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.
Addressing some criticisms: secular vs. spiritual authority.
“The poor response of secular authorities is not an excuse for the Christian community to act the same. Given the clear commands of our Lord, we should be leading the way, if only because the love of Christ compels us to speak for the oppressed. It is in this context the following report should be read, discussed, and implemented.” pg. 5
Regarding this report in particular, I’ve read commentary that BJU’s “mistakes” were only moral failings, “hurting people’s feelings,” rather than, you know, criminal activity. For biblical literalists who claim moral superiority based on the Bible, I’m honestly surprised that these people seem so quick to forget the repeated admonitions of the Bible that spiritual leaders are to be above reproach and have a good reputation outside the church — both standards that BJU leaders seem exempt from in their minds. Not to mention that even if they’re holding onto the command to not receive an accusation against a spiritual leader, that command only holds true if there are less than two witnesses. There are arguably hundreds of witnesses cited in this report. Nonetheless, I’m still not holding my breath that these men will be rebuked in the presence of all as an example to the rest of the university.
I’m also puzzled by what seems like a willful dismissal of Romans 13:1-7.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (NASB, emphasis added)
There seems to be a surprisingly prevalent belief among supporters of the school that governmental intervention (like the county solicitor looking into opening an investigation) is merely trifling at best and targeted persecution at worst. Many fundamentalists distrust our government and view its laws as inconvenient or even attacking the Christian church. I’ve already come across the argument that “when we let the government dictate what is right and wrong we will have problems” (pictured) — and that was when referencing how BJU lost their tax-exempt status due to their determination to racially discriminate (a decision this person seems to think illustrates his point that the government is at odds with the holy command of segregation? I speak tongue in cheek, of course.).
Of course, many will cite that they are to obey God rather than man, or bring up that it’s shameful for believers to take one another to court (funny, no recognition that this passage criticizes believers for wronging and defrauding one another in the first place), but that just exhibits the “pick and choose what we want to believe from the Bible” behavior they so disdain in others. My previous assertion holds true, then: there are many who are looking for reasons to dismiss the findings of this report, and are willing to participate in mental and spiritual gymnastics to make it easier to do so, no matter what their holy book commands.
In light of this, I’m even more thankful that GRACE is the entity who conducted the investigation and put together the report. The quote from page 5, listed above, is a perfect example of why they were the people for the job. While admonition like this coming from a secular speaker could be easily ignored, as I’ve already both demonstrated and explained, exhortation from a brother in Christ tends to hold more weight for the sincere fundamentalist as it is explicitly commanded in the Bible.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.
An incomplete, discrepant history of Bob Jones University and their relationship with GRACE.
GRACE gives a brief history of Bob Jones University, focusing on the growth of the school, the addition of the academy for kindergartners through seniors in high school, and identifying the different presidents the school has had since it was founded. It’s by no means a comprehensive history of the school, or even a history that brings up well-known events like the afore-mentioned Supreme Court case, but this is in line with the friendly, complimentary tone with which GRACE chose to address BJU throughout the entire report.
When it comes time to relate how BJU came to hire GRACE, differing accounts emerge. On page 8, GRACE reports, “According to the BJU website, ‘Dr. Jones request [sic] stemmed from national media reports of the mishandling of sexual abuse.'” Merely three paragraphs later, Dr. Stephen Jones is quoted as saying, “I know you are aware of the situation with Chuck Phelps’ church and Chuck Phelps was on the board. When that all came out in November , that made us look at our policies. We put together a task board on the board to help look at our policies, talk to people, find out what the best practices are currently. Then, that committee came away suggesting that we find an ombudsman to look back in the past to see if we had underserved.” (Link added for clarification)
As I noted in an earlier post examining current president Steve Pettit’s pre-emptive apology, conflicting statements such as these have been covered by former BJU professor, historian Dr. Camille Lewis, so I will leave this analysis to her in part one and part two of her timeline. These conflicting statements are worth noting, however, if only to point out that BJU has been unable keep the public story straight about what prompted the hiring of GRACE in the first place. It’s certainly possible for the truth to be nuanced. I don’t argue that in the least. But it’s also incredibly easy to be honest about those nuances. At best, these differing accounts are a misunderstanding. I find it more likely, given their general lack of consistency and tendency to rewrite their own history, that BJU is reticent to be forthcoming if it could paint them in a bad light.
“Bob Jones University terminated the agreement with GRACE on January 27, 2014. On February 25, 2014, BJU reinstated GRACE to complete the independent investigation under the terms of the original agreement.
“Stephen Jones and BJU should be heralded for taking the unprecedented and proactive step of voluntarily requesting this independent investigation. The decision to hire and then re-hire GRACE and the willingness to have this report be made public clearly demonstrates BJU’s commitment to addressing the difficult issues covered in this report. By voluntarily engaging in this independent and transparent process, Bob Jones University has created commendable and historical precedent for Christendom and the watching world.” pg. 9
This utterly baffles me. It’s been speculated that the investigation was halted because BJU realized law enforcement had been contacted in connection with some of the cases being brought up in GRACE interviews. There’s no way to verify this, of course. The official BJU story is that they were concerned with how GRACE was conducting the investigation — a concern they tastelessly and manipulatively reiterated in their initial overview and apology. I simply don’t understand how the termination and re-hiring of GRACE can be mentioned with no explanation, then be followed by a call to praise Stephen Jones and BJU in the very next sentence. There’s no mention whatsoever of the emotional and mental anguish this termination caused.
I very distinctly remember the day it was announced that BJU had terminated the investigation so close to the original time frame for release. My heart and jaw dropped in disbelief. I felt completely and utterly betrayed. I remember coming home and walking into my partner’s waiting arms as I couldn’t contain my sobs. “I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised. But I am surprised by how much it hurts,” I told him. Other survivors, friends, expressed the same sentiment, drawing together online to comfort one another as best as we could. Our grief was palpable…as was our righteous fury that propelled us to action.
Vindication came slowly through overwhelming media coverage, including local pastors and news stations, the Huffington Post, Salon, The New York Times, and even conservative sources like Christianity Today and The American Conservative. It wasn’t until public outcry rose to deafening heights from both survivors and the secular world BJU so resents that they agreed to rehire GRACE — under the original agreement, no less.
Unfortunately for Bob Jones, the termination and subsequent rehiring of GRACE convinced me and other survivors to either go public with our experiences or trust GRACE with our stories. GRACE notes this on page 20, stating “during the period of termination, GRACE also received new complaints.” We took to social media and news media in droves, determined that our stories, our voices, wouldn’t be silenced once more by an institution that has tried so hard for so long to dismiss us as merely bitter and disaffected. If anything, BJU’s decision to terminate GRACE helped convince people previously on the fence to talk to GRACE, or gave people like me the courage to follow through.