indeed, exist. Under the Q&A, the question is posed:

“Did GRACE discover any instances of abuse that were not properly reported to authorities?”

To which the answer is given:

To date, BJU has received no report that GRACE has discovered any BJU or BJA abuse reporting obligations.

Then, in another section of the Q&A:

It is for the sake of these individuals that BJU went to great lengths to resolve our differences with GRACE. We are deeply grieved by the pain and disappointment these individuals have experienced.

BJU appears stuck between refusing to admit that any real grievances exist against it (see the “underserved” verbiage) and its obligation to admit that the GRACE investigation is happening for a reason.

Despite the PR spin from the University, this announcement is good news for all sides. Victims and critics of the school will finally see their stories aired in public, and by a third party that BJU won’t be able to influence. Supporters and defenders of the school can at least know that BJU is no longer attempting to hide or stamp out GRACE’s findings. All that’s left now, as before, is to wait.

Greenville Pastor Pleads with BJU over GRACE Scandal: “I am personally aware of the disappointment, confusion and hurt that your decision and subsequent communication caused”

In a video that quickly went viral, local Greenville pastor Ryan Ferguson shared his thoughts about BJU’s handling of the GRACE investigation and, specifically, the University’s communication regarding the decision. The video, and a transcript, are below. Let us know how you feel about this remarkable statement in the comments.

“To Stephen Jones, Larry Jackson, the Bob Jones University Board and Administration,

My name is Ryan Ferguson, and I’m a pastor in Greenville, South Carolina. I would like to draw your attention to the nature of your recent communication regarding your termination of GRACE. My hope is that my commentary will allow you to see the great harm you have done to survivors of abuse, who responded to your invitation to tell their story to a third-party investigator.

Proverbs 31: 8 and 9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth. Judge righteously. Defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

I am personally aware of people both in my congregation, in the local area, and those abroad, who responded to share their story with GRACE. I am personally aware of the disappointment, confusion and hurt that your decision and subsequent communication caused to these people. They responded in good faith, believing that you were seeking their good. I am speaking for them, because I know that some are not able to speak for themselves. They lack the power and the platform.

I would like to draw your attention to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29.  Paul writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to the hearers.”  This is God’s blanket statement about the words that come out of the mouths of Christ-followers. “No corrupting talk.” No potentially rotten talk. No words that can poison the minds of the hearers. Only words that edify, words that build up, words that are appropriate, that is, words that are spoken in a timely fashion. This blanket command exists so that hearers may receive grace.  I would like to attempt to show you that your communication reveals very little care for the survivors of abuse that you invited to speak to GRACE.

I would like to present to you six ways in which your communication might have been destructive.

First, you do not take responsibility in your communication about the past, or stated differently, you do not talk transparently. Allow me to illustrate. Stephen Jones, in his address to the University on February 7, said the following:  “We initiated a project to look back on any instances in which it was alleged that some university [word obviously left out here] may have under served, who may have reported abuse at some point in their lives.”  This comment is consistent with a comment on the BJU blog, dated February 6, that states “ The committee recommended some policy revisions and also that the university appoint an independent ombudsman to review past instances in which it was alleged that the university may have underserved a student who reported they had been abused at some point in their lives.”

My point is this: do you see how many qualifiers there are in these statements? Are we to understand that you don’t really believe anything happened in the past, when in fact you began this investigation to remedy what happened in the past? Why can’t you clearly state to people, “We have wronged people in the past – we are going to make it right”?

How do these qualifiers serve people? It sounds like legal-speak. It is my opinion that even your greatest critics would be stunned by a simple and forward statement of responsibility. I would even hypothesize that if you clearly communicated, the blogosphere would blow up with statements like “Can you believe that BJU said they were wrong?”  Even more so, survivors of abuse, who reported to GRACE, would be greatly served by your admission.

Secondly, and flowing from the comments I already quoted, your repeated use of the word “underserved” is a poor use of euphemism and it is insulting to those who have been abused. You use the term “underserved” twice in the BJU magazine article, also in the letter that you sent to all former students dated January 2013.  This term continues to be used in your termination letter, Stephen’s address to the university, and in a press release dated February 6.

I believe that it is a natural question for me and others to ask you to define this term. To my knowledge, I am unable to find on your web site, blog, the press releases, termination letter, or Stephen’s speech any instance where you define this term.  Therefore, it is left for the audience to define this term. It seems to be an attempt to tell people what you have done to those who would choose or have now chosen to speak with GRACE. The term is easy to say. It doesn’t sound too bad.  I describe your use of this term as “euphemistic.” “Euphemism” is defined in the Encarta dictionary as “the use of a word or phrase that is more neutral, vague, or indirect, to replace a direct, harsh, unpleasant or offensive term.”

In Stephen’s address, he states “And I just want to reiterate that we are committed and remain committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals, and if we didn’t serve them as best we could, to ask their forgiveness and make it right.” For what are we asking forgiveness and what are we going to make right? “Underserving”?  What does that mean?  Forgiveness, as we will talk about later, is a biblical term. By definition, forgiveness involves wrong or sin.  Therefore, how did you sin against or offend someone?  Where is “underserving” defined as sin in the scriptures?

