BJU: The Abused are Being Silenced…

BJU: The Abused are Being Silenced… March 3, 2014

 

by Boze Herrington cross posted from his blog The Talking Llama

{ trigger warning: rape, rape apologia }

Last week I was contacted by an alumnus of Bob Jones University. She wanted to discuss what’s really going on there.

I’ve spent the past weekend reading testimonials from former students. The extent of the cover-up is worse than has so far been reported in much of the mainstream media. The leadership of this allegedly Christian organization has systemically ignored, shamed, shunned, slandered, and demonized those who have been abused and the people who speak on their behalf.

Here’s what you need to know about the developing sexual abuse scandal at BJU:

Lydia

A girl who identifies herself only as Lydia began attending the university in the fall of 2008. When she returned home for Christmas break, according to al-Jazeera America, she was raped by an acquaintance.

She met with the Dean of Students, who encouraged her to talk to Rebekah, a dorm counselor and graduate student with a bachelor’s in counseling. Privately Lydia admitted that her rapist was still trying to contact her. She began raising hard questions about the nature of God and the validity of the faith she practiced.

Secretly Rebekah kept the administration informed of all correspondence that passed between them. Within a few weeks they had shut down Lydia’s email. Rebekah says they felt Lydia was leading her astray from the truth.

Lydia was then called into the office of her dorm supervisor, who accused her of lying about being raped because she was desperate for attention, and warned her that if she continued to talk about it, they would be forced to take disciplinary action.

A few days later Rebekah was urged to cut off all contact with Lydia. A week later, Lydia’s mother showed up in the middle of the night to take her home. When she asked her dorm supervisor why she was being expelled, she was told, “You already know.”

To this day Lydia is not permitted within fifty yards of the BJU campus.

Tina Andersen

In 1997, a fifteen-year-old girl named Tina Andersen was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Ernie Willis, a member of the church she attended in New Hampshire. (Willis was later convicted on three counts of forcible rape).

According to ABC News, when Tina learned that she was pregnant, Chuck Phelps, the pastor of her church and a member of the cooperating board of Bob Jones University, made her stand and confess her sin in front of the whole congregation. He then relocated her to a home in Colorado and implored her not to call the police.

Phelps maintains that he did contact the police, and that leading her in front of the church was his way of expressing their support.

Chris Peterman

Chris Peterman was a senior at BJU in 2011 when he learned about the Andersen case. Outraged, he began posting about it on Facebook, staged the first-ever campus protest, and drew enough attention that Phelps was asked to resign from the Board of Trustees.

In spite of this, Chris decided to go through with the protest, and urged fellow advocates to wear red on December 12, 2011. Campus leaders actively denounced him in the student chapel: if you don’t like the way we handle things here, they said,you should just leave. On the day of the protest, several student groups dressed in blue or green as a tacit defiance of Chris’s advocacy.

Chris was expelled nine days before graduation. Some of the charges leveled against him included not shaving and watching Glee in a house off-campus.

* * *

These are just three of literally dozens of examples of students being harassed and silenced by university faculty for being raped or speaking up on behalf of those who were raped.

The situation drew national attention last month when the non-partisan advocacy group Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment (GRACE) was fired by the administration as it neared the end of a thirteen-month investigation into its alleged cover-up of sexual abuse

How is the BJU faculty handling the allegations?

The faculty seems committed to the idea that if you were raped, it was your own damned fault. One person who was repeatedly singled out in the student testimonials is Mark Minnick, a teacher at BJU who also pastors a large church in the area, Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

Numerous alumni recalled him saying that certain people attract abuse because of their impurity. When specifically asked about children who are raped, he said that impure children attract sexual abuse. He warned students not to associate with a seventeen-year-old girl who had been assaulted because she was sexually tainted and needed to experience “the full weight of her sin.”

Nor are these deranged beliefs limited to the isolated musings of a single person. Victims were routinely told to apologize to their abusers. They were told to keep quiet and let go of their bitterness, to repent of any part of the assault that brought them pleasure. They were accused of being a bad influence on the other students. To this day Chuck Phelps insists that Tina Andersen was culpable because she made no effort to resist being raped. Other teachers are alleged to have said, If you knew Tina, you would understand why this happened, and She’s lucky she didn’t live during Bible times

The typical response to sexual abuse is first they need to forgive their abuser, and second is that they shouldn’t talk about it or it will hurt the cause of Christ,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, who was allegedly molested by a Sunday school teacher and BJU staff member when he was ten or eleven years old.

