BJU responds to GRACE recommendations

Sexual Abuse | Christian school adopts some suggestions, rejects others in wake of sexual abuse report
by Jamie Dean
Posted 3/16/15, 03:00 pm

Officials at Bob Jones University (BJU) have offered an initial response to an outside group’s recommendations about how the school should assist victims of sexual abuse and trauma. 

An online BJU statement indicates the Christian university followed some recommendations, rejected others, and plans to respond to remaining recommendations in the future. 

The recommendations came from a report issued by the Christian organization GRACE (an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). GRACE released the results of its two-year investigation, initiated by BJU, in December. 

Some former BJU students told GRACE they felt blame from staff members when they sought counseling to cope with sexual abuse. Others said counselors urged them to move on quickly from past abuse, without dealing with remaining trauma.

During a chapel service on March 10, BJU President Steve Pettit acknowledged the university had failed to help some students: “We want you to know that we are deeply sorry that you were hurt and that we did not help you in our response. This was wrong and unacceptable.”

Pettit said after speaking with one of the victims: “I was … grieved to learn that when she came to us for comfort and guidance she left disappointed, deeply hurt, and confused. In her case, we did not understand the depths of her trauma.”

The issue of counseling at BJU was a central focus of the GRACE report, and the group recommended BJU begin referring all sexual abuse victims to counselors outside the school. 

BJU officials rejected that recommendation, saying they would continue to offer biblical counseling on campus, but said they also would continue offering referrals to off-campus resources for students who want help outside the university. 

The BJU statement acknowledged “there currently may be limits to our ability to deal with certain aspects of trauma present in some cases of sexual abuse/assault,” and said students had the option to seek help from outside agencies that “at this time may be better equipped and prepared to offer help in their specific situations.”

The GRACE report examined some of the BJU counseling methods, including those used by Jim Berg—a current BJU faculty member who served as dean of students from 1981 to 2010. 

During that period, Berg oversaw the school’s counseling services, taught counseling courses, and counseled 200 to 300 victims of sexual abuse, according to the GRACE report. (Berg earned degrees in Bible and theology from BJU, but doesn’t hold a degree in counseling.)

In the GRACE report, Berg said he never intended victims to feel blame for their abuse, but he also acknowledged: “I think I tended to move too quickly in the counseling process for abuse victims.”

According the report, Berg also acknowledged he didn’t include enough focus on lament and sorrow over abuse during his first two decades of counseling students. He said articles in the Journal of Biblical Counseling in the early 2000s changed his thinking: “They drew a lot from the Psalms and the trauma of believers, and I began framing my counsel in the sense of the groaning and sorrow.”

One victim of sexual abuse told GRACE some parts of the counseling she received at BJU were “good and very biblical,” but added that when she discussed her abuse with a female counselor, the counselor often “asked if we could move on and change my thought patterns.” The victim added: “Until it is dealt with, it is going to be in the mind.” 

In their online statement, BJU officials said they were conducting a review of the school’s biblical counseling program for undergraduate and graduate students. They said the review process would include professionals from outside BJU. School spokesman Randy Page said questions about counseling content and method would fall under that review. 

BJU officials rejected a GRACE recommendation to stop using all curriculum and materials written by Berg, saying they believe his materials are faithful to Scripture. Two other resources GRACE identified as problematic (written by two former BJU faculty) no longer appear in BJU’s online store. The BJU statement said the school is reviewing all the sermons and materials cited in the report. 

School officials didn’t respond to a GRACE recommendation to prohibit Berg from counseling or teaching counseling, and said they wouldn’t comment on personnel matters. Page said Berg wasn’t teaching a counseling course this semester, but said he couldn’t comment on any future plans.

In discussing other policies, the university said it would develop a more robust victim’s advocate program, offer additional training to faculty and staff, and continue to work with an outside organization to review its policies each year. School officials said they also invite dialogue with “each victim of sexual abuse or assault who was not helped by our response to their disclosure.”

Boz Tchividjian, executive director of GRACE, replied to a request for comment about BJU’s response in an email: “I don’t think we can say anything more than what was communicated in our 300+ page report and the very specific recommendations made as a result of our two-year investigation,” he wrote. “We believe that BJU now possesses the information necessary to make the needed changes that can demonstrate authentic repentance and institutional transformation. It is our continued prayer that they will move in that direction.”

Tchividjian added he remained grateful for the abuse survivors “who can teach BJU and the rest of us so much. I pray we are willing to listen and be teachable. We remain hopeful.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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