Karen’s Story: from Cookeville Christian School to Bob Jones University

Because Ted Anderson was a graduate student at Bob Jones University at the time he was allegedly abusing girls in the Christian school where he was the principal (his dissertation can be seen here), because some of the alleged abuse allegedly took place on the BJU campus, because the church and school called on a BJU official for help in handling the situation with him when one of the girls spoke out about him, and because several of his alleged victims went on to attend Bob Jones University and receive counseling there, the particulars of the allegations against him are significant. Amie’s account is here.  Part One of Barbra’s account can be seen here

Although the author of this post speaks for herself and tells her own story, BJUGrace, as her publishing platform, has sought to do due diligence, through documentation and written statements from several witnesses, to confirm to the best of our ability that her story is true and accurate.

by Karen Herrin Peters

Karen Herrin in high school
Karen at the age of 16 or 17

My story began about 34 years ago.  My parents took me from the public school due to poor grades during my ninth-grade year and put me in Cookeville Christian School housed in Calvary Baptist Church in Cookeville, Tennessee.  We simultaneously began attending the church services.  My father wasn’t saved, so he only attended when a special event occurred.

High School at CCS

I learned in that first semester (January-May 1982) that the school was ruled with an iron fist.  The principal, Ted Anderson, frequently demonstrated he was the last word in all things.  I vividly remember that one teen younger than me complained of how cold it was regarding having to go outside for recess, and she was saying it was “freezing” outside, and he kept telling her with a smirk that it wasn’t.  This played out in front of the whole class of about fourteen students 7th-12th grades.  He then dialed the time and temperature phone number to confirm that it was about five or more degrees “above” actual freezing.  Then he escorted her to the office.  She returned much later with a serious demeanor.  I took it to mean that he did not tolerate anyone contradicting him, and he gave her some form of discipline for an attitude adjustment.

Grooming, molestation, and physical abuse

I’m not sure of the date when Ted Anderson began making overtures toward me, but it began because of personal issues.  Over the first summer, our family’s home burned and we lost everything.  Shortly after that, my grandfather was killed in a car wreck.  After sitting under intense fundamentalist preaching since beginning at the school, I was fearful that my dad would die and go to hell.  I wasn’t in a good place with my dad because he was a strict authoritarian who blew up once about me talking to a boy on the phone.  So while in Ted’s office one day, I opened up about family problems that were stressing me, and I started to cry while we were praying.  He came from behind his desk and sat beside me and hugged me until I was composed.

From then on, he began giving me hugs or kissing my forehead to “father me” as he put it.  He said that since my father wasn’t a Christian, he couldn’t fulfill the proper role in my life and that it was his (Ted’s) duty to do so.  I knew of two other girls that he was “fatherly” toward and that showed jealously toward each other over him. His sister who taught the youngest students, another teacher who taught elementary students, and even his wife made fun of our fawning attention toward him. They thought we had a childish crush on him, and he would just grin about it.

Over time the grooming to tear down my defenses moved from just side hugs to face-to-face hugs that lingered.

He had us sit cross-legged on the floor often even in the presence of the rest of the students.  He had all the 7th-12th grade students in the auditorium every afternoon for chorus practice, and we all had to sit cross-legged in the floor in front of him.  This was supposed to force us to sit up straight for better singing.  With this being a Christian school, girls had to always wear dresses/skirts.  If your skirt did not flare over your knees, then it rose above your knees. That was considered inappropriate, and here we were sitting like this around boys. It made an opening for looking up our skirts from his perspective at the piano.

If a girl tried to pull her skirt down to cover her knees he would chastise her for being “prissy.”  The teasing would also continue publically in front of other girls and boys as if I should be ashamed of being modest.