The overwhelming impression one gets when reading the testimonials is of a toxic spiritual culture that favors and protects abusers while humiliating and utterly dehumanizing their victims, a culture where strength and dominance are lauded while to be prey is the greatest of sins.

How are pro-BJU students and alumni handling the allegations?

Predictably, according to my friend, many students have fallen in line behind the faculty.

In the wake of Chris Peterman’s protest, school administrators released a public statement urging a “biblical approach” of “Christian forbearance” toward Chuck Phelps, and following Peterman’s expulsion introduced a new rule into the student handbook: “In the spirit of honor and wisdom . . . students should not use media to disparage BJU but should instead pursue truth in love by following this grievance process”—i. e., reporting all concerns privately to the faculty, as mandated by a very narrow reading of certain biblical passages.

As a result of these measures, the spiritual environment of the university is actively hostile towards those who “don’t follow the biblical model.” Addressing the allegations of sexual abuse in a public forum is viewed as a betrayal of the gospel and an attack on the Christian faith. And the countless personal stories of former and current students expressing the depths of their grief and betrayal are automatically dismissed as constructs developed by bitter people with a personal grudge against the faculty.

Bob Jones University is not a safe place to be broken.

How are the victims and their advocates handling the situations?

See for yourself. Here they are in their own words:

“In the world of Bob Jones, I am among the worthless. I was sexually assaulted by one of those who continues to be seen with honor. He was quickly ‘forgiven’ and restored. He bears no shame for the crime he committed. He is free to continue to assault others. If he does, I’m sure he will be quickly forgiven.”

“I was raped by a BJU student. It is documented in BJU’s files and in two other locations . . . It was NOT reported to the police. The expectation was that I would keep quiet. The student went on to graduate. I see his diploma as a stamp of approval by the administration. Students who listen to contemporary Christian music or go to the movies can be expelled, yet a rapist is allowed to graduate.”

“How does a person seek forgiveness for being raped? How do you confess a nightmare as sin?”

“Is BJU going to care? It seems to me that in the past year, the pattern has only been one of self protection—protect the school at all cost, at the expense of truth, at the expense of those who were greatly wronged and still suffer as a result of it, etc.”

I trusted you.

As I sat there that day, you didn’t offer me one single word of comfort, not one single word of hope. Your only focus was to make sure I wasn’t planning to tell anyone else. That is all you cared about. You wanted to ensure the rapist was protected. He was someone you saw as honorable, while you saw me as worthless.”

“Is God’s protection and kindness meant only for sex offenders?”

What can YOU do?

Yes, this is all happening at a prestigious Christian university, a place whose graduates lead thousands of churches and seminaries throughout the country.

Evil has taken up residence in the house of prayer.

And so few within the bubble are able to see it. And so many who attend BJU and affiliated ministries will continue against all reason to defend a leadership that, judging by its actions, is wholly given over to darkness.

Because this is the abusive culture of American fundamentalist churches.

Because it’s so hard for us to conceive that anyone who stands in our pulpits and reads from our Bibles could be evil.

Because the laity are taught to accept the explanations and interpretations of their leaders without question.

Because when they tell you to turn away and ignore the abuse in your midst, half the congregation will turn away.

Because those who expose injustice are not honored as prophets but shamed as resisters who disgrace the name of Christ

In parish after parish it’s the same story. BJU, alas, is not unique.

There are thousands of places in need of healing; some of them, undoubtedly, much closer to home. Places where your heart, your voice, are desperately needed.

Where the all-pervading mindset of “follow the leader and shame the victim” needs to be challenged and dismantled.

Where the abused, broken, maligned, ratted on, spat upon, pray in the silence for an advocate.

It’s not going to be easy. Defending the weak and oppressed, as it turns out, is the hardest of all battles. Because once you begin speaking out, the whole culture of toxic religion that has been built up over decades turns an instrument of torture to stifle your dissent.

But we have to do it.

Because all that is holy demands it.

Because the souls under the altar are crying out

Because the moment of crisis is upon us, and we can no longer keep silent.

Comments open below

Read everything by Boze Herrington!

Boze Herrington has a degree in English from Southwestern University. His passion is to tell stories that challenge perceptions, promote beauty, and expose injustice. He loves Catholicism, Celtic fairy tales, and The Lord of the Rings. He’s working on a series of novels. He blogs at www.thetalkingllama.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SketchesbyBoze .

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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  • quietglow

    I’ve been thinking about how this happens for a while now. It’s not just a worldview that prizes men but sees women as an ambulatory inconvenience, and it’s not just a callous bet that since most of your student body isn’t rapists, you can control the problem and still keep most of your campus safe by silencing and ostracizing those who bring rapists forward. It’s a worldview that sees the state of being female as bringing out evil in men. It requires the just-world fallacy like oxygen, but it places a male rapist in a protected position because he is male, which is unjust.

    I can’t help but wonder how much of it is the administration’s own insecurity. If they were truly godly, and all the young adults who came were chosen by god, ungodly things would not happen… so if something ungodly happens, the first thing to do is scapegoat the source of the unease.

    But that doesn’t explain the whole “shirking legal responsibilities” thing, which is there in everything from passivity to discouraging victims to go to the police, or seems sometimes to take the form of hiding or destroying evidence.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I think it’s because they know fewer and fewer people are buying what they’re selling, and therefore they’re desperate not to depress sales further with bad PR.

    That, and sexual assaults prove that BJU isn’t a special, holy place that’s better than secular universities.

  • Lynn

    Wow. I just read up on the Andersen case. I am blown away at how many people online want to say that he was innocent because it was consensual, when she was 15 and HE WAS 39 YEARS OLD. But 15 is old enough to seduce a man and be guilty of it, apparently. Do they not see the incredible power differential? A ninth grade babysitter and a man more than twice her age? Even *if* she had a crush on him or something, he as an adult, and certainly as a Christian, has a sacred responsibility to protect her. I have friends who are half my age and I am super careful, because I am very aware of the extra weight they give my opinions because of the age difference. I can’t imagine how slimy it would be not only to *not* be careful of that, but to use it to my advantage, especially sexually. Indefensible!

  • alfaretta

    The subtext appears to be that men are defenseless slaves to their hormones and evidently Satan created women to make them fall.

  • Saraquill

    In other words, BJU forgot all about those teachings about being decent to other human beings. I hope all its funding dries up.

  • dmsnyder

    Towards the end of the article, I thought there would be a link to groups I could volunteer or support!

    What can we do in our local communities to help? Since what I posted ended up being extremely long, feel free to read it if you would like. My question is simply: what can I do in my local community to meet with and support those who have been subjected to such hurtful beliefs to the point where they think wrong is right? I would love to be able to support women in my area leaving churches like these, though I feel I am an unlikely source of help for them. Are there any organizations I can volunteer at that deal with issues like this, focusing on helping to get over the religious indoctrination they most likely experienced before they were abused? Or for those trying to leave this twisted mindset even though they have not (yet) been (physically) harmed? I would love if anyone had information on local organizations or networks that I can help with.

    As for me, I was raised in a fairly conservative church, though I am now a happy agnostic. My church was not fundamentalist, but I was subjected to much of the purity culture (I had friends who embraced courtship, some of whom took it to the extent of not kissing before marriage; and it was certainly encouraged) in my church (and the affiliated school I was sent to since my older sisters went a little too wild in the public schools); and I often argued with pastors against the fact that women were not allowed to lead, be elders, or deacons in our church. Though my (male) youth pastor and parents were supportive of my arguments, and my youth pastor had brought the same arguments to our church leadership; I eventually gave up and left the church (once I left for college and had some freedom).

    I ended up marrying a man whose father is a pastor in a church that allows both women and homosexuals to be ordained and considers all humans to be equal. I should say that the fact that LGBT people are now officially equally valid to be members and pastors was only recently decided, and my in-laws were worried and upset about losing members (though it was a denomination-wide decision that they had fought to bring about for years); until they realized the best course of action was to just “keep doing how they do” and loving everyone (and their individual church is doing great now despite an initial loss!). Despite being more liberal, my husband was still indoctrinated with some of the purity culture nonsense, and left the church with little interest in ever returning. He also (as an example with his experience with the church) had a youth pastor tell him he could not break up with a girl he had started dating (in 9th or 10th grade, for about 2 weeks), because she started coming to their youth group and they didn’t want to lose numbers. Weird that he sees churches more as businesses trying to gain people/money than as sources of support.

