I’m Dani Ward,

and I do lots of things.

BJU’s lack of grace and what it means to survivors.

The GRACE report of their findings from their investigation into Bob Jones University’s handling of sexual abuse victims comes out tomorrow. I don’t have the spoons to explain the background of this investigation and what it means to all sexual abuse survivors in any way connected to BJU. GRACE’s page on the investigation has a pretty comprehensive list of the history over the past two years, and Claire Gordon wrote a couple of fantastic overviews of BJU’s history of handling sexual abuse vicitms over at Al Jazeera America. (For more on my connection to BJU, see this series that is still in progress, I swear.)

What I do want to look at, however, is BJU’s very own statement in light of the announcement of the release of the impending report. I’ll pull quotes from the review and write my thoughts underneath them. I’m doing this mostly for my own sanity. I’ve been a shaking, nervous, sad and terrified mess since the announcement of the release of the report, and BJU’s statement has done nothing whatsoever to assuage my fears. I think going through it critically as I am about to do will at least give me the words I need to process what’s going on, and perhaps it will help others who may feel similarly anxious.

The University commissioned the review because of our desire to examine our history in counseling victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault and to consider how our policies and practices could be improved. We wanted to make sure that we were not only in compliance with legal reporting requirements, but far more importantly, that we were providing the spiritual and emotional support needed to help victims overcome the trauma they had experienced.

First of all, the reason they state for commissioning the review is totally false. Historian Dr. Camille Lewis, a former staff member at BJU, has written at length about the circumstances leading to the investigation. Concern for victims has historically been low on their list of priorities. However, polishing their Show Window, as Dr. Lewis puts it, has always been Priority Number One.

Secondarily, I think it’s important to note that they deem compliance with legal reporting requirements secondary to “providing…spiritual and emotional support.” Were this is a personal matter, a friend coming to someone in confidence about their abuse, I would understand this. I’ve said before that I think it’s not okay to force someone to report against their will. Emotional support in such cases is absolutely paramount and trumps any “but you should report!” sentiments one might feel. However, this is an institution, not an individual. And this is an institution that has historically told victims that to report the crimes done to them would tear families apart and dishonor the Lord. In BJU-speak, providing spiritual and emotional support almost always looks like trying to “correct” the feelings and safety of those who have been abused. Their first priority, as an institution, ought to be compliance with legal reporting requirements. Particularly when the wellbeing of minors is at stake.

GRACE interviewed approximately 40 victims, a number of whom were former BJU students who received counseling from BJU.

According to GRACE over a year ago, that number is more than double BJU’s claim.

On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault.

No. No no no no no. This is not how an apology looks like. This is what being a fartbag looks like. You know what would make this apology so much better? Removing the phrase “who felt they,” so it says “those who did not receive from us genuine love…” This is blaming people for feeling things wrong and subtly reinforces the idea that BJU did nothing wrong. When you’re being called out on harmful things you’ve done, here’s a great primer.

We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.

Perhaps this is me being nitpicky, but I don’t care at all whether they’re saddened. Bringing up their feels in light of what they’ve done to others, what they’ve driven others to? It’s cheap, it recenters the offender’s feelings and almost puts those they’ve hurt in the position to comfort them. Oh, poor BJU. They’re saddened by how they hurt us. No. This is not okay.

University staff members were perceived by some to be insensitive to their suffering and sometimes rushed to resolve their negative feelings without adequate concern for their pain.

Some felt a number of staff members at the University tended to blame victims for the abuse or sexual assault they experienced and that this implied blame left them feeling more traumatized.

(Emphasis mine.)

Again, no. Not okay. Staff members who tell victims that it was a sin in their life that caused their rape weren’t just “perceived by some” to be insensitive. Staff members who publish books that say that a child can “invite [their] father’s corruptness” in any way aren’t just being mis-perceived. These people are peddling pure, unadulterated evil, and phrasing this the way that they did is damaging, gas-lighting, and exactly in line with how abusers fauxpologize for actions that were “perceived by some” to be wrong. Let’s also think about the use of the word “some.” It’s minimizing. It implies, “perceived by some (but not all).” Is it possible that BJU has actually helped a survivor of sexual abuse? I’m sure it is. But of the dozens of survivors from BJU that I know personally or know of, not a single one of them was helped — and many were deeply damaged instead. Also that “left them feeling more traumatized” line bugs me a lot. No, it didn’t leave them feeling more traumatized. It was traumatizing.

Throughout the entire press release, actually, the phrase “felt” pops up time and time again. “Those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support.” “Some felt a number of staff member…tended to blame victims.” “Victims felt counseling should be separated from BJU’s discipline process” (omg, ya think?!). “I promise the victims who felt we failed them…” Perhaps I’m reacting to this because of the fundamentalist aversion to feelings and how using the word “feelings” is often code for “unreliable,” but this irks me so, so deeply. (I’m actually working on a piece right now I’ve just published a piece about how fundamentalism paints all feelings as unreliable in light of the solid and true Word of God, though I did touch on that a bit recently already.)

In the section about how they’re revising their policies and procedures:

To make every member of the faculty and staff a mandatory reporter which requires each to promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse.

They already are mandatory reporters by law. BJU has no say in whether their faculty and staff are mandatory reporters or not.

To make clear that the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.

But the “biblical lesson of forgiveness” is apparently something they will still be teaching to victims who are seeking help for their abuse. If I have to explain to you why that’s every single level of Not Ever Okay, I don’t even know what to say to you.

To provide more extensive training and access to professional counselors with expertise in sexual abuse for University personnel who interact with victims coming to them for care and compassion.

This is worrisome, considering BJU’s exclusively nouthetic counseling beliefs. Truth Seeking Graduates of Bob Jones, a Facebook group moderated by former BJU students, has been examining the material that BJU teaches in its counseling classes. If “more extensive training” includes even a short seminar of that kind of garbage, this counseling will continue to do possibly irreparable damage to victims of abuse.

We know we must work to regain their trust through actions, not words, and for those actions to be truly meaningful, we must make a long-term commitment that creates genuine, sustainable change. It is our solemn pledge to do just that.

And this worries me almost more than anything else in this statement. They are going to work to “regain [our] trust.” How? Reinserting themselves into the lives of the victims they’ve traumatized already? “Listen! We’ve really changed! We promise! Come back, we’ll make it right!” It’s still an apology on their terms. It’s still something they’re going to blithely cross boundaries to prove to people who would probably be best served by BJU leaving them alone for the rest of their lives. This reminds me of the part of the cycle of abuse where the abuser says, “I’m really sorry and I’ll prove it! Just let me prove it to you!”

All I can think about all of this is beware.

  • BRAVO, Dani! Now that’s how you call tap dancing, tap dancing! Th’BooJoo is gonna be falling all over itself tomorrow to “prove” to the rest of the world We’re Not Like That Anymore!

    I wanna hear what Tina Anderson has to say about that!

  • Caleb

    In most cases I would agree, but Pettit has only been the president for less than a year. None of this happened on his watch, and he is sort of cleaning up the mess that others have left. He is also coming in towards the end of the GRACE process. Combine that with whatever language the school’s lawyers have advised him to use, and I think a little “grace” is due.

  • Is that what you took out of this? That the administration is in need of grace and protection? Better idea, let’s have some grace for once for abuse survivors, k?

  • No matter how long he’d been president or whether it was Pettit or one of the Jones — what was written here was not okay and serves to further damage victims of sexual abuse. BJU has historically (and continues to this day) to retraumatize abuse victims, and I must agree with my friend Dianna when she says that in instances like these, removing help (or in this instance, “grace”) from an abuser is a kindness.

  • Caleb

    I’m all for grace for abuse survivors! That should be top priority and BJU has no doubt had its issues. I was just making the point that I do think Pettit is trying to make positive progress in these issues and we should lay off criticizing him when from that speech it seems he’s trying to solve these issues. The dude’s been there less than a year.

  • Shade Ardent

    i don’t want grace as a survivor, i want legal justice, and the permission to name the person regardless of their standing, and then the right to be angry.

    i don’t want grace. grace was peddled to me as the thing i would get even though i had ‘invited’ the ‘sin’ of assault.

    i want no grace.

  • kari

    word.

  • kari

    gross, caleb. really gross and inappropriate.

%d bloggers like this: