Nothing looks the least bit suspicious about this, right? Back in January 2013, fundamentalist Pod-People incubator Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, hired an independent third-party consulting group to investigate claims of long-running sexual abuse at the school, as well as ineffective administration responses to reports of abuse. They were to prepare a report, and make recommendations on how BJU should respond to cases of sexual abuse. And then, after almost a year, and just a couple months before the group was supposed to issue its report, BJU fired the investigators with no explanation, citing only vague “concerns” about how the group was conducting its investigation. But they will definitely be praying for any students who may have been abused. If any. No need to dig into it too much, because ultimately God knows the truth and will take care of things in His own time.
You also have to love the name of the group that was hired to do the investigation: GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), which sounds like something from a bad Christian adventure comic book (Nick Stigmata, Agent of GRACE). But apparently, despite the silly name, GRACE is supposed to be a reputable, independent group that doesn’t sugar-coat its reports, according to blogger John Shore:
By all accounts, GRACE was and is an integrity-based organization that could be counted upon to be honest, thorough, fair, and above all protective of the BJU students with whom it would necessarily speak in the course of its investigation.
That last part is crucial.
Bob Jones University students are terrified of the power elite at BJU, and none more so than any BJU student who has been the victim of sexual abuse.
And so in January 2013, GRACE sought out current and former students and employees who might be able to provide information on incidents where BJU or its affiliated private middle and high school “may have failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse disclosures, or may have conveyed inappropriate information regarding sexual abuse,” confidentiality guaranteed. By November, the group announced that while it was still requesting more interviews, it had
completed approximately 80 in person interviews in Greenville and in Charlotte, conducted numerous phone interviews with individuals throughout the country, and reviewed all written statements and other materials submitted to us.
After that, it would begin drafting a final report with recommendations in “the early part of 2014.”
Only one small problem with that plan: Last Friday, GRACE announced its contract with BJU had been terminated by the university with no explanation of why, just “days before GRACE was to conduct the last interviews of this 13-month investigation.” The press release from GRACE is a model of trying to reassure victims who spoke to them that their concerns were taken seriously, at least by GRACE:
At this point, we are most concerned about the potential impact of this termination on those who participated in the investigation and are waiting for the final report. We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete. Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain. GRACE offers its assurance that we will do our utmost to protect your confidences in the interviews and surveys from unauthorized use or disclosure. You have honored us with your courage and trust. We are privileged to have sat with each of you.
For its part, BJU issued a statement that gave only the vaguest explanation of why the investigation had been cancelled:
Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE
Yep, they were concerned about how the independent investigation — which it had initially bragged would operate “with complete autonomy” from BJU — was getting a little too independent, and not “pursuing our objectives” the way BJU wanted. We bet it was ultimately a fight over whether to use MLA or APA citation format.
Outgoing BJU president Stephen Jones added that
We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE.
He also said that he hoped to “immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.” There’s that our objectives again.
Jones also said that he really, really cares a whole bunch about the people who came forward to talk to GRACE, who “shared horrific personal stories of abuse” with investigators, and he’s really glad that “GRACE has done a great job at making those people feel at home, and secure, and free to share those stories.” And now, he says,
I just want to reiterate that we are committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.
Hmmm… surely, that last line couldn’t have any ominous implications, could it? Nah, just pastoral outreach, that has to be it. After all, this is a Christian university that really wants to take appropriate action to help victims. Like BJU helped former student Erin Burchwell, who told a Greenville TV station that 20 years ago, a male grad student sexually molested her “40 or more times” over the course of several months.
Burchwell claims when her parents finally reported the assaults to university administrators, they were told not to go to the police.
Burchwell says administrators also tried to blame what happened on her clothing.
“What was I wearing when all these incidents occurred? What did I have on? Was it tight? Was it low? Obviously, the point being it was somehow my fault,” she said.
Sounds like very traditional Southern Christian values to us, unfortunately.
We’ll keep an eye out for more on this as it develops, or doesn’t. But don’t worry, it’s definitely not a cover-up, said Stephen Jones, because if the university wanted to cover things up, it never would have started the investigation in the first place, promising a full, independent review. Why not just trust the administration of BJU, after all? They’d never fib about their motives for shutting down that full, independent review before it issued its report, now would they?
Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He’s just astonished to learn that anyone at BJU would be weird about this.