Bob Jones University, previously known for its long-running ban on interracial dating on campus that lasted until March 2000, is now infamous for something else: telling survivors of sexual violence that their underlying sin caused them to be attacked and that they needed to repent and apologize to their rapists for being angry at them. You're not reading the Onion – this really happened. What you are about to read may be very upsetting.
Bob Jones recently hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), a watchdog group, to conduct an independent investigation into how BJU handled sexual abuse. In light of that, former BJU students who are sexual violence survivors talked to Al-Jazeera America recently about how BJU faculty handled their situations. Gird your loins, because this won't be pretty.
One student, Katie Landry, was raped by a supervisor at her summer job at 19 years old. Two years later, desperately needing help, she reported it the dean of students of BJU and asked for help. His response?
"He goes, 'Well, there's always a sin under other sin. There's a root sin,'" Landry remembers. "And he said, 'We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.' And I just ran."
"He just confirmed my worst nightmare," Landry said. "It was something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault."
BJU rejects traditional psychology, instead believing that all mental health issues, beyond the medical, are rooted in sin. Their philosophy, as described the 1996 book, Becoming an Effective Christian Counselor, is that "most people in mental hospitals are not sick; they are sinful."
The authors of the book, Walter Fremont (former dean of education at BJU) and his wife Trudy (a former professor at BJU), write that counselors should advise that the blame for the abuse lies with the abuser. That said, however, the Fremonts then say that being sexually assaulted is not an 'excuse' for the sinful feelings of hate, anger, bitterness, etc. and that the unresolved anger is "in reality is rebellion and bitterness against God."
One counselor, Rand Hummel, said in a speech that he instructed a young woman to ask her abuser (her stepdad) for forgiveness for her bitterness. Yeah, you read that right. He asked an abuse victim to ask her abuser for forgiveness.
Another survivor, Sarah*, reports that she was asked by a Pat Berg, a BJU counselor, to forgive her abuser, who had abused her for several years as a child. During counseling, Sarah says Berg fixated on her 'sin' and blamed Sarah when she didn't get better. BJU doesn't recognize PTSD as real, so Sarah says that Berg also insisted that Sarah was picking her trauma symptoms.
Sarah also provided e-mails to Al-Jazeera America in which Berg stated that Sarah needed to call her rapist and ask for forgiveness because, otherwise, God wouldn't be able to "use her". BJU denies the allegations, despite the e-mail proof. For obvious reasons, Sarah's call to her abuser didn't help – in her words, it was like "sticking a knife inside me and twisting it harder."
Julia**, another BJU student, was raped by a co-worker who was a BJU ministry student. She managed to get him expelled, only to find out he was allowed back in three semesters later. When she expressed her fears and concerns to a BJU administrator, she was asked "whether she would really want to prevent a 'Godly man' from getting an education that would allow him to 'serve the Lord.'"
GRACE is none too pleased about any of this. The head of GRACE, Boz Tchividjian, believes that Protestant organizations across the country have repeatedly failed survivors in similar ways to BJU and that they may be, in fact, worse than the Catholic Church in how they handle abuse cases.
GRACE's goal for the ongoing investigation is for BJU to demonstrate "authentic repentance". Tchividjian's ultimate goal is to expose the evangelical community's own failures in addressing sexual abuse, "not because it's being forced to, but because that's what Christ demands of us."
As for what the victims want to happen, Landry had the following to say:
"I'm going to use the language that Bob Jones University should definitely understand here, when I say, I want you to repent, I want you to metanoia [completely change the way of thinking] of your leadership," she said. "I want you to repent, I want you to metanoia of covering up and protecting men who have sexually abused young women and children – and many. I want you to repent, I want you to metanoia this rape culture mentality that you have bought into and tried to sprinkle God over."
* Name changed to protect privacy, as done in the original Al-Jazeera America article
** Name changed to protect privacy, as done in the original Al-Jazeera America article