Originally posted 1/23/13 at Truth Wins Out
On December 12, 2011, Christopher Peterman organized the first student-led protest in Bob Jones University’s (BJU) history. A month prior, Peterman launched a Facebook page titled “Do Right BJU” to mobilize alumni, former faculty, staff and students to protest BJU’s refusal to remove Board of Trustees member Pastor Chuck Phelps after he failed to take proper measures in reporting a child rapist in his New Hampshire church. Since Phelps resigned from BJU’s Board a few days before the scheduled protest, the group shifted its focus toward raising awareness of additional sexual abuse allegations involving both male and female victims that came to light in the wake of the New Hampshire trial.
According to a telephone conversation with Peterman, he noted that while Bob Jones ensured the protesters they would not face expulsion; they made his last semester of college a living hell. “My every move was tracked. When they expelled me nine days before graduation for 'disrespect and insubordination,' they told me I needed to repent and return back to God." The rights of those victims seeking justice against their abusers did not factor into these conversations.
On November 8, 2012, BJU announced they hired G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) to conduct an independent investigation into numerous allegations of sexual abuse both at Bob Jones University and Bob Jones Academy which teaches children from preschool through the 12th grade.
As reported by the Associated Press, “School officials said the investigation was prompted by heart-breaking revelations of sexual abuse in both secular and Christian organizations, but isn’t in response to any specific claims of abuse at the school.” This claim by BJU conveniently ignores such public events like the protest launched by Peterman, as well as media reporting that cites BJU as having 9 incidents of forcible sex offenses reported in 2011, a number that is significantly higher than any other institution in the area.
In a statement issued by G.RA.C.E. founder and executive director Basyle Tchividjian, “In retaining GRACE to conduct this third party investigation, the leadership of Bob Jones University/Academy has pledged to honor the integrity and independence of the investigative process and to cooperate fully with the GRACE Investigative Team. Bob Jones University/Academy has also agreed that GRACE will publish its Final Report to the public on the GRACE website and the Bob Jones University website.”
Initially, Christianity Today reported on this story citing statements from Tchividjian and Bob Jones University without mentioning reported news stories of sexual abuse committed by those affiliated with BJU. They amended the story on January 23, 2013 to include some of these stories.
However as of this date, BJU has yet to honor their aforementioned pledge. Other than posting a link on January 10, 2013 via their website announcing a confidential survey from G.R.A.C.E’s that victims can complete and a brief blurb in their promotional magazine BJU Magazine (see snapshots here and here), BJU has not contacted any faculty, staff, current or former students, or alumni to inform them of this investigation.
Despite BJU’s inability to practice due diligence, a growing number of victims have filled out this survey. Those who have been victimized either as a child or an adult by anyone affiliated with the BJU community can add their voice by completing this survey prior to April 30th.
Further developments relating to this case will be noted as they arise.
Image: via Truth Wins Out
Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches. Her books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (forthcoming) and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.