Our analysis of Steve Pettit’s chapel talk after the GRACE report

Monday morning Steve Pettit addressed the  people of BJU in chapel. The transcript of his talk was made public on the site BJUNews here, and our commentary on it is in bold.

I do want to highlight our own BJU.edu website that actually really gives some very clear statements in a really good timeline. The timeline’s very helpful to understand why we initiated the GRACE report and how things have gone along up to the present day.

The timeline on the BJU website is incomplete. The page above, http://bjugrace.com/why-has-there-been-a-sexual-abuse-investigation-at-bju/, gives a more complete timeline.

What I want to do this morning if I could is at least help you gain a perspective about the GRACE report that I think is helpful for you as Bob Jones University students. I think you realize last week when I spoke, I spoke not only to you, but because it was videoed, I was speaking to people in public, I was speaking to Greenville, in some cases to our alumni, and in some cases to the United States. And so I’d like to speak to you this morning more specifically. And I’d like to help you with this perspective.

The issues in the GRACE report are dealing primarily with events that took place in the past, not things that are happening today.

The counseling system that was in place in the past is still in place today; at least there has been no indication otherwise.

And I would never — and I think it’s been very clear — minimize what people have experienced in the past, but in proper perspective, I want you to realize that most of those cases were things that happened to people before you were even born or when you were a child.

He’s saying that most of these things happened longer ago than fifteen years. But there were several cases of re-traumatizing counseling that took place within the last fifteen years, some much more recently.

And so in many ways, they’re not things that are happening today. You know, it’s like, “Is Bob Jones University safe?” And of course, it’s as safe as we can make it. If somebody is bent on doing wrong, it’s hard to stop them. But we do believe, obviously, it is very safe.

At this present hour we’ve been making many improvements since we obtained GRACE over two years ago. We have very strong policies and procedures in place right now.

BJU has done much to improve their policies and procedures in the last four years, and we commend them for that.

All of you understand that we have a training program here called called “The Sexual Abuse Awareness Program” for students and faculty and staff. We have a solid approach toward counseling people where we are helping those who have been… who have experienced sexual abuse or assault. We actually have it in place.

Mr. Pettit uses the present tense to say that BJU has, right now, a “solid” (implying excellent) approach toward counseling people who have experienced sexual assault. That is not what the GRACE report revealed. This is in contradiction to the GRACE report, which went into careful detail to explain how retraumatizing the current counseling program is.

 And it doesn’t mean that things can’t happen, but I just want you to know that the picture that is presented in [the] GRACE report, I think, it really looks a little different than things do today in what we’re doing here.

Yes, they do finally understand that all sexual assault is a crime and needs to be reported to the police. That is certainly a step in the direction of safety.

And I do want you to know the answers that I’ve given to people or reporters or anybody who wants to talk to me about the GRACE report. And really, I try to give a very consistent message.

Mr. Pettit didn’t say anything about this “solid approach” to counseling when he spoke publicly the day before the report was released. If he had, those of us who read the GRACE report would have seen the discrepancy immediately. So his message to these two audiences is not consistent.

Now, I’m saying these following things, and when you go home at Christmas and people ask you these things, I would encourage you to follow along, you know, if this is what you’re willing to do, this line of thinking, you can think about it yourself.

First of all, that we were the ones that initiated this report — not because of a current problem, but because of the fact that we wanted to make sure that we were in compliance to legal reporting and then secondly to address some of the issues of the past that had come to us, and we wanted to deal with those things.

We at BJUGrace, and others, believe that social media pressure played a large part in their decision to hire GRACE. We salute them for doing so, but in the GRACE report, page 198 the current Dean of Men said, “What we have all become much more aware of, through the Do Right protest and a lot of other things that have gone on is that we have an obligation not only to be concerned and compassionate with how we deal with these situations and try to help them take the next step in life, but we also have some legal obligations that supersede. . . . I think this campaign that some of our naysayers have gone on recently has been helpful in that it has just raised an awareness among us about our obligations.”

Secondly, we are very saddened for anybody who has suffered the horrors of any kind of sexual abuse or sexual assault. To help you understand terminology, sexual abuse primarily refers to those who are under the age of 18 old. So a teenager or a child. Sexual assault has to do with those who are over the age of 18 years old. So here on campus if something happens, it’s not really an abuse if you’re over 18. It’s an assault.

A survivor whose abuse/assault happened after she was 18 said, “[All the professionals in my life] have all referred to my experience as abuse, not assault.” And Clergy Sexual Abuse can be perpetrated on someone over the age of 18. The power differential is key here more than the age of the victim.

 It’s puzzling that Mr. Pettit would even feel the need to include a clinical definition, which almost wipes out the effectiveness of the relatively weak statement “We are very saddened.”

And of course, those people, when that is reported, those people end up being prosecuted, which we have had happen here.

They may have in some instance, but there were many instances in which the people did not end up being prosecuted, because even though the instance was reported to BJU administration, the police were not informed. The GRACE report tells many of these stories.

