Bob Jones University Sex Abuse Investigation and BJU President Steve Pettit’s leaked chapel message
Bob Jones University (BJU) has been in the news prominently after GRACE released their long-awaited report (trigger warnings if you read the report) on the sex abuse investigations at BJU.
Many major news sites are covering the story, including, The New York Times:
For decades, officials at Bob Jones University told sexual assault victims that they were to blame for their abuse, and to not report it to the police because doing so would damage their families, churches and the university, according to a long-awaited independent report released Thursday.
For an overall picture of what has gone on, Dee Parsons, at The Wartburg Watch, has written an excellent synopsis of the BJU sex abuse scandal in her article, Bob Jones University, Boz Tchvidjian, and GRACE: An Unprecedented, Historic Report on Sex Abuse.
BJU News, a blog that has been reporting on the abuse and “All The News That They Won’t Print” has an article compiling many links to news reports which have recently been published: GRACE Aftermath: Docs, Tweets, Images and Media Coverage.
They also published an article, New Leaked Audio: Pettit Contradicts GRACE, Reassures “BJU is Safe”, about a leaked BJU chapel message by BJU’s President Steve Pettit, which is what the rest of this article will deal with. Is President Steve Pettit message to the students the same as what has been presented publicly? Or is he presenting a kinder/softer message?
Below, you will see the transcription of a portion of a leaked chapel message by Pettit – only that which pertains to the sex abuse news coverage. Imagine you are a BJU student going to the chapel service while the news media has been revealing damaging stories about your school. This is not a good time for BJU students. What we see here, which we typically see in abuse cases, is minimization and damage control by BJU leadership. BJU President Pettit tries to reassure the students that despite GRACE’s recent 301-page report and negative news coverage, everything is under control, BJU is safe, they don’t have anything to worry about.
Here is the transcribed message (special thanks to BJU News) with my editorial comments in green.
The message by BJU President Steve Pettit begins:
I do want to highlight our own BJU.edu website that actually really gives some very clear statements in a really good timeline. The timeline’s very helpful to understand why we initiated the GRACE report and how things have gone along up to the present day. [BJU timeline]
What I want to do this morning, if I could, is at least help you gain a perspective about the GRACE report that I think is helpful for you as Bob Jones University students. I think you realize last week when I spoke, I spoke not only to you, but because it was videoed [sic], I was speaking to people in public, I was speaking to Greenville, in some cases to our alumni, and in some cases to the United States. And so I’d like to speak to you this morning more specifically. And I’d like to help you with this perspective.
The issues in the GRACE report are dealing primarily with events that took place in the past, not things that are happening today. And I would never — and I think it’s been very clear — minimize what people have experienced in the past, but in proper perspective, I want you to realize that most of those cases were things that happened to people before you were even born or when you were a child. [Please scroll down and look at another statement that conflicts this statement in pink font. He implies that they know when the abuse cases took place and below he says they don’t know. Which is it?]
And so in many ways, they’re not things that are happening today. You know, it’s like, “Is Bob Jones University safe?” And of course, it’s as safe as we can make it. If somebody is bent on doing wrong, it’s hard to stop them. But we do believe, obviously, it is very safe. [They thought they were safe when there was reported abuse going on, too.]
At this present hour we’ve been making many improvements since we obtained GRACE over two years ago. [Let’s not forget that they hired GRACE and then fired GRACE and then rehired them.]
We have very strong policies and procedures in place right now. All of you understand that we have a training program here called “The Sexual Abuse Awareness Program” for students and faculty and staff. We have a solid approach toward counseling people where we are helping those who have been… who have experienced sexual abuse or assault.
I took a look at the faculty page and the schools they graduated from. BJU is strongly against anything “psychology.” The only training they offer is solely based on the Bible. What kind of sex abuse training is in Scripture? This is not at all reassuring.
We actually have it in place. And it doesn’t mean that things can’t happen, but I just want you to know that the picture that is presented in [the] GRACE report, I think, it really looks a little different than things do today in what we’re doing here. And I do want you to know the answers that I’ve given to people or reporters or anybody who wants to talk to me about the GRACE report. And really, I try to give a very consistent message. Now, I’m saying these following things, and when you go home at Christmas and people ask you these things, I would encourage you to follow along, you know, if this is what you’re willing to do, this line of thinking, you can think about it yourself.
First of all, that we were the ones that initiated this report — not because of a current problem, but because of the fact that we wanted to make sure that we were in compliance to legal reporting and then secondly to address some of the issues of the past that had come to us, and we wanted to deal with those things. [Why are they patting themselves on the back? This had been going on for 3-4 decades.]
Secondly, we are very saddened for anybody who has suffered the horrors of any kind of sexual abuse or sexual assault. To help you understand terminology, sexual abuse primarily refers to those who are under the age of 18 old. So a teenager or a child. Sexual assault has to do with those who are over the age of 18 years old. So here on campus if something happens, it’s not really an abuse if you’re over 18. It’s an assault. And of course, those people, when that is reported, those people end up being prosecuted, which we have had happen here.
Why was the above paragraph included? He is trying share his knowledge on this topic? It’s a little late. Is he trying to say that if someone was sexually assaulted over the age of 18, it’s not abuse? What?!
Let me also say that we appreciate those who are willing to show courage and come forward and tell their story because we can only imagine how difficult that is. And we are grateful because by their willingness to come forward and showing courage is only helping us. And not because it’s about us, but it does help us. It is helping us to become better at what needs to be done. And really, we want to, as Christians, we want to be a leader in this area.
Ok, this is not truthful. If that is the case, then why is someone removing personal accounts from their Facebook page like this:
I do want you to know that we do sincerely apologize to those who have not been helped in the past. And we don’t know who those individuals are. I can’t know them personally. But we do feel for them, and we do take what has been said very seriously. [Obviously not true based on the removal of posts from their Facebook page as mentioned above.]
And then I want you know that we are very committed to learning from the report and going forward through this journey of change. We don’t think it’s gonna take, you know, two quick decisions. We realize that we want to become effective and helpful and serve.
Now one other thing is that, when I speak with people, especially when they ask us questions, I try to help people have a proper perspective that the things that are in the GRACE report took place over a period of four decades. So that’s a long time. And there are things that are in the report that we don’t know about.
For example, we don’t know the timeline. We don’t know when this took place. Did this take place twenty years ago? Did this take place ten years ago? We’re not sure.
We don’t know who the people are.
Well wait, they do know who some people are, but choose not to deal with them and instead remove their comments as if they never existed.
So there are some things about it that are unclear. But the one thing we do want people to know is that whether it was one person or a hundred people, it doesn’t matter because abuse is terrible for the one. You know, I think about it: if it was my daughter, well, you know, one is bad. So we want to be very, very clear. And we are going to, as a university, use the GRACE report for the purpose in which we initiated it. And that is to learn from our past and to move forward in the future.
We are forming a committee who is going to look at the recommendations before any major decisions are made. They will come, they will make recommendations on the recommendations, and then ultimately the decision will have to be made by the president myself.
We do want to be a better university. We do want to be a better leader in this area, and GRACE commended us for being proactive in initiating the report. The fact is, we have already decided that we are going beyond GRACE on our own to improve in other areas that are not even suggested in this report. And so it is something that we have made as a priority. It is very important. And so hopefully… I hope that this will help clear up anything in your mind. If you want to ask questions, please feel free to. If you’d like to write me a personal email, I’ll be more than happy to respond to that.