Ted Anderson's message to students in the CCS yearbook [click to enlarge]
Ted Anderson’s message to students in the CCS yearbook [click to enlarge]
He did this in his office daily.  We had to sit not on the opposite side of his desk in a chair but rather on the floor beside his desk hidden by a wall from others who would enter the room.  He would then have me stand beside him while he “went over my assignment” and run his hand under my skirt to touch my buttocks.

All the while he wanted to tear down my modesty with him, he was absolutely against boys and girls becoming a “couple.”  He would always pick up on the signs that teens were showing interest in each other, and he would put an end to it as soon as possible.  If you were one of his “favorites,” he worked overtime to prevent attraction and pairing up.  He made fun of our nice, well-mannered boys to me by calling them “zit-heads.”  This was to imply they were cocky and arrogant and selfish…characteristics that made them appear to be weak spiritual specimens that I shouldn’t waste my time on.

By the time I was in my senior year, he had touched me inappropriately numerous times daily at school and after.  He gave me private piano lessons in which he used that opportunity as well.  He would offer to drive me home after lessons or extra Spanish practice so he’d have more alone time with me.  He kissed me on the mouth, he had me sit on his lap face to face, and he took opportunities to touch me under my skirt even when people were near.

He once told me we had a special kind of heavenly love that many people would not understand but especially my father because he wasn’t saved.  He told me, “If your father ever found out, he would never get saved.”  That meant my dad would go to hell and it would be my fault.

I remember an incident where he was distraught and he told me that Satan was using me to “tear down this man of God.”  So I, a high school teen, who didn’t make a decision without his consent, who feared being paddled for any infraction, was supposed to have been used as a tool of Satan to seduce him to bring down the thirty-something-year-old man of God.

He also told me he would never do anything with me that he wouldn’t do with his own daughter, and I was like another daughter to him.  He often found reasons that I needed discipline worthy of a paddling with the wooden paddle in the school office. He frequently told me in sessions where he was disciplining me that he forgave me because you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and I was his baby.

The first paddling was with the church secretary as witness.  Most of the rest were without.  One morning I was having a typical teenage girl grumpy morning and had a frown on my face going into chapel.  He greeted me and I didn’t respond but kept walking.  He pulled me into the office and paddled me for having a bad attitude.

In my 11th grade year I had failed an algebra test. This was typical for me.  He was chastising me for all the mistakes on the test and said there was no excuse for the mistakes.  Then said, “You know you deserve a paddling for this, don’t you?”  I thought, “Is he kidding?  I’m supposed to get paddled because I don’t understand algebra?”  I answered, “If I say No, you’re going to paddle me anyway.”  And of course he did.  Some of those paddling incidents happened with my skirt pulled up exposing my underwear while he paddled me.  Then he had the nerve to hug me and kiss me and tell me he was just doing his job, as a father has to change a baby’s dirty diaper.

Things were so wrong. He often was able have me to spend the night at his house on the pretense that I was spending the night with his daughter who was two or three years younger than me.  Everyone would go to bed, wife included, and he would tell his daughter that because I was older, I got to sit up and watch TV with him.  No one ever came into the living room.  She never asked me about it.

I was so stressed during my high school years that one night after church I sat in my mom’s car crying uncontrollably, to be discovered by Ted’s daughter.  She asked what was wrong and I told her I just wanted to die and that I’d been thinking about killing myself.  I thought about slitting my wrists and wondered if that was the best way to make the pain stop.  She ran back into the building.  My mom didn’t know what to say to me.  The next day at school, Ted pulled me aside to talk to me and said that I was being melodramatic in my declaration to kill myself and it was a self-centered act of sin in a ploy for attention.  He acted as if he was sickened by me.  He threatened to separate himself from me as punishment.  Of course I believed everything he said, and it brought about one more of my multiple trips to the altar on Sundays, praying for God’s forgiveness for my sin of selfishness.

