A chronic and systemic issue in the more conservative Christian community is a degree of insensitivity toward sexual abuse victims. Purity culture and abstinence teachings often result in shaming of the victim, rushing post-traumatic processing and recovery, and flippancy about the responsibility of the perpetrator for the abuse.
Bob Jones University, a hyper-conservative private Christian college in Greenville, South Carolina with about 3,000 students, has been under some scrutiny over the past few years over swirling reports of mishandling of sexual abuse cases and victim-blaming.
In November of 2012, BJU voluntarily hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to investigate and report on their handling of cases of sexual assault, after a protest by alumni. Partway through the investigative process, BJU fired GRACE abruptly, but eventually rehired and renegotiated the relationship before continuing on with the investigation.
Yesterday, the final report went public.
In advance of its release, the current president of BJU, Steve Pettit, issued an apology to the victims involved, and promised that the college was taking seriously the need for reform on these issues. He said:
We do not take the concerns of the victims who believe we failed them lightly. 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.
The report, while lengthy and written for a Christian audience, is detailed and thorough. The findings are overall concerning, suggesting that BJU has not historically been a safe space for victims of sexual abuse to find support and healing. Given the Christian preoccupation with the redemption narrative and defense of the defenseless, this is a serious blemish on the integrity of their statement of faith.
This finding, unfortunately, has been consistent with the experiences of many abuse victims in Christian culture, and if the school were to implement reform as recommended by GRACE, BJU might find itself a flagship for a revolutionary change in Christian culture in terms of stock responses to sexual abuse. In the meantime, the cooperation of the college in the investigative process and the transparency shown in the release of the final report is a gesture of good faith in the direction of positive reform.
As the founder of GRACE, Boz Tchividjian, said,
“Though much in this report will understandably cause readers to grieve, GRACE is encouraged by the willingness of Bob Jones University to take the unprecedented step to voluntarily request this independent investigation and to make these difficult findings public… Such institutional transparency is too rare and will hopefully set a positive precedent for Christendom and the watching world.”