Are you listening, Bob Jones University?


As most of you know, the on-again-off-again saga of the GRACE investigation of the handling of allegations of sex abuse at Bob Jones University (BJU) continues. (For more/background, see my post Bob Jones University shuts down year-long investigation of sexual abuse on its campus.)

When recently BJU rehired GRACE, I remained silent on the matter, as I did when BJU first hired GRACE and throughout GRACE’s investigation. Why? Because I don’t know GRACE. The only thing I know about GRACE is that BJU hired them to ultimately issue a report on BJU. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. GRACE stands for Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment. I don’t want a “Godly” response to abuse; I have no idea what that even means (and almost never like what it really means). I want a correct response to abuse.

To be clear, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt GRACE’s integrity. I of course remain as hopeful as anyone that they and BJU do the right thing. I certainly never discouraged anyone from talking to GRACE. I just didn’t (despite some well-meaning pressure to) encourage it. I didn’t have enough information to do that.

So we’ll see what happens. (My vote for what happens? I’d guess that GRACE’s final report is extremely careful to never, ever, for one single moment, talk about anything outside of how, in the future, BJU should handle allegations of sexual abuse on its campus. The GRACE report will be a policy recommendation, and nothing else. That is what BJU hired GRACE to deliver, and that is what I’d guess GRACE promised to limit itself to delivering. So ultimately the whole thing will end up exactly as BJU has always known it would: as a perceived much ado about nothing. Total anti-climax. New policy and procedures. That’s it. Everybody move along. Nothing to see here. And just like that, BJU will have done again what it’s been doing since 1927: laying low, letting the storm pass, and getting back to its secretive, terrible business.)

Last week I got in the below. It was was written by a person I trust. I’m sharing it as a simple reminder of what the whole BJU-GRACE thing is really—or is really supposed to be—all about.

John,

Thank you again for talking about the latest BJU scandal on your blog. It’s refreshing to hear non-IFB Christians react to the insanity at Bob Jones and reminds all of us survivors that we are not crazy for thinking things there are very, very wrong.

I wanted to add another story to your growing pile of evidence of the crazy:

When I was a student at Bob Jones, one of the girls in my prayer group (each section of three or four rooms is grouped together so that the students [3 or 4 to a room] can meet together at night for a 15-minute devotion and prayer time) was raped by a male student on campus. Because she did not report it immediately afterward, when it came to light she was told that the sex must have been consensual since she hadn’t told anyone, and therefore she was expelled from school. I didn’t find out about this until much later, years after I had left Bob Jones, but I wasn’t remotely surprised.

When a student is expelled from Bob Jones, he/she is immediately placed on watch. This means that a hall leader (senior student who is a “spiritual leader” for 1/6 of a dorm) is with that person at all times.  The expelled student is not permitted to speak to other students, and is sent back to his/her dorm room to pack up all of his/her belongings while waiting for parents to arrive. The expelled student isn’t even allowed to use the restroom alone – the hall leader stands outside the stall while the expelled student takes care of business.

I was never expelled, but I can imagine that this is a humiliating experience to undergo, and it leaves the rest of the campus in the dark as to why the person was expelled. I had a roommate get expelled (they call it “shipped” at Bob Jones) one year; she got up at the 6:55 wake-up bell with the rest of us, but by the time I returned to my dorm room at the end of the day she and all of her stuff was gone, as if she had never existed. No one ever explained to us why she was gone.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this investigation and the upcoming results, but I’m with you John. I don’t think much will come of it either. I really hope that I am wrong, for each student, who has been abused, ignored and coerced into remaining silent.

    • JenellYB

      sadly there is a cronyism of protecting one another within leadership and positions of power throughout religious culture, even between those that seem at odds in doctrines or acceptable behavior. a fraternity of protecting “our Christian brother” even when they have done seriously wrong.

  • Matt

    Hope springs eternal. God’s grace is awesome to behold, but man do I ever thirst for some good old-fashioned justice right here in this life. Come on GRACE, throw the book at them! It makes a very satisfying thump! You won’t regret it!

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    ;)

  • JenellYB

    you wrote: I don’t want a “Godly” response to abuse. I want a correct response to sexual abuse.
    as I discover how many others have come to see and think the same thing I have over the years, about religion and religious culture, but was often reluctant to say, I just have to wonder, how have they kept us all so quiet and under fear of speaking truth for so long? in our heart, mind, we know that should rightfully be an oxymoronic statement, yet we all know it is all too often true. I know I’m not the only one that has been conditioned over my life to recoil at the word “godly” for knowing what is going to be connected to it will be something terribly ungodly in truth, and intended to manipulate, intimidate, and belittle any objection to whatever it is. to object to anything claimed to be “godly” is one of the forms of making questioning or rejecting the authority of some twisted opinion or idea some religious “superior” to others the equal to questioning or rejecting God himself, or the word of god when proof texts are tossed in. how often is even the most normal, healthy behavior or way of being shot down for it not being godly!

