An open letter to Bob Jones III
posted by Rebecca
One night of Bible Conference of 2013, Bob Jones 3 made a short speech after the main sermon. The main speaker had referenced doing hard things from the book of Jonah, and though Bob Jones 3’s words were not recorded (not having been the primary talk), those of us who were there remembered it along the lines of, “Some of you need to do a hard thing. You need to forgive your father/brother/grandfather/uncle for his abuse of you.” He never used the word “incest,” and he may not have used the word “abuse.” The memory some of us have is that he may have used the word “offend.” However, the meaning of his statement was clear—he was talking about victims of sexual abuse, specifically incest, forgiving those who had perpetrated the abuse against them.
After Bible Conference, I responded with an open letter, below, and did receive a reply to it. A reference to that reply and the follow-up are posted below the letter.
If you had stood up after the Bible Conference sermon and said, “Some people need to do a hard thing in regard to sexual abuse,” I would have thought, “Oh, maybe he’s going to tell incest and sexual assault perpetrators to turn themselves in to the police to confess this terrible crime against family members and society and God.”
So then, imagine my shock and outrage when you ignored the horrific wickedness of the crimes of incest and instead accused the incest and abuse victims, who have been shamed and silenced for years, sometimes decades, who are only recently finding their voices to cry out against the horrors of incest that were perpetrated against them.
Imagine that these lust-filled incest and assault committers had instead been cold-blooded murderers who had for decades shamed and blamed and silenced family members. For years the family members have been too traumatized to say anything. Now, as they find support among others whose family members were also brutally murdered, they are finally finding words and speaking out and reporting to the police. But you would have no rebuke for the wicked murderers, only for the victimized family members of the butchered to be silenced once again?
Perhaps your pastor friends have asked for your help in silencing the victims, men who care more about their ministries—God might call them fiefdoms—than about expunging such a terrible crime from their midst. Will you do the hard thing and tell your friends that they must call the incest and sexual assault perpetrators to account? Say to the enablers, who in their way are every bit as self-serving as the evildoers: “Do the hard thing. Confess in public your desire to protect the strong and powerful, no matter what their crimes as long as they are ‘loyal.’ Confess in public the shame you have heaped on yourselves by condemning and blaming the victims.”
Those widows who complained to the judges about the Pharisees who devoured their houses—did Jesus tell them to just get over their bitterness and forgive the Pharisees who had left them homeless? No, He cried out against the hypocritical evildoers. Will you do the hard thing and be like Jesus? Will you command these lust-controlled incest perpetrators to repentance? “You who have committed the despicable crime of incest and violent assault. Do the hard thing. Give yourself up to the police even if it has been years or even decades since the crime. Take your just punishment.”
Yes, encourage sexual abuse victims to do a hard thing. “Don’t give up your faith in God, even though you have been trampled by those who claim His Name. God is not like these men who claim to represent Him. It may be a hard thing continuing to believe that He is good in spite of the horrors committed against you by those who were more powerful than you. But don’t give up. God will come through. His truth, His love, His mercy will prevail.”
Do the hard thing, sir. Stand against the Pharisaical criminals, as our Lord Jesus did. Encourage and love the oppressed, as He did. Do the hard thing and say that your focus was wrong.
I’m copying this letter to several others who are pertinent in this situation. I want to make sure that the president of Bob Jones University understands that the problems at Bob Jones University regarding the sexual abuse issue are not “old news.” They are as fresh as this spring’s Bible Conference.
Note: “Incest” is a very ugly word for a very, very ugly action. I think that the ugliness of the words ought to match the ugliness of the actions, so I used that word often in my letter, along with other words that described the actions much better than the word “offended.”
As I mentioned, he did reply. He said that sexual abuse is an outrage and he preaches against it, but that the particular sermon I referenced was about forgiveness and the requirements of Scripture for us all to forgive and put away bitterness. In his written response he referenced Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:30-32, and Matthew 6:9-15. He said that when the abused has a bitter spirit, then the abuser wins. He referenced his wife’s ability to forgive her abuser. He told me I needed to let the Lord have His way.
I wrote a reply explaining it wasn’t a sermon I was referring to but the “after-sermon.” Then I said the following:
I actually do believe it’s important for abused people to forgive. But when that’s all they hear [then it appears to victims that] the abusers have won because they aren’t publicly called to account—only the victims are.
I would very much appreciate your linking me—or asking one of your associates to link me—to a sermon in which you have preached against sexual abuse. I’m aware of the chapel statement in 2011 in which you said that the University has always handled it the right way, but I’m not aware of a preaching in which you spoke about the abusers as perpetrators who need to repent and confess their crimes.
Thank you. I certainly do want to let the Lord have His way, both in the openness of our hearts to the light of His truth and in the outpouring of forgiving and empowering grace that He desires to impart. I pray that everyone in administration at BJU does as well.
I received no further communication from him. Now, two years later and post-GRACE-report, I want to add some further thoughts.
No evidence that I’m aware of has ever come to light that Bob Jones 3 has ever called criminal perpetrators of sexual abuse to confession and repentance and turning themselves in for their criminal behavior.
More than once (in the chapel sermon posted here, and in at least one other place) he has said that BJU has always handled sexual abuse correctly, never covered it, always reported it. The GRACE report has made it very clear that they have not. Whether they did it out of ignorance or an intentional effort to cover evil can be debated, but the fact is that they did not.
I stand dumbfounded that he thinks that if victims don’t forgive, this is letting the abusers “win,” whatever that may mean. Do you not think, sir, that requiring the victims to forgive when the crime has never been dealt with is letting the abusers win, since they can then go on to abuse again and again, that same victim as well as others, confident they will be “forgiven”? I have heard story after story of abusers who forced their victims to “forgive” them, with vile threats, who then went on to repeat the same heinous abuse-and-force-forgiveness cycle for days and weeks and months and sometimes years. How dare you say that the kind of forgiveness you preach will mean the abusers will not “win.”
Is forgiveness important? Yes. But so is justice, and the two are not mutually exclusive. So is safety of the vulnerable in our society from these evil men who set out to destroy a person’s very soul.
I still call on Bob Jones 3 to do a hard thing. Please be humble enough to listen and learn from those who have suffered at the hands of evil men. The stories are out there. Take time to read them. That could be the start of a new beginning in understanding for you.