Once I went to Greenville, SC, to BJU for a musical performance over a weekend.  I rode down with one family but he was there and offered to drive me back home.  I was touched inappropriately during that weekend also.  On the drive back, he stopped on the scenic route to hike down to a falls.  We reached a roped off area that said not to go any further but he pushed on, saying it would be ok.  When we got to the falls he wanted to walk on the rocks, and suddenly he slipped on the slimy surface, and then I was next.  I feared that we were about to die and my family would never find me.  Thank the Lord that the descent ended after sliding and dropping down about three enormous boulders.

In my senior year, in the spring of 1985, we had a senior trip for two boys and me.  Ted and the elementary teacher drove us sight seeing to Charleston, SC.   He didn’t want me in the back seat with the two boys in case we might try to hold hands (after all, we had a “six-inch rule” between boys and girls). I had to sit in the front seat between the two adults.  The irony of that is that when he put the female teacher to driving, he would slip his hand under my full skirt.  I never understood how she couldn’t tell something wasn’t right.  It always felt like the adults in my life were suspicious but were afraid to ask questions.  It was as if it was impossible for them to allow their minds to accept that this 36-year-old husband and father of three, Christian school principal, deacon, occasional preacher, church choir director, and soccer coach, could ever behave in a sinful manner.  He belonged to God and Christians don’t do those things.

After the spring senior trip, I found myself interested in one of the senior boys who would be attending BJU with me in the fall.  Ted Anderson recognized that there was a chance the two of us would date on campus where he couldn’t control it.  He called me in for a talk about college.  He told me that I didn’t have any business dating until I was at least a junior in college, and certainly not this boy from our school because he was a weak Christian who was self-centered.  Ted said he himself was “all the boyfriend I would ever need.”  I hadn’t realized until then how he was going to try to control me from miles away and that he was actually jealous of this young man and saw him as competition.  I didn’t say I would or wouldn’t obey his demand but I did say, “I don’t want you to ever touch me again.”  He didn’t.  He saw that he had pushed one too many times and I was angry and I might be pushed to tell on him.

At Bob Jones University

When I attended BJU, I felt I had been turned loose.  I was amazed at all the students who complained about the control of the BJ campus.  I thought I was completely unfettered.  But after a while I began to feel guilty for “dating” the young man from my school while on the BJU campus.  I felt like I was sinning because I didn’t have Ted Anderson’s approval.  I became so overcome with guilt, I felt God was telling me to tell on myself.  So I wrote to him and told him the boy and I were dating each other.  He then went to my parents and told them that it had to stop or else that boy and I would probably run away, elope, and ruin my life and theirs.  So my dad forbade me from having any contact with the young man.  My heart was broken.  We had done nothing wrong.  Anyone that knows “dating” at BJU knows it is nigh unto impossible to ever be alone as a couple on that campus.  I was also sad that my parents thought we were so stupid we’d run off with no way to survive.

After only a few weeks into the second semester, in March of 1986, I got a Saturday morning phone call from my pastor in Cookeville.  This is the whole of the conversation: Pastor: “Ted Anderson has resigned.  He has been asked to resign.  You know why, right?”  Me: “Yes.” Pastor:  “You will be contacted by the dean of students.”

The End.  No apology, nothing.

My mom called and said that Ted claimed he never had intercourse with me.  She wanted to know if that was true.  Thank God it was, but she wanted to hear it from me.  Then she told me that my dad didn’t find out what had happened until Ted had already been allowed to leave town to keep it quiet.  My dad was so angry he got his handgun and headed to Ted’s house to shoot him.  Thankfully, my dad wasn’t able find him, or another tragedy would have affected my life and my family.

While that was happening back home, I was stuck at BJU trying to finish the school year with all this hidden from my friends.  I felt shame over all that had taken place, but I also was so relieved that one of the girls had broken the silence and bravely told her parents.

When the dean of students of BJU called me in for information on Ted Anderson, he asked me a few questions that sounded like he was trying to confirm that Ted was the instigator of our “relationship.” Then he told me that Ted would be banned from BJU property. [Publisher’s note: One reader has said that she remembered seeing Ted Anderson on the Bob Jones University campus after this time period, when one or more of his children were students at BJU.]

