On Bob Jones University, and Letting Survivors Speak

Content Note: Rape, Sexual Assault

Growing up expecting to go to Bob Jones University today was just another part of life as a member of an IFB (independent fundamental Baptist) church. Unless of course you were one of those heathens who went to Hyles-Anderson. Really, though, if you grew up in the IFB church and school that I grew up in, your options for acceptable colleges were limited. My choices were to go to Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Pensecola Christian College, Northland, or good old Bob Jones, and major in childhood education, hoping to meet an up and coming pastor who could make me his wife and let me teach in his church’s Sunday School.

My parents, thankfully, encouraged me to expand my horizons beyond the limited options that my church and school presented me with. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew I had other options and I took those options. Still, dreaming of going off to Bob Jones was a normal part of growing up in the IFB.

My friends and I would make elaborate plans for how we’d hide our secular music CDs and T-rated video games while we were there. We’d gossip about all the weird rumors we’d heard–“Did you hear about the guy who got expelled for borrowing someone’s umbrella and forgetting to give it back?” “Do they really have pink and blue sidewalks?”. We’d sit through special chapels at our Baptist high schools where BJU got their prettiest students to come and give us free pens and tell us to apply to their school. When no one was looking, we snickered about going to “BJ University” even though many of us weren’t 100% sure what a “BJ” was.

In many IFB churches, Bob Jones University is a major part of culture. Decisions made at Bob Jones could influence the opinions of IFB church pastors all over the country. Bob Jones University was responsible for training many of those pastors.

What happens there affects many people, including many survivors. 

This is why I was relieved when the school decided to hire a team of investigators to look into how BJU has handled cases of possible rape and sexual assault.

That was a big deal.

I’d grown up in churches that told me rape was my fault. If I dressed immodestly, was alone with a guy, or started making out with a guy, he wouldn’t be able to stop because that’s just how guys are. I’d grown up in churches that blurred the lines between consensual sex and sexual assault.

I’d grown up being taught that rape was a problem “out there,” but not “in here.” That if I strayed from God and went to a public school, I’d get raped (yes, I actually heard sermons saying this growing up). Rape was something that happened to “bad girls,” and those “bad girls” deserved it anyway so we shouldn’t spend too much time being upset about it.

It didn’t happen to good Christians, and if it did, it wasn’t really rape and I wasn’t really a good Christian.*

When I saw that BJU was being investigated, I hoped that this would open doors for other IFB schools and churches to hold similar investigations. I’d hoped that people from BJU and elsewhere would get chances to tell their stories that they might not get otherwise.

The silence in these churches and schools can be deadly and dangerous. By using rape as a threat reserved for those who step outside of acceptable Christianity, these schools and churches allow rapists within acceptable Christian circles to get away with what they do. They ensure that many survivors will stay silent, for fear of being seen as a “bad Christian.” 

I’d hoped the investigation of BJU could break some of that silence. I knew it wouldn’t solve the problem. The IFB is a misogynist, heterosexist, racist bunch, and as long as structural oppression exists, rape culture will as well. But I still held out hope that this investigation could help a few survivors, change a few minds, and open the doors for much-needed conversations.

With this in mind, it was heart-breaking and infuriating to find out last week that BJU has fired GRACE, the firm in charge of this investigation.

With this blog post, I’m going to ask you to take a second and care about this. I see so many feminists and mainstream social justice folks dismiss the abuse that happens in fundamentalist Christian circles. They see it as happening among a “crazy” religious fringe group, and say victim-blaming things such as “Well, it’s Bob Jones University. What else do you expect?”

I’m asking you not to be like this. Don’t dismiss these issues, no, these people as unimportant. Take a second to talk about this if you can. Sign and share this petition asking BJU to rehire GRACE and continue the investigation. Listen to survivors of IFB spiritual abuse, and don’t tell them “Well what do you expect?”

This is a feminist issue and it matters because IFB survivors, and rape/sexual assault survivors still in the IFB matter. 

 

*Note: I did not receive this message from everyone I grew up with, and I am grateful for those who countered these harmful messages with truth.  

 

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  • http://hopefullyknown.com/ Tamara Rice

    Thanks for the pingback/link, Sarah. I’m so glad you’ve written about this too. We can’t stop caring about it or write off those victims just because we’ve grown to expect so little of that culture. Thanks for saying so.

    Also this: “Unless of course you were one of those heathens who went to Hyles-Anderson.”

    Too funny.

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

    Must be some high ups that can’t be thrown under the bus.

  • Korrine Britton

    Thank you so much for writing about this, Sarah. As an alumna of BJU, I am appalled they would re-victimize those who suffered abuse. I am beyond ashamed my name is inextricably linked with theirs.

    My husband and I have already signed the petition, and I encourage anyone who cares for truth and justice to sign as well. Stand with the victims!

  • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ DaisyDeadhead

    Thanks for mentioning the “what do you expect from those wackos?” crowd, which make me furious… because as you have said, BJU is *very* influential and has a very long reach… and I think many modern evolution-aware folks simply don’t want to believe that.

    In this neck of the woods, BJU totally runs the local Republican party, and Jim DeMint genuflects on cue. (Sen Tim Scott is scheduled to be at BJU on April 22, if anyone wants to help us protest!) They have kept SC public schools on the bottom rung (fighting real science), they have impoverished the state with their right wing economics AND they have successfully fought all laws to protect LGBT and reproductive rights. They are a cornerstone of conservative activity, and have done much damage here. Hopefully, this will show everyone that the place is a damaging cult–what many of us have been saying for decades now.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Agreed. While living in SC I was appalled to learn about the “corridor of shame” and other atrocities that are part and parcel of that political mindset. BJU has way too much influence, even beyond the state borders.

    • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ kkollwitz

      SC’s an easy place to leave.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I’m all for overturning the sham that is called “Christianity.” Each person wronged must have the courage to stand up for their own truth, not what will keep you in the “club.” If every Roman Catholic who has been harmed by the brainwashing by the church would simply stop attending Mass, the Roman Catholic church would collapse overnight. Being honest about the birth control issue, alone, would collapse the church.

    I am petitioning the Roman Catholic church for annulment of all the sacraments they forced on my as a child. They annulled the marriage that produced my two blessed children; now they can let me honorably out of their “once a catholic, always a catholic” cult.

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

    BJU and GRACE have announced that they will meet, to possibly iron out whatever differences they may have, to hopefully complete what GRACE had started. I sincerely hope that GRACE tells BJU to stick their suggestions to keep things quiet, and to release the names of those interviewed (which I suspect are some of the things that led to GRACE’s axing), where the son don’t shine, and give them an illustrated guide on just how to do it.
    Meanwhile BJU is getting some very unwelcome (to them) and happy (to everyone else) national attention, as they discover the power of the people when there is such a thing as social media. It would be nice to see donorship down, student enrollment down, and increased demands for openess and full disclosure. BJU will of course play the persecution card to the hilt.

    • http://lou.pe/ Philip Meissner

      “their suggestions to keep things quiet, and to release the names of those interviewed” — still making things up to fit your narrative I see.

      • Korrine Britton

        Why else would the University “remain committed to identifying the individuals” when the GRACE report identifies situations but keeps victims anonymous?

        • http://lou.pe/ Philip Meissner

          I think in the video they said they wanted to help if anyone was harmed or underserved by the university, but I may be misremembering. Don’t you think the contract would have spelled the ground rules for confidentiality?

          I am not privy to the contract or their discussions. So I don’t know. But between John creating faux quotes and allegro63 claiming that BJU told GRACE to “keep things quiet” the readers quickly jump to conclusions before facts actually come out.

  • Jared James

    I’m not holding my breath. Once it becomes doctrine that women cannot have equal say over what happens to their bodies, there is no safe place, not in the chapel, not in the classroom.

    And once a school accepts that vicious logic as “God’s” command, it accepts a terrible momentum that only the most powerful force can redirect.


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