    Anyway, I wrote too much (most likely due to too much coffee). So, thank you if you read this much!

  • gimpi1

    “Defending the weak and oppressed, as it turns out, is the hardest of all battles.”

    It was, however, one of the central messages of Christianity. Or, at least, the Jesus-focused, sermon-on-the-mount variety. The idea that the powerful should be protected at the expense of the weak, that the abused should be shamed and the abusive lauded, that projecting a ‘pure’ image is more important than facing the truth should have anyone who actually believes in the message of Christ running from Bob Jones U. The fact that they aren’t hoofing it for the exits lets me know what they really believe in – power, money and deceit.

  • hannah

    I AM SICK TO HEAR THIS! My son attends a Christian school that uses Bob Jones curriculum. Looking at other schools now. I don’t want him having anything to do with this any longer!

  • Roy

    This is so so so sad. Wisdom is the principle thing, get it from Jesus’ teachings and example, and from the Bible.

    The
    author is, very sorry to say, obviously Biblically illiterate and
    taught by the modern worldly mores aka, modern evangelicalism, much of
    which is overly simplistic and often superficial. Hence the remedies of
    the Scriptures for such catastrophic events as rape are often unknown
    and untried. Read the Bible seven times in meekness I say, as some of
    us have done and you will not be writing much of the stuff above, and
    realize that we desperately do need Godly, informed men. What?…

    God
    is our refuge and strength. But many Christians display a disbelief of
    that and hundreds if not thousands of kindred positive statements that
    are a balm and healing agency for EVERY evil, vile, wicked work against
    us.

    She, Suzzane does not recognize the fact that there are
    literally hundreds of Bible concepts in verses which need to be applied
    and therefore a VERY narrow understanding, a TRUE knowledge of God as a
    person is essential! There is a great network of truths, promises and
    strategies for living and judging which actions to take.

    No such single antidote fits all!!! Publicize every rape, is that part of his subjective idea? What?

    “….as
    mandated by a very narrow reading of certain biblical passages.” What
    hermeneutic is the author following then???? An open reading? A
    subjective one where words can mean whatever YOU want? Use a dictionary
    if you do not know what words mean and get to the root of the meanings
    to get a truly narrow and CORRECT understanding of God’s love letters, I
    say.

    The
    first thing I would suggest is read Proverbs for a few months to begin
    to discern the principle of what might be called “The Stewardship of
    Information!”

    Each situation of rape will be different but
    here is proof, the author above has a wrong perspective, in defiance
    with godly administrators who try to embibe both the spirit as well as
    the precision of God’s words.

    Suzanne says this: “…as mandated
    by a very narrow reading of certain biblical passages” Read for
    yourself what her philosophy is and recognize this is the path of full
    failure and never ending uncertainty! Throw the Bible away maybe?

    SHe
    obviously will not say WHICH passages she is talking about because
    there are a vast number! And a narrow gate is the ONLY path to Christ.
    A narrow path is the only one to life and eternal life. That is what
    Jesus said.

    And “forgiveness” [“releasement” as in the Greek
    word aphiemi] is the only key issue that Jesus gives us after the
    disciples prayer in Matthew 5, without which God cannot forgive us!!
    Any real believer always follows this principle, sometimes with pain and
    sometimes with slowness but it is indispensible.

    Additionally
    Paul says it is not good to even talk about that which is done of them
    in secret. . . . To hold out secret sexual sins to the public is a
    total denial of civilized, wise society! Jesus did NOT demand anything
    except, “which of you are without sin!” He did NOT say, woman, “give us
    the full report of your sins” or “give us the name of these other men!”
    or “confess your sins to me!”

    What if she had been raped when
    young, perhaps Jesus should have asked about that? Young ladies that
    are raped are obviously much more in danger of abuse later on… which
    is why it is better to NOT be talking about it but letting it go…
    its like a bubble in ones pysche that manifests itself among perverts,
    abusers and even good men who are tempted. These men like Mark Minnick
    are exactly right. I know by experience, serving impoverished, single
    parented and unprotected children!