I have three kids. If, after dinner, I pulled out three bowls, pulled out ice cream and put three scoops of ice cream in two bowls, and one scoop of ice cream in another bowl, certainly my kids would look at me and let me know about someone being “underserved.” I do not see this as an appropriate term for speaking about your failures with victims of sexual abuse in the past. “Underserved” doesn’t give the listener or reader any sense of the severity of the events surrounding speaking to GRACE.  So I would like to posit that “underserving” might be a euphemism for not reporting abuse to authorities, not helping the needy and the poor, or giving counsel to someone that caused harm rather than healing.  That’s what you might mean by “underserved.”

I would appreciate any clarity you can give on this term, and I believe that survivors of abuse would appreciate it as well. At best, “underserved” is understatement. At its worst, it’s euphemistic evasion of truth.

Third, I believe your contradictory speech only reinforces the mistrust, confusion and pain in the victims of abuse who told their stories to GRACE. In Stephen’s address, he states as a goal of his speech to “fill you in a little more about the current situation so you have accurate information both for your own knowledge and so you can help correct any misperceptions that are abundant.”  So, Stephen, you tell us that accuracy is a key, so that your constituency can be secure.  You also call them to action, to take what you say and clear up any misperceptions that are abundant.  You continue and tell your audience, “But over jus t the past months, the last several months, we grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going on beyond the originally outlined intentions and so we wanted to sit down and talk about them because it had gone askew. So we terminated our agreement with GRACE so that we could sit down and get it back on track.”

I can’t even make sense out of that last statement.  Employers don’t typically fire employees so that they can sit down and work out their employment structure and performance.

The quote continues: “That was the entire intention in terminating the agreement. And if you look at GRACE’s web site or ours, that’s clear in my letter of termination.”  So, if your audience followed your advice and went to the web site and looked at the letter of termination, they would read the following: “As you know, I recently announced my resignation as president of the university effective in early May. As you can imagine, this has redirected a significant amount of our focus and energy. While remaining resolute in our desire to achieve our stated objectives, in view of the ongoing challenges in leadership change, Bob Jones University notifies GRACE that we are terminating the November 16, 2012 engagement agreement for independent investigation. This termination is effective immediately.”

I have read the termination letter and see no mention at all about growing differences, changing objectives, or investigations gone askew.  You plainly tell them, you resigned and that’s  gonna be hard on the university, so you need to stop the investigation.  The text does not seem to be unclear. You invited people to make this comparison, Stephen. In your speech, you make a statement and then direct me to find proof of that statement in your correspondence. Your contradictory communication is devastating to people who trusted you enough to, in your own words, “share the horrific personal stories of abuse with GRACE.”

Allow me to state that I understand you never meant for your termination letter to be public. However, that hardly seems to be a substantial argument against my point.  You have stated two different reasons for the dismissal. For the sake of those who have responded to your invitation, speak clearly and transparently, and let them know why this has stopped.

Fourthly, the concept of “moving forward” seems to be your primary concern in your public address to the university. Nine times in your speech you talk about “moving forward.” Early in your speech you stated “We initiated a project to look back.” This is what the people who spoke with GRACE are concerned about. Your repeated message of “moving forward” might have been nervousness, or just a badly written or delivered speech.  However, if you listen to what was said, the message is quite clear. “We’re moving forward with our objectives.  With or without GRACE, we are moving forward.” The issue is you take little time to address what that means for people who are looking back and who desire you to look back.

Is this persistent message of moving forward timely for these people? Does it build them up? Is it speech that gives grace? Or do survivors of abuse, after sharing their story, feel as if the university is on a pathway and they just need to get over it, get on board and potentially get ready to go through it all again if you choose to use a different ombudsman.

Allow me a brief digression to speak about hiring another third party. I do not know a way to more effectively communicate this point but to ask you the question, “Are you crazy?”  Are the issues really so bad that you would start all over? Really? Is this seriously a viable option for the people who responded to you? I want to admit that I’m operating on the assumption that it would be impossible for GRACE to just hand over all their data to another organization.  I’m not a professional, but I don’t see how that could be wise, how data could be properly interpreted by another third party looking at GRACE’s material, even if that was legal.

Stephen, the fact that you had mentioned this idea of a third party twice in your speech seems so thoughtless.  To be honest, it makes me question if any of you who are making this decision have actually sat down with a man or woman when they tell you their story of abuse. So I ask you, Stephen, Mr. Jackson, the BJU Board and Administration, have you ever sat in a room with a man or woman when they speak of sexual abuse? Have you seen someone triggered to remember their sexual abuse? Have you sat on the floor with a woman who has to rub the carpet as she speaks about her abuse so that she doesn’t disassociate?  Do you know what disassociate means?  Have you spoken with someone on the phone as they are dealing with memories and you try to get them to describe the room they’re in or what’s outside the window so that they can be calm enough  to think?

If you have not experienced those things, then you should rethink even mentioning that people would have to tell their story again.

If you have been through those things, then you are even more foolish for thinking of having people tell their story again.

Please cease about speaking about moving forward without ensuring survivors that you will continue to look back. Give assurance to survivors by what you say and what you do that you will continue to look back.

Fifth, your communication speaks very little of people and focuses on “objectives,” “initiatives,” “projects,” and “reviews.” Stephen, you used these terms fourteen times in your speech. With your outlined objectives, do you realize they are all people?  I recognize in your speech that you speak directly to survivors in two paragraphs, however, as one listens to this speech, it seems clear that the pertinent issues are the institutional objectives.  This is only hypothesis, but what would happen if  you spoke directly to the people who shared their stories? What if, instead of making sure everybody understood what was going on, you just addressed those people who spoke? What if the people that left that gathered meeting left with the weight and the feel of what it means for those people to share their stories and you spent time praying for them?  What if your posture towards GRACE and your subsequent communication basically said, “We know we’ve screwed up.  GRACE, do whatever you can so that we can reach out to these people for forgiveness.  We don’t care about institutional objectives. We are recklessly pursuing hurting people.”

May I ask you to stop talking about your objectives and begin speaking about people?

Finally, in my opinion, your communication reveals a lack of pursuit of a biblical imperative. Stephen, in your speech, you speak of asking forgiveness and making things right.  That is clearly biblical language.  That’s confession, repentance and restoration. In Matthew 5:23 and 24, Jesus says, “So if you’re offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.”

Stephen, Mr. Jackson, Board and Administration, if at present, there are those out there who have something against you, is it not your responsibility to pursue it with all haste?  I recognize I don’t know everything going on. I’m specifically commenting about your communication, the way you’re speaking to these people. It is not apparent to me you’re both communicating and doing everything you can to reach these people.

Jesus said this is a worship issue. Worshipping while at odds with a brother in Christ makes no sense. What would it look like for all of you to leave your gift at the altar and pursue those who spoke with GRACE?

My desire is that you see that your communication matters.  I am hopeful that my perspective will cause you to review your own communication and choices and respond accordingly.  Your words matter to the listening ears of survivors of abuse.

I purposely did this in video format. I wanted you to see my face, I wanted you to see my body language, I wanted you to hear my tone.  I’m not just being a sniper from a distance and being critical. I’m passionate about serving survivors of abuse.  I am open to any responses.  Where I am wrong or inaccurate, I will make it right publicly.  I am open to both critique and criticism.  I am not afraid of negative feedback. To my knowledge, I am responding in faith to speak for those who have no voice. I am called to shepherd the flock of God and I will protect those under my care from harm.

Since this is public, it will be easy for you to find me, since I live in your town.  You can find me through Facebook.  I am open to hear from you and will make myself available both for confrontation if needed to correct me, or conversation that would lead to edifying words that build up and give grace to survivors of abuse.

To those of you who shared your story with GRACE, your courage is heroic.  Many of you have been sinned against within the church. For that, the church as a whole should stand up for you and speak on your behalf. I know many others out there who have been on their knees praying that your efforts will not be in vain. The time for change in the Christian community regarding abuse is right now. We must change and we must speak. I hope my brief comments add to the collective voice of those crying out on your behalf.”

Respectfully,

Ryan Ferguson

Remember This BJU Grad Who Said That “Only Psychos Feel Abused”?

As we trudged through one BJU grad’s recent defense of his alma mater (and his follow-up tweet saying our analysis amounted to an attempt at “mind-reading”), we couldn’t help but be reminded of another far more candid BJU defender who said this when we reported on the GRACE investigation back in January 2013:

The conversation devolved quickly from there, with Monte claiming that he never heard of any abuse while attending BJU (and thus that none has ever existed there, much less gone unreported):

Monte got quite the drubbing for his remarks, with blogger John Shore and his comment section piling on as well as a number of angry Twitter users.

And while “Dr.” Monte’s defense of BJU might sound harsh and extreme, it’s no different in substance from what many of the school’s proponents have always said about abuse victims, even as BJU stumbles its way toward the end of the GRACE investigation.

For example, here’s Bob Jones III in 2011 dismissing claims of abuse and publicly stating that BJU has never mishandled a single instance of abuse in its history:

Also in 2011, Jones III said that a rape victim who was neglected while in the care of pastor and favored BJU grad Chuck Phelps acted “consensually” with her rapist.

And on BJU’s Facebook page, a few bold folks came out to oppose victims who testified to their mistreatment at BJU’s hand, calling any kind of criticism of BJU “evil” and “Satan’s work”:

In summary, while not everyone who is defending BJU’s handling of the GRACE situation is as extreme as these examples, there seems to be a trend towards a smaller and more shrill group of BJU apologists. We wonder how Dr. Monte and the others seen here will feel if and when the GRACE report comes out.

And remember, this victim and others like her are the ones whom Monte calls “psychos.”