Bombshell Report Blew Open Sex Abuse Scandal at Major Christian Right University -- Total Silence Ensued

One of the deep scandals of our time, and apparently times past, is that sex abuse, particularly of children, has been so tolerated and covered-up. What's more, it is clear that the problem is not limited to the Catholic Church, where the problem is of such extraordinary depth and breadth. It is deeply ingrained in more of society than most of us who were not affected by these things can easily believe. In the past year, I have written a bit about the difficulties the Southern Baptist Convention has had contending with its problems. (Here, here, and here.)


Now comes an investigative report on the ongoing scandal at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, in Greenville, South Carolina, where Republican candidates for president used to have to make a pilgrimage as part of their courtship of voters in the South Carolina primary.

The report focused on how the college treated sexually abused women like criminals.

Earlier this year, the University fired the outside agency it had hired to investigate the situation -- just before it was set to publish its findings.  Ultimately, the school was forced to rehire the well regarded "Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment" (GRACE), an evangelical organization led by Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, former prosecutor of child sex abuse cases, and a law professor at Liberty University.

The resulting report (PDF) is devastating. It has been widely reported, notably by The New York Times, and by the always excellent Kathryn Joyce, writing in The American Prospect.

But all is quiet on the Christian Right.

For all the usual harrumphing about family values, and shrill invective about others who allegedly do not share them -- it appears that Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fox News and the others, have nothing to say.

The report singles out Bob Jones III, the university chancellor and recommends that some kind of personnel action be taken against him.  The Times reported,

The criticism of Bob Jones [University] differs from that prompted by the sexual-assault scandals that have erupted at colleges across the country, in that it is not primarily about assaults on or near campus, committed by students or staff members. Rather, the university has been criticized for penalizing victims who reported incidents or sought treatment, and were told not to go to the police, even when the university had a legal obligation to do so.

Kathryn Joyce reported:  

In the 301-page report, GRACE shows Bob Jones University responding to rape and abuse claims with woeful ignorance of state law, a near-complete lack of training in psychology and trauma counseling best practices, and an overarching campus culture that blames women and girls for any abuse they suffer, and which paints all sexuality--from rape to consensual sex--as equivalent misdeeds.

That a fundamentalist institution--one most famous for banning interracial dating up until 14 years ago--has also been cartoonishly terrible at handling rape claims is not much of a surprise. But that Bob Jones University commissioned and, albeit with some serious reluctance, allowed the publication of this damning report is a major new contribution to the current debate on campus rape.

Among 26 recommendations, the GRACE report called for an apology. Joyce wrote:  

The apology has already been made. On Wednesday, the night before the report was released, the university called a school-wide meeting. There, BJU President Steve Pettit, (appointed just last summer), apologized for what the report would reveal. "We did not live up to [students'] expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering," he said. "To them I would say--we have carefully listened to your voice. We take your testimony in this report to our hearts. We intend to thoroughly review every aspect and concern outlined in the investigation and respond appropriately."

In a statement, GRACE's Tchividjian praised BJU's transparency and the precedent it might set for other Christian institutions. "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," he said.

But the precedent it could set, and the implicit challenge it represents, should go far beyond Christendom. However well BJU lives up to its promises in the months and years to come, the question people should be asking next is: If a school like BJU, with its bred-in-the-bone mistrust of the outside world, will ultimately allow this level of scrutiny, when will we see the same thing from schools that should know better?

Another question might be, why is there no soul searching among the leaders of the Christian Right?

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