Let me also say that we appreciate those who are willing to show courage and come forward and tell their story because we can only imagine how difficult that is. And we are grateful because by their willingness to come forward and showing courage is only helping us. And not because it’s about us, but it does help us. It is helping us to become better at what needs to be done. And really, we want to, as Christians, we want to be a leader in this area.

The administrators at BJU need to sit in the learner’s seat for a long time before they can become leaders in this area.  Most survivors would be content for BJU not to be a leader in this area, but simply for them to come up to the accepted standard in the counseling community.

 I do want you to know that we sincerely apologize to those who have not been helped in the past.

People not only “were not helped,” but were actually harmed. This was made very clear in the GRACE report. One woman on reading the GRACE report’s description of Jim Berg’s questioning of abuse survivors, said just reading about it made her feel the shame all over again.

 The statement “who have not been helped in the past” seeks to minimize the obvious harm.

And we don’t know who those individuals are. I can’t know them personally. But we do feel for them, and we do take what has been said very seriously.

We believe that by this statement, Mr. Pettit is showing insincerity. The University certainly does know who many of these individuals are. And yes he can know them personally. If he were to say he would like to meet them, several of them would most likely be willing to come.

And then I want you to know that we are very committed to learning from the report and going forward through this journey of change. We don’t think it’s going to take, you know, two quick decisions. We realize that we want to become effective and helpful and serve.

The first step to becoming effective is to do no harm. Steve Pettit hasn’t even hinted at the great harm the counseling program has done to abuse survivors.

Now one other thing is that, when I speak with people, especially when they ask us questions, I try to help people have a proper perspective that the things that are in the GRACE report took place over a period of four decades. So that’s a long time. And there are things that are in the report that we don’t know about. For example, we don’t know the timeline. We don’t know when this took place. Did this take place twenty years ago? Did this take place ten years ago? We’re not sure. We don’t know who the people are. So there are some things about it that are unclear.

This sounds as if you have made no effort to contact the survivors, and have no plans to do so. Your comment comes across like a mere shrug of the shoulders. Instead, we’re urging you to reach out to them collectively through GRACE.

 When the abuse happened isn’t important to someone who is still struggling with flashbacks in the daytime and nightmares in the nighttime. It’s still important to offer a heartfelt apology for the retraumatizing counsel.

Certainly in several cases someone at BJU knows who the abused people were, because some specific details are provided. Surely there are some survivors who would be willing to meet with BJU administrators if they were truly interested in offering a heartfelt apology to survivors and wanting to  hearing from survivors as they seek to change.

But the one thing we do want people to know is that whether it was one person or a hundred people, it doesn’t matter because abuse is terrible for the one. You know, I think about it: if it was my daughter, well, you know, one is bad. So we want to be very, very clear. And we are going to, as a university, use the GRACE report for the purpose in which we initiated it. And that is to learn from our past and to move forward in the future.

Please, we hope you won’t simply learn from your past, but that you will actually apologize for the harm you have caused and will ask forgiveness. The bad counseling, the breaches of confidentiality, the ignoring of sexual abuse and assault. This is not just about shoring up policies and procedures.

We are forming a committee who is going to look at the recommendations before any major decisions are made.

We’re wondering if BJU will release the names on this committee. Will there be a BJU-related abuse survivor on this committee? Will any of the  committee members be alumni whose hearts are grieved and broken over the situation and who want to see the Kingdom of Christ exalted over the Kingdom of man?

They will come, they will make recommendations. On the recommendations, and then ultimately the decision will have to be made by the president myself.

We do want to be a better university. We do want to be a better leader in this area, and GRACE commended us for being proactive in initiating the report.

Yes, we commend them too.

The fact is, we have already decided that we are going beyond GRACE on our own to improve in other areas that are not even suggested in this report.

But besides mandatory reporting, which appears to be much improved already, the counseling department is desperately in need of a complete shutdown and do-over. That is one of the things mentioned in the report, and should be addressed before you do things that are not mentioned in the report.

And so it is something that we have made as a priority. It is very important. And so hopefully… I hope that this will help clear up anything in your mind. If you want to ask questions, please feel free to. If you’d like to write me a personal email, I’ll be more than happy to respond to that.

We are very disappointed to see that instead of saying that they will look into the problems with the counseling department, he actually commends the counseling program. He addresses none of the problems about it that were made so very clear in the GRACE report.

 Our response:

Mr. Pettit, please tell us that you will be meeting with the GRACE team to formulate an appropriate apology.

Please tell us that you will be seeking out abuse survivors from the University in order to apologize to them appropriately, with humility.

Please tell us that at least one BJU-related abuse survivor will be on your committee in formulating a plan in regard to the recommendations.

Please tell us that your committee will consist 100% of people who love the weak, oppressed, and downtrodden  in the same way Jesus did

Please tell us that the entire counseling system is under “solid” review for appropriate major changes to be made.

1 Comment on “Our analysis of Steve Pettit’s chapel talk after the GRACE report

  1. He says these things happened to people before the students were even born, then later says “we don’t know when this took place.”

    This is the type of political double-talk that I dropped out to avoid. I dropped out in the 1980’s. I see it’s business as usual for them.