A few years ago, Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) under the direction of then-president Stephen Jones, invited the independent Christian organization G.R.A.C.E. to investigate its rules, policies, and actions when counseling students who brought tales of abuse to student life staff but found condemnation and blame instead. After a two-year saga and a lot of drama, in December 2014 GRACE presented its report to the University, who promised a response after 90 days.
The Report offered damning evidence from survivor’s stories, university records and policy files, and interviews with key personnel to support a case that BJU had sidestepped mandatory reporting law, cultivated a legalistic student culture which was itself rules-driven and abusive, and allowed untrained counselors to repeat the harmful and unbiblical counseling theories of Jim Berg. The report’s authors issued several calls for change at BJU, including the immediate dismissal of Berg and destruction of all his books along with the writings of Dr Walter Fremont; personnel action against Dr Bob Jones III and other leaders who failed to recognize or stop abuse, and the separation of counseling staff from disciplinary staff.
I wrote about my personal response to the report here.
Today, the University presented its response to the assembled students, faculty, and staff today, and to the world via video and web page. BJU’s Response to the GRACE Report
Unfortunately, BJU failed to respond to the most damaging allegations in the Report, citing their own opinion that no laws were broken (when GRACE cited numerous examples of failures to follow mandatory reporting law), and that all the needed changes had been made.
Even more egregious to me, the University not only failed to acknowledge the abusive nature of its culture of legalism and rule-keeping, President Pettit reaffirmed Jim Berg and other counselors as “biblical.” If you have read the GRACE Report, you know that the investigation centered on Berg as a significant source of gross error and negligence in counseling. The University doubled-down on its stance behind nouthetic counseling as they practice it as biblical and helpful.
I’m not surprised that BJU, whose motto has been “Standing without apology” for most of its 90 year history, failed to apologize meaningfully to victims or own up to its problems. But I’d hoped for more.
To be fair, I did appreciate that Pettit was as conciliatory as he was. The Greenville News article quotes several passages from the chapel message in their coverage. “He said it was apparent that the university was too focused on rules and not enough on people. ‘Over the years our system of discipline created barriers with many of our students. Some students reported that they were afraid to share their problems out of fear of facing discipline,’ he said.”
It’s a start. But when you watched this beast of a system chew people up for years with your own eyes (and for decades, if you take all the alumni stories together), we need to see BJU take action on the hard items, the ones that will cost them something to their constituents who (because of teaching from Berg and others) cannot see the errors the GRACE Report identified.
1. If you’re looking for a roundup of the allegations in the GRACE Report which BJU is choosing to ignore, here’s a start:
2. A couple personal responses from abuse victims, explaining why the University’s response is so hurtful, collected by a pastor:
3. A BJU alum wrote a better response on FB than I ever could to express how I feel about the University’s response. So here you go: