A year after the GRACE report
On December 10th of 2014, the GRACE report on Bob Jones University was released. BJU’s response to the report was less than satisfactory, but we continued to hope. After 90 days they responded again, and our hope diminished, but several brave souls still went to speak with Steve Pettit at his invitation, to try to help him understand.
As time passed, we began to see that though some changes were being made, huge issues were still failing to be addressed. The primary issues identified in the GRACE report were being disregarded, and some false information disseminated. In September we heard an interview in which Bob Jones III dismissed the GRACE report as insignificant, stating that it made the school look good.
About a week before that interview, one of the people who had been victimized spoke on the phone with the current vice president. At that time she became convinced that though he asked to meet with her, he had no intentions of acknowledging the truth or making any changes to the counseling belief system. She then wrote a letter to him and the vice president.
In the last few days, she learned that BJU had invited and welcomed back on campus the mission board, named in the GRACE report, that is still shielding the man who had confessed to sexually assaulting her as a student. She then asked us to post the letter that she wrote in September. Here it is.
Dear Marshall Franklin and Steve Pettit,
This letter is in response to the recent conversation I had with Marshall Franklin and the request to meet with Steve Pettit. I have been thinking and praying about whether it would be beneficial or not to do so. At this point in time, I don’t see meeting as being beneficial for the school or for me. From my perspective, there is nothing I can say to help Mr. Pettit or any one else at the school gain understanding, especially since the GRACE report itself was so clear, but wasn’t accepted. For myself, I see it as something that would very likely leave me feeling additional hurt, and I’m not in a position to absorb more hurt right now.
Prior to BJU’s response to the GRACE report, I made numerous attempts to talk with Mr. Pettit. I wanted to do so for his benefit and for the benefit of the school. He chose not to permit me have any access to talk with him. That was his choice and he had a right to make that choice, however, he DID have the opportunity to talk with me. I would have gladly spoken with him over the phone or even met with him had he permitted it at that time.
When the school finally publicly responded to the GRACE report, the response was deeply wounding to so many of us. Please understand that when I am referring to his response, I am referring to his initial, public response, the second response that was made solely to the current student body and also the response that was made privately in faculty meetings. In addition to his words, the school has responded by not protecting current students from the teachings of Mr. and Mrs. Berg, Mr. Mazak, Mr. Minnick and many others who have taught horrific views of sexual abuse. Berg’s books are still in the campus bookstore.
The school has also indicated that records were destroyed that could have potentially been used to convict offenders. While this may have been within the school’s legal rights, I do not believe that that decision was honoring to God or ethically and morally right in any way. It is inexcusable.
I don’t think the school has even the smallest grasp of understanding the enormity of damage that has been caused. I understand that your primary focus is on protecting the school and maintaining the support of your constituents, but it would seem that there is a way to do that, while at the same time, speaking truth and repenting of wrongdoing. I look around at some of those who endured the unbiblical counsel after their sexual abuse and I see a field of carnage of broken people who were deeply humiliated, and cast out from any hope of God’s love. I look at them and wonder what is preventing you from being able to see. These are men and women who trusted the school enough to ask for help. Most of them have not been able to shake off the horrible and unbiblical things they were taught. They still suffer. We still suffer.
You may not want to see the level of devastation that was done, but I believe you both have daughters. Would you hear them if they had gone through these experiences? Would you send them to a counselor who would shame them, ask them about the pleasure they had received while being raped, ask them what sin they must have had in their life for this to happen? Would you leave her with the guilt and shame that belongs to the rapist, and NOT to his victim? Would you permit “biblical” counselors to tell her how she no longer has worth? While there may have been some surface changes, such as Berg not teaching his previous load of counseling classes, those are just token changes when the others are still teaching the same content.
I have no ability to bring conviction or repentance. I am not God. I did what I could to speak directly to the school when the school was in the process of making these decisions. Now, however, those decisions have been made and it isn’t something I can change. I am deeply saddened by the response – for the victims, for the offenders and their future potential victims and for the school itself. However, it is not within my ability to influence the school to change. I don’t believe that the school leadership is ready to face the truth. At the very least, the school deeply shamed victims while protecting perpetrators. I struggle to understand this, to understand why and to understand what that means. The student who raped me has been repeatedly referred to as a “godly” man.
Sometimes, I wonder if those making the decisions and/or those counseling are actually believers. While that is a bit confusing for me to consider, it matches biblically the warnings in the New Testament about false prophets who claim to do good in God’s name, but in secret, they destroy the people of God. The response by BJU over the past nine months, since the report became public, does not display in any way that those in leadership at the school are followers of God. All I’ve seen is self-preservation. You could easily have helped victims in prosecuting offenders. Instead, the records were “purged” based on your attorneys’ recommendations. What purpose did that serve? Perhaps it protected the school, but to what end?
For the most part, I am choosing to leave this in God’s hands and pray that he will convict the hearts of those whose teaching is unbiblical and harmful. I pray that he will bring them each to a place of repentance where they will openly acknowledge the harm they have done and ask for forgiveness. If the school wants to know the opinions of those who were so deeply traumatized, the GRACE report tells our stories. It also gives suggestions as to how to start addressing these things. I believe that the steps they outlined are just beginning steps and they should have been taken within weeks of receiving the report. Now, nine months or so have passed and nothing significant has changed.
I don’t know if you can possibly comprehend the deep grief of those who feel again used and cast aside. We don’t understand why you asked us to participate in the investigation, when it doesn’t seem you ever intended to truly hear our stories or do anything significant to change the experiences of those who come behind us.
My offender was actually identified in the report, and I have not seen BJU take a single step towards righting that specific wrong that was done so many years ago. Do you feel no responsibility for the many women and children who he could be potentially sexually abusing on the mission field? Whatever he is doing, he is doing with the degree BJU gave him. Do you not feel any weight of concern regarding the possibility that he has continued to rape others? Do you not feel any remorse for giving him a degree that gives him access to a high degree of trust when he has already shown that he uses his power to rape someone who is unprotected?
I don’t write any of this with anger or bitterness. I write it with sadness and sorrow. I had hoped for so much. I truly believed that God could have used BJU to send a shockwave of change throughout the Christian community. A shockwave of genuine love, genuine humility, genuine repentance that would lead the way for many, MANY to follow. I believed that people would come to know Jesus through your response. Instead, they are being driven further away. We are being driven away.
The Bible so often talks about love being the greatest commandment. In one passage, it lists all the good works that a person can claim. It then ends by saying that without love, those things count for nothing. When I look at BJU and the response to the GRACE report, my heart breaks. As a school, you have accomplished much. In the area of truly loving others, I don’t see anything that looks like genuine love towards others.
There has been one passage of Scripture that has brought me comfort during all of this. It is Ezekiel 34. I hope that you will both read it with open hearts.
As I am able, I will continue to pray for each of you and for the school. I truly want God to do something amazing.