The dean of students said I would be getting counseling from a young woman who lived in my dorm.  She talked to me two times, gave me a personality questionnaire, and never discussed with me what had happened.  I was told where the prayer room in the dorm was and I was welcome to use it.  I remember going there and crying in the middle of the night so my roommates wouldn’t ask what was wrong.

Finally the school year ended and I had to return to my hometown in May of 1986.

After BJU

Back in Cookeville, I went to church one Sunday night to hear the sermon of a deacon who supposedly knew the real reason Ted Anderson resigned.  He preached about how people who are in the church could bring down God’s chosen leaders.  I was stunned that he preached as though he was aiming guilt upon me and the other young lady still in the church.

We slowly started falling away from attending the church.  I learned that the congregation was only told that Ted was asked to resign for having sin in his life.  Church members speculated that he was having an affair with an adult in the church.  When my family stopped attending, they gossiped that it was my mother.

Control with an iron grip.  That’s what I felt for the three and a half years I was associated with Cookeville Christian School, and the feeling returned during my last months at Bob Jones University.  I never went back to BJU.

For years I suffered horrible flashes of memories of Ted Anderson’s contact with me.  I would be fine for a while, but then trying to attend other churches would stir up bad memories.

A caution to caregivers

Ted Anderson continued to teach children after leaving CCS.
Ted Anderson continued to teach children after leaving CCS. [Click to enlarge.]
So why am I giving up time right now to document all these horrible memories?  Because I’ve always been bothered that no adult contacted the police and had him admit what he is, a pedophile.  A word I didn’t even know existed back then.  And I worry that he has continued abusing young people for years using the same manipulative techniques to keep his victims quiet.  Perhaps if he were on the sexual predator registry, he would be kept away from children.

Now I’ve learned that my church wasn’t the only one with sexual predators who find protection through the IFB [Independent Fundamental Baptist] church environments, because the congregations believe that anything a member does criminally should be kept out of the eyes of the unbelievers so it won’t shame the church body and thereby shame Christians as a whole.  They believe if you are a true Christian, you forgive if the perpetrator calls himself Christian.  Leave it alone and put your trust in God that the person will not repeat their crime again.  You shouldn’t make them pay for their crime, that’s God’s job to make them pay.

This philosophy is running rampant in IFB churches, and it isn’t just over sexual abuse.  It is for any sin.  Husbands cheating on wives, stealing from the church, slander, physical abuse labeled discipline, lying, cheating, everything.  If the member is discovered, they confess to the pastor, they agree to the prescribed discipline, the pastor gets to decide if it is forgiven and all others must follow suit.  Do not bring in outsiders.  Don’t allow any government body to have any say or control over your church members, even if it is a crime. Apparently, they must keep up the farce of perfection to the outside world and any members who are still living in ignorant bliss of what is going on in their congregation.

Over the years I have found healing through the best advice I ever got: allowing myself to continue being angry at my abuser is allowing him to continue abusing me mentally and spiritually.  He doesn’t punish himself, lose sleep, or get angry with himself over what he did to his victims at our school.   Why should I give him another moment of my thoughts?

So why did I think about these events of my past?  I wrote down these hideous memories so others will be suspicious, cautious, ask questions, and take action.

Because of what I endured, my husband and I have never let our four children spend the night with anyone other than my parents.  (For some people, even that has proven to be dangerous too!)  But I wanted to be able to say without a shadow of a doubt that none of my children were sexually abused.

Sexual predators are in every profession, in every religious denomination, in every country, language, state, county, city, and neighborhood.  They aren’t just in churches or in public schools.  They are predators, on the prowl looking for the best environment in which to study the potential victim pool.