    But each, no matter how godly
    or how abused, has particular propensities, temptations and in the final
    day each is judged by God. “As it is appointed unto men once to die
    and after this the judgment!” That is, all men should fear God. One
    who is raped needs help rediscovering a path of purity, and that will be
    difficult. But it is not by holding up the victimizer publicly
    necessarily…. Others will also have similar abuses and sins which
    will be difficult for them…. and they will not find joy and peace by
    flogging their enemy verbally and showing the world how evil that person
    is!

    Vengeance is mine! Those are God’s words.

    C’mon
    Suzanne. Please study the Scriptures and apply each principle and
    promise with wisdom. But you know what that means. HA! YOU WOULD HAVE
    TO ACTUALLY READ THE BIBLE, wouldn’t you, repeatedly, time after time
    after time, again and again, all the way through. Just because some do
    not and pretend to teach the Bible does NOT let you or I off the hook!

    Some
    of us do exactly that, reading, seeking God’s words from beginning to
    end and what a glory and joy it is!! And therefore we do know GOD’s way
    of thinking and how great is God’s mercy!! And we know that we need
    meekness to let those in administration do the work to the best of THEIR
    knowledge and THEIR office without our interference! Do you not fear
    God and HIS election of men and leaders?

    But it should be
    obvious, God’s mercy does not include getting back at society by
    confessing OTHERS sins against us, whether rape or mean words!

    Loving
    God with all the heart means we come to see we are all victims in
    varying ways. Why does one victim get a pass and present all who have
    criminalized him when other victims never do? The worst that men and
    Satan can do to us, is nothing compared to what we actually deserve.

    The point really is that
    God’s grace is great enough for the most heinous abuse against us to be
    forgiven AND AS IF IT IS FORGOTTEN! and put under the blood.

    Our
    Lord Jesus went to the Cross for goodness sake, no complaints, no
    victimization or bitterness. His secret crying in the Garden the night
    before His illegal whipping and illegal crucifixion was secret and
    before the God who alone gives mercy and grace in time of need.

    NO AMOUNT of victimized status will ever do what God can do for the soul of a raped victim! Our society is wrong.

    The
    whole issue of going to law is another important issue that each must
    decide for themselves, and that is not the intent of this note.

    Okay
    I am sorry for God’s people, his children. I grew up serving,
    visiting, befriending inner-city kids in Brooklyn NY. Some lived in
    hell-holes. Others had been raped I am sure! but we never needed to
    talk about it. We introduced them to God and to REAL love! The love of
    God gave them great joy as we picked them up and brought them to church
    week after week! We visited every Saturday and many of them found new
    life in Christ!

    My name is Roy and I love people and have taught
    many young ladies to remember that when lonely it is one of the greatest
    times on earth, for one can find Jesus Christ to be their husband,
    legitimately: a Husband greater than any earthly one will ever be,
    faithful and loving! He gave us an incredible set of sixty-six love
    letters.

    Those love letters are greater than the most handsome
    and wonderful husband could ever right. They are words that live
    forever! Forget about men’s words!
    Forget about the NEWS mentality
    of America! It is false, sinful and painful. It causes meditation on
    evil, opposite what God wants. It honors, exalts mens words about smut,
    filth, ugly dirty hearts and dirty actions! These things do not
    improve the soul, nor bring it the joy of the Lord!

    Think on these thigns, lovely, pure, honest, just, of good report, of virtue, etc. Phillipians 4:8!

    Romans 7:4 is true, true, true!

    I
    hope you get my point. God has answers and His answer is that he wants
    us to be His bride and he wants us to need HIM and apply HIS love to
    our lives.

    His love must be defined by HIMSELF so as to see how
    his love operates. His love often brings incredible pain. Look at
    Calvary. Look at the Creator becoming a man, so as to take on death for
    the sins of His subjects, including rape! What a privilege to bear
    pains and agonies to demonstrate His glory. Eternity is forever and
    only as we suffer for HIS name’s sake do we find celestial investments
    that are worthy and NEVER ending.

    This life is the time to invest.

    And
    we can be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN, Justice in the end will be done! God is
    not just love; HE is just. Now our pathway is one of love,
    self-sacrificing and personal righteousness for Father’s glory, like
    Christ’s.

    Blessings to you in Jesus – and HIS words – Suzanne.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Roy, why are you addressing your remarks to me? I DID NOT write that article. But I HAVE read my Bible more than 7 times. Have you?

    Also, bashing an author personally is not allowed. Please read the commentary rules before posting again. – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/comment-policy-please-read-before-posting/