Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jack Schaap's Scandal Isn't the Only IFB Sex Scandal: Hiding Abuse at Bob Jones University

Many would like to believe that Jack Schaap's act of statutory rape constitutes a rare occurrence within the Independent Fundamental Baptist organization. The recently incarcerated pastor who claims he committed the act because church revenue had dropped and because he was in ill health just demonstrates the problematic attitude of male privilege that results in the abuse of young men and women throughout the denomination. The students of Bob Jones University (BJU) where Schaap's predecessor served for decades as a board member know about the well oiled machine that is used against them to keep sexual abuse quiet. Several students report that they witnessed it in action yesterday.

How Tina Changed the World

Lets backtrack a bit. Remember Tina Anderson, a story featured on ABC's 20/20 show in an episode entitled, Shattered Faith? The video as well as a partial narrative/written report remains online. Tina had been raped by her stepfather when she was a little girl, but when she turned to her pastor, Chuck Phelps, he allegedly failed to the report the rape and he allegedly also too Tina to the jail to confront and forgive her stepfather. (Her stepfather had been incarcerated for sexually assaulting another minor.) At the age of fifteen, she sought out a family for whom she babysat for comfort and support, but upon learning that Tina was no longer sexually pure, the father of the children for whom she babysat, Earnest Willis, raped her twice and impregnated her. Pastor Chuck Phelps required Tina confess to the congregation that she'd become pregnant, and though Willis was also required to confess to adultery, the congregation was never told that the baby was conceived because of Willis' misconduct. Tina was shuffled off to another state to give birth, and her baby was adopted. In 2011, Willis was convicted of the rape, and Chuck Phelps' activities were revealed in court. (Visit Tina's blog HERE as she explores God's goodness in the wake of the trial.)

Shortly after Wills' conviction, BJU appointed Pastor Chuck Phelps to the Board of the college, and many students took great offense to what seemed to many like a condoning of Phelps' actions. In 2011, a peaceful protest group organized a petition to remove Chuck Phelps from the Board, started a Facebook page for discussion, and called for a silent protest wherein concerned students wore red to chapel. Though Phelps reigned before the protest in chapel on campus in December 2011, the group proceeded with it because the problem of the covering up of sexual assaults at BJU and within the IFB system remained unchanged BJU expelled the student who organized the protest by piling on extraordinary numbers of demerits for minor conduct infractions like watching the TV show Glee, just a few days before his graduation day in 2012.

But BJU had to make it look like they were not guilty of the accusations about their college and their affiliated network of churches, so they did quite a bit of public relations work to attempt to change perceptions. Some say that the Penn State scandal fueled the need for attention to the problems with the school. They hosted a conference about how to respond to sexual abuse, but they never addressed the problematic issue of the “strange woman doctrine,” the expectation of the faculty for assaulted students to keep silent, and the “blame the victim” mentality propagated by the school. (Read the many blog posts HERE that document BJU's lack of sincerity as they do little else but mask the problem.) The ineffectiveness of their measures and the true, prevailing attitudes of the school faculty can be noted well in Mark Monte's recent comments that “victims are psychos.”

The Smoke and Mirrors Investigation at BJU

Perhaps the most hopeful yet still disappointing PR measure that BJU took involved the appointment of an organization to come in to do an independent investigation of the allegations and public perception that BJU and their affiliate churches abuse victims. Many were hopeful that when BJU hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.) to help them to also develop a strategy about how to better respond to victims that the college had taken a positive step toward lasting change. I've not written about this matter in the past because I was not that optimistic, and I believe that my concerns were warranted.

As part of the G.R.A.C.E. Investigation, questionnaires were distributed through the mail to former students, and many were actually afraid to answer them truthfully. The letter that was read to me at the time contained very questionable language, suggesting that if a person did not attend the right kind of church, their information would not be considered valid. I know that many were afraid to answer honestly because of the college's history of stalking former students and faculty, even threatening them to remain silent, long after leaving the school and/or the entire denomination of the IFB. Because of the emotional trauma that many victims were subjected to while in school, many felt paranoid that the letters would not ever be used to help them but would rather be used as cause for BJU faculty to again target them for speaking negatively about their experience at BJU. Many weeks ago when these former students received these questionnaires, the current student body remained ignorant of the investigation. The measure was never announced to the active students on campus.

The First Announcement of the Investigation to the Student Body

Image adapted from
Yesterday, the involvement of the G.R.A.C.E. Team was made known to the student body in chapel for the very first time when the team of investigators reported there, making themselves available to the students. In theory, students who had personal accounts of abuse that they wanted to share with the team from G.R.A.C.E. were encouraged to report their experiences to the team. I'm told by a reliable source that the team did hear many reports, presumably all of them glowing. I'm also told that many students on campus with issues and histories of abuse were prevented by faculty in various ways from gaining access to the investigators. Let me repeat this: Students claim that they were willfully prevented by faculty in various ways from meeting with the investigators who were there to meet with them. They are too terrified to give their accounts and their names at present, fearful that what Chris Peterman suffered as the organizer of the Do Right BJU protest in 2011 will also befall them if they say anything. They will be hounded and persecuted like he was.
**Addendum Note:  I in no way mean to imply or suggest that the organization hired to do the independent review, G.R.A.C.E., is complicit in covering up any abuse.  They are an organization clearly committed to helping victims find justice and assistance, offering their services to help victims who feel pressured to remain silent on behalf of the organizations that have or allegedly have abused their members.  I believe that BJU wishes to make it look like they are cooperating with G.R.A.C.E. but also wish to control and limit the group from doing what they were hired to accomplish.  BJU wants the benefit of having their cake and eating it, too.  They want to look like they're responding to the charges against them and their suffering reputation, but they don't want to really have to do anything to change how they react to victims by blaming them.
The audio of the chapel presentation by Bob Jones, III can be accessed at Sermon Audio, though the section pertaining specifically to the investigation itself was edited out. However, though Jones' presentation today did make a reference to sexual perversion, he made no reference to the care of victims.  In fact, sexual perversion was not distinguished from efforts to help victims.  The two were referred to as sinful acts.  Jones clearly referenced Facebook participation as sinful (presumably the Do Right BJU discussion), a departing from God's Word. Several boycotted churches that BJU blacklisted were mentioned at 16 minutes into the presentation, grossly underestimating the long list of businesses and churches that BJU tells students and faculty that they must mark and avoid. This tactic is what Robert Lifton describes as Milieu Control. Former students believe that the message included a threat to students to remain silent, what I would describe as Lifton's Dispensing of Existence. Disobedience of the desires of the faculty will be met with terrible and eternal circumstances: "If you go God's way, you are going to find yourself outside the camp in most cases" (23:50). Everyone in chapel knows exactly what this means. Keep your mouth shut and do what we want, or we will make you pay. Then God will make you pay with an eternity in hell if you don't comply.

An anonymous former student writes concerning Jones' reference to off-limit churches:
If you are going to be pastoral about the situation at Faith [Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary] (or even if you are talking about sin at BJU) you need to deal with the subject in its completeness. Faith put a church "off limits" from what appears to be a decision by the State and National boards of the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches). [Bob Jones] III talks about the flack and the chatter on FB but gives no background of the church or the school and the reason for the decision.  (see downloadable pdf)

Churches within the GARBC are anonymous organizations. They can change or leave at their desire (hence they are part of an "association"). This could have been a clear teaching moment, but [Jones] III failed to exercise true leadership in instructing his hearers on this matter. Just to say "I am right and I am with God" is not good spiritual leadership. This was a power statement meant to bring fear to the hearer and not comfort. There was not warning to avoid false teaching or practice, but just an exhortation to blindly follow the leader.

BJU uses G.R.A.C.E. as a diversionary tactic?
G.R.A.C.E. and the AWBE

The timing of BJU faculty's alleged interference with the independent investigation falls at an interesting time, as the hiring of the group seems to be little more than a smoke and mirrors tactic on the part of BJU. Just days ago, another Fundamentalist group, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (AWBE) who had also contracted with G.R.A.C.E. to investigate similar charges was just fired by the AWBE. G.R.A.C.E. was only weeks away from reporting their findings following serious accusations about the long history of the sexual assault of children on the mission field in Bangladesh at an AWBE missions facility by AWBE staff.

My first response upon hearing this news about AWBE's firing of the GRACE team was that “BJU' is next on the list to do the same. I bet BJU does the same thing that ABWE
Should any current or former BJU students wish to report the accounts of their own sexual, physical, or mental/emotional abuse to G.R.A.C.E. for consideration, please contact the organization directly to find someone who can conduct an interview. They will protect your anonymity, and you will not need to fear retaliation. Such was the idea behind hiring an outside group to conduct such an investigation – to free students from the fears associated with coming forward. The group can also make recommendations and other necessary referrals concerning illegal acts and to help a victim deal with the aftermath of an assault.

!!! Contact G.R.A.C.E. via email directly at, contact Do Right BJU administrators via Facebook, or contact the staff at the Chuckles Travels blog at chuckestravels AT gmail DOT com for information about possibly reaching the group by phone. Remember that you can always use the *67 feature to anonymously report incidences by phone. Read about making anonymous calls HERE.

Late Note:  GRACE has established a special email address specifically devoted to Bob Jones University students, an email that has nothing to do with the college.  Please use this email address:
The Editorial Board has it on good authority that the Administration at BJU hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with information about GRACE or even (it would appear) to GRACE.  Many have reported receiving their annual letter about Bible Conference – citing the need for $800.000 to upgrade pizza ovens or a Mongolian grill or some other nonsense – but not a word to of the faithful to gather in prayer that GRACE will find the truth.  No, as much as they may claim to be searching for the truth, the evidence would point to something much different.  It would point to … well … blocks.   Link HERE to read the entire post.