These predators use the power of their position as an authority figure more successfully in church environments, because children are instructed to obey adults and not to question adults.  The parents trust people who put on sheep’s clothing, say all the right buzz words, pray inspiring prayers publicly, and smile sweetly at you with a warm handshake while the other hand is touching your child inappropriately.  They tell parents their child is born with a wicked sin nature and can’t be trusted.

Please don’t let this go on any longer.  Christian or not, crime is crime.  Anyone amongst you who harms children must be turned over to the police.  Even if you forgive someone, there is still a consequence for sin.

The victims of Cookeville Christian School were kept from participating in a police investigation and a trial, but we have felt guilty that Ted Anderson was allowed to move on to the next church to victimize more young people.  We come forward now to help others see what is going on that you’ve possibly closed your eyes to, and hopefully, wherever he is, he will be stopped because we spoke up.

8 Comments on “Karen’s Story: from Cookeville Christian School to Bob Jones University

  1. I went to the Christian school in Sparta Tennessee. We would be in sports events with Cookeville Christian. I know Ted Anderson, always knew something wasn’t right. He tried touching me at basketball games. You are brave for coming out and I know he was abusing girls before you.

  2. Thank you for sharing your truth, Karen. I’m sorry for what happened to you, and I applaud your courage in speaking up so that other young people might be spared what you endured. It’s a travesty that Ted Anderson continues to be allowed access to kids!

  3. Karen, thank you for sharing your story. You are so brave.

    The closing paragraphs of your story are needed so desperately in our churches! Especially this one:

    “These predators use the power of their position as an authority figure more successfully in church environments, because children are instructed to obey adults and not to question adults. The parents trust people who put on sheep’s clothing, say all the right buzz words, pray inspiring prayers publicly, and smile sweetly at you with a warm handshake while the other hand is touching your child inappropriately. They tell parents their child is born with a wicked sin nature and can’t be trusted.”

    This is so true — fundamental churches prioritize teaching children to be obedient over keeping their children safe. They tell parents that we need to teach our children to “always obey authority.” They tell us that we need to tell our children that we will always side with their teachers and other “authority figures” if they get in trouble at school, Sunday school, etc. As a parent and survivor childhood sexual abuse, this attitude and teaching sickens me! Yes, I want my children to obey me and their father, for their own safety. I want them to be kind and respectful to other adults and children alike. But by no means do I want them to blindly obey all “authority!” That’s just setting a child up to be sexually abused and/or to follow a false teacher. My children are young but we are already teaching them to stand up for themselves, each other, and other children. My prayer for them is that they will be Proverbs 31:8 men who will speak up for the voiceless. Luke 10:33 men who, when they walk up the road to Jericho, will stop to care for the wounded man, not stand around trying to witness to the thieves while the wounded man bleeds to death.

    Every church and pastor in America needs to hear your story and the stories of the other courageous women who have shared their stories here.


  4. Thank you, to all who are supportive of victims of predators. We would rather be complimented on doing something like curing cancer, ending hunger or pollution. However, God has others lined up for those humanitarian deeds. It would make us cry tears of joy for a change if we learned that our testimonies were making a major change in the minds of parents and church members in how they work to prevent any more abuse. If you are a parent or a church member, try to learn about everything you can do to protect young people and children.

  5. A child doesn’t have to be from a Christian fundamentalist church to be sexually abused by someone he or she looks up to; my own abuser was the older brother of a girl in my grammar school class and both were highly likable young people, so even though I knew something wasn’t right I never ratted the fellow out. (He went on to a successful army career running a recruiting office.)

    But the more we place our trust in imagined things — Paul’s “evidence of things unseen” — rather than the empirically verifiable, the more vulnerable we are to being conned into thinking black is white if the Scriptures of our religion say so. (The bumper sticker “God said it; I believe it; that settles it” encapsulates this bogus logic wonderfully.)