    In churhese, godly is what ever in that community leaderships (or invidual power player’s) estimation is what makes them feel comfortable and superior! and let them add ‘mature godly Christian’ and the coup is sealed! even though not a one of us mere humans could ever be godly, meaning godlike!
    why have people off real conscience let this have so much power in the church?

    • Jeffrey Hoffman

      As a gay man and a sexual abuse survivor from the BJU community, where I grew up, believe me, I shared your skepticism of G.R.A.C.E., too, although it was clear BJU wouldn’t be likely to hire a secular firm like Louis Freeh’s to conduct this investigation.

      So, back in November of 2012, I traveled to Philadelphia from NYC where I live to observe a seminar on preventing sexual abuse in the church conducted by Mr. Tchividjian and G.R.A.C.E. I didn’t announce to G.R.A.C.E. that I was coming so they wouldn’t have an opportunity to change anything they said if they normally said something about people like me that I wouldn’t like. I didn’t introduce myself until halfway through the conference.

      You can find the four videos from that conference I attended here: http://www.ccphilly.org/resources/online-bible-studies/ Click on the “Guest Speakers” tab on the top of the page and then navigate by pulling down to “Tchividjian, Basyle.”

      G.R.A.C.E. also participated in a conference that I didn’t attend in Greenville, SC last fall. Video is here: http://www.frequency.com/video/open-your-eyes-conference-session-3-boz/122993027/-/5-10531313 and here: http://vimeo.com/76084021

      As an Episcopal Church Musician, I’ve been to required sexual abuse prevention training courses within my own LGBT-affirming denomination, and I’ve listened intently. There is very little difference between what is said there and what the folks from G.R.A.C.E. have to say when they conduct these types of trainings.

      Some key things that Mr. Tchividjian said in the conference that I attended that convinced me that his organization is trustworthy:

      1) in one of the sessions at Calvary Chapel, he told the attendees that if a victim from within their faith community comes forward the church has the responsibility to report the offense (and to help the victim report) immediately, not to try to do their own investigation first;

      2) in another session, Mr. Tchividjian told attendees that if a victim from within their church community asks for the church to pay for therapy, the church should NOT view this as an evangelistic opportunity or attempt to force the victim to go to “Christian counseling,” but to understand that they need to go to the therapist/counselor where they feel comfortable and that the church does not have the right to stipulate whom that would be;

      I participated in G.R.A.C.E.’s investigation with BJU and I was treated with compassion and respect. Team members accompanied me to law enforcement to support me as I made a report to the police (a requirement they made of me before I interviewed was that if I disclosed childhood sexual abuse to them, then I must also file a police report). The team members have been in regular contact with me throughout the process and have been very supportive in times of crisis that have ensued.

      Is G.R.A.C.E. able to file an indictment? No. Are they going to prosecute BJU for crimes? No. But what they are going to do is make the investigation’s final report publicly available in its entirety. A previous investigation’s report can be found here to see what that might look like: http://fandaeagles.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/GRACE-Final-Report-on-NTM-Fanda.pdf (page 15 is a particularly interesting read).

      So, yes, I understand your negative reaction to the word “godly.” I really do. I share it. However, as I discovered in my experience as a participant in the process with G.R.A.C.E. and my prior inquiry into what G.R.A.C.E.’s positions on the abuse in the church, “godly” in this case means “correct.”

      Is the G.R.A.C.E. report the last stop on the train to justice for survivors at BJU? Probably not.

      But what G.R.A.C.E. can and will do is to shine a light on a big problem that has been hidden for too long. And that report will be a matter of public record for all to see. This outcome is surely a step in the right direction. (Also, see the Free report: http://progress.psu.edu/the-freeh-report ).

      Jeffrey Hoffman
      executive director
      BJUnity
      the affirming alternative for LGBT+ alumni and students of Bob Jones University

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        That is encouraging news. I have thought that GRACE was doing a good thing and a necessary thing. We shall see what BJU does as a result.

      • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

        Jeffrey,

        Thank you for sharing your experience. This is a powerful testimonial for GRACE. It’s helpful.

        I pray that this investigation would bring some measure of peace to victims and protection for future students.

        Peace,
        David

  • JoAnn Forsberg

    I do not speak of gay acceptance, just as another is; just as I am; theology to only promote gay rights.

    I speak of acceptance because: God is love, Christ is love, the Spirit is love.

    Such awe, deep humble appreciation I have for the Trinity.

    To not speak means: I contribute to others not knowing the true nature of our beloved Savior.


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