I’m Dani Ward,

and I do lots of things.

Tag Archive for Bob Jones University

The Stories We Tell: Purity Culture and Shame.

I had a very eye-opening conversation with my mom recently.

We were talking about my marriage to my ex, and she asked me if her hunch was correct that I’d have married him anyway if my parents hadn’t given us permission. (You see, in our iteration of purity culture, even as a 22-year-old adult, I needed my parents’ permission to marry.)

I thought a moment and answered honestly: yes, I would have still married him. Then I clarified, “I honestly thought I had to.”

“You didn’t get that from us!” Mom responded in astonished confusion. “You don’t have to marry someone just because you slept with them.

Let me state up front: that’s an entirely true statement. I agree with it 100%.

And yet it was my turn to be shocked.

Because that statement flew in the face the entire narrative of my first 20+ years of life..

Observations about relationships in Christianity.

What kind of foundation forms a lasting friendship, then? I mean, friendships are a pretty personal thing. There’s lots of aspects that are difficult to pin down, usually including compatible personalities, shared experiences, outlooks on life, mutually enjoyable activities, etc. I think those things are a given, no matter whether you’re a conservative Christian or not. But in my experience, the ingredients that point to longevity seem to be a pretty equal mixture of mutual admiration, respect, and trust. The Christian friends I have now who have been friends of mine for years weren’t my friends just because of our once-shared faith. We became friends through discovering and indulging in shared interests, sure, but we did it while demonstrating respect for each other’s individuality and personhood. Our personalities do click, but we also work hard to be empathetic, trustworthy, respectful people. We care about each other, what demonstrably makes each other’s lives more meaningful and fulfilling, no ulterior motives.

No more faith: the whys and why nots of my deconversion.

It’s really rather rare for people to ask me why I deconverted from Christianity. Like, really rare. It’s far more common for them to assume they already know, whether they’re talking to me while they’re expressing this assumption or not. However, in a single week, I’ve had two separate unaffiliated people ask me a variation of the same question about the role fundamentalism had in my deconversion. Of course, I’ve been trying to figure this out for myself on a less-specific scale for the better part of two years, though much of it has been in my own head. Perhaps it’s time for me to work out of my thoughts here with you.

Without GRACE: Secular vs. Spiritual Authority and An Incomplete, Discrepant History.

Last time, I gave some rather brief introductory thoughts to the GRACE report and explained what my intentions are for doing such a thorough and critical review. This time, since I’ve covered the first few pages, I’m jumping in just past the beginning of the introductory chapter and providing commentary through the end of the introduction. I’ll give an overview of the sections I’m addressing, along with direct quotes, observations, and thoughts. You can read the pdf file of the report along with me if you like. As always, your input and observations are welcome.

Without GRACE: Introductory Thoughts

Bob Jones University, self-identified as The World’s Most Unusual University and the Fortress of Faith, has a very public history of many atrocious things. Racism and homophobia have topped the list thusfar, but now, thanks to the 300 page report from the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) that is gaining national attention, mistreating victims of sexual abuse is another claim BJU can make to fame.

Forgive my cynicism. As both a survivor of sexual abuse and a former BJU student who got expelled for consensual sex, I think it’s pretty well earned at this point.

Frankly, I’m thrilled that the report has been released. I’m pleased with how thorough it is, and I’m even more thrilled with the press it’s getting. Please don’t mistake my joy that the voices of my brothers and sisters and me are finally publicly vindicated as rejoicing in BJU’s public censure. I wish more than anything that they would take to heart the criticism they’re receiving, offer a sincere apology, and make their campus and staff safe places for victims of abuse. However, I’m simply not hopeful to that end.

While I’ve skimmed through two thirds of the report already, I’m currently undertaking the task of reading through every page and footnote. Clearly, I’m personally invested. I actually gave GRACE a written statement, though I’m not sure that it was used in this final report or not. (More on that later). I just need to read it myself, think through it and analyze it myself. And I’m going to provide my exhaustive notes and analysis here, starting today.

These thoughts are my own. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my perspective, but I think it’s valuable to share my thoughts as a survivor, former student, participant in the investigation, and skeptic. Every quote that I reference will have the page number (and footnote number, if applicable) relevant to the report.

And so I begin.

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…

I belong to me: learning agency & consent outside Christianity.

By and large, Christianity as a system in the Western world teaches people to run rip-shod over the boundaries of those within and without their camps under the guise of love.25 The consent of its members and non-members alike isn’t required, as clearly demonstrated by the past almost 28 years of my existence. And that’s a massive problem, enabling (and at times commanding) the manipulation, mistreatment, and abuse of countless people.

In fact, I’d say one of the defining characteristics of Christianity today is that it has a consent problem.

Lessons Learned at the Fortress of Faith: Part 3

As I’ve stated before, Bob Jones University habitually created spiritual mountains out of circumstantial molehills. We were to strive for perfection in every aspect of life, and anything less than that was an offense to God and the administration.

There’s a saying from the founder of the school…well, I mean, there’s honestly a bajillion sayings from the founder of the school. They’re so revered that they are literally engraved in plaques in every classroom across campus, and you can even buy a book filled with his quips of wisdom. But one saying in particular was quoted quite a bit when I was there: “It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.” On the surface, and especially when I very first arrived on campus, I agreed with this 100%.

Again, I’m faced with the difficulty of explaining a subculture when some of my audience has never experienced it, and some of it may think there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s difficult to know where to begin or how to explain things that I intuitively learned through various circumstances, other than to talk about the various circumstances that taught me that sometimes, it’s good and right to do “wrong.”

Lessons learned at the Fortress of Faith: Part 2.

The atmosphere and its complete permeation of BJU dorm student life is important because of the necessary isolation it engendered. There was simply no way of knowing who was following the rules because they believed them to be right, and who was just trying to keep their head down long enough to get out as unscathed as possible.

Not without opening yourself up in ways that could have pretty serious consequences.

That made it all the more precious when people would accidentally let slip that they were a normal person trying to get by, just like me. These moments were quite rare, but absolutely sacred — memorable if for nothing else than the brief solidarity they brought.