    Having taught mythologies of various cultures, I can attest to humanity’s insatiable desire to make sense of an incoherent world, and the important role our imaginaries play in this. But at the risk of being thought a heretic, if some Pharisee wrote something down 3000 years ago and my telescope shows me something inconsistent with his grasp of astronomy and celestial mechanics, I’ll trust the telescope any day of the week, regarding the brains God gave us as a gift not to be squandered on nonsense.

    That Anderson may have been a sicko seems clear enough, but that he could use the Bible (or indeed any text alleged to be divinely handed down, as the Babylonians believed the Code of Hammurabi to have been by the sun-god Shamash), to justify his perverse acts is unconscionable. Even an atheist knows that human beings are fallible; but even if there is no complete remedy for it in this life, we may still try our best to mess up as little as our reason and experience will permit and our traditions guide us.

    These three qualities are firmly rooted in concrete realities that no matter what we imagine about them just won’t go away (e.g., that this last 12 months is the hottest worldwide since we started keeping records of it, so responsible stewardship of our world would appear to require recognizing global warming as fact, not a merely debatable hypothesis).

    The fourth leg of the table is revalation, and it fails the verifiability test of teh other three. That does not mean we should abandon all imaginings of things that are beautiful, and good, and surely pleasing to any deity that may exist; but as Paul says, revelation is by definition incapable of proof or disproof, and it follows that reading such statements in the Bible is of far less help in understanding how people become pedophiles and how best to treat and heal the victims and their families that in Faller and her colleagues’ book CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, published by Columbia U. Press back in 1988 (whose index it was my honor to be asked to write) — an indispensable work on the subject every victim of past or ongoing abuse would do well to read.

    Meanwhile, a blessing on every one of you who has found the courage to speak up about what was done to you and/or others you know. Silence is the best ally of the tyrant and bully, with sophistry only a distant second.

  6. James Farmer

    Ashland Daily Tidings: Tuesday, March 10th, 2010/Letters To The Editor

    Putting church abuse into perspective

    The Monday, March 1 Oregonian article via the Ashland Daily Tidings for same date (“Deceased priest who abused boys casts a shadow on the Northwest”) was very disturbing indeed! As a Christian, I must be direct, forward and rally/intellectually honest: Our churches have both the best and worst of people. Of course too does other segments of society as well. But let’s talk about churches and organized religion.

    Though I myself was never sexually abused as these boys described in article, I’m certainly aware such does indeed happen in our churches. And I’m also certain some churches are worse than others.

    Example: Prior to relocating to Ashland from Klamath Falls in 1986, I spent one year in a Church of Christ (non-instrumental) in Klamath Falls from 1982-83. Though there were some things I agreed with, there were other teachings I sharply disagreed and dissented with, including their sectarian/legalistic, dogmatic attitude of, “We are the only church and everyone else but us is wrong!”

    After leaving that congregation I was the target of judgmental gossip and slander! And get this: This judgmental jerk within the congregation told me it “would be damnable if I left the church,” which I eventually did anyway.

    Later, this same jerk was arrested for sexual abuse of a girl under 12 years of age! Yes, he was a predatory pedophile, a real creep! This is just one example of sexual abuse in our churches that, more often that not, remains covered up, hidden and suppressed. And that is downright criminal!

    Another thing I find disturbing is the trend in our churches today of taking 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 out of context and using it against Christian singles. The dogmatic parroted, “It’s better to remain single than marry,” as preferred by the Apostle Paul, is an oppressive doctrine indeed! Most people who parrot this are religious elitists who are married anyway and have a significant other in their lives.

    Though I have never read the book “Churches That Abuse,” by Ronald Enroth in 1992, it remains posted online via Google for reading. Yes, I have expressed my sentiments here. And furthermore I rightly feel that moral and intellectual honesty sees farther than does political and religious correctness.

    So what is the answer to this? I feel a place to start is with this Bible passage from 1 Peter 4:17: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God.”

    James A. Farmer, Ashland, Oregon
    Now a resident of Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)