UPDATE: Today, February 25, 2014, GRACE and BJU announced that their original agreement will be reinstated in its entirety. It’s a bittersweet victory that paves the way for hope in cases where there has been no hope that institutions are capable of admitting miscalculated decisions and changing course. Great thanks to all who fought for the BJU survivors both privately and publicly and hats off to the leaders of BJU for exercising humility in the end rather than stubbornness and pride.
So Bob Jones University fired GRACE, the team they hired to investigate historical abuses and failures to report. From my Twitter feed, I’m guessing most people who are outraged have no idea that this whole “let’s fire GRACE at the last minute” thing has happened before …
Less than a year ago ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism), the mission board I grew up in, fired GRACE too. It took us 22 years to actually get an investigation of historical abuse and collusion at ABWE, and it took almost two years after GRACE was hired to get close to a conclusion. Then, at the last possible moment, the ethically-challenged ABWE moved in for the kill and tore up their agreement. (Yes, ethically-challenged is the polite term used for organizations that figure out how to use pretty infographics to tell the world that they’ve changed, when privately, all you ever get is the same old same old.)
So I speak from experience. If history has taught us anything, it is that this whole BJU scandal currently abuzz on the internet has a definite shelf life, and in just 12 months most of you not directly associated with the institution—and even many who are—will have forgotten all about it.
1. Evangelical Journalists: They aren’t usually into asking tough questions or printing the sort of bold exposés their non-religious counterparts have won awards for. How quickly those of us who were victims of ABWE discovered even Christianity Today would take a soft approach. Any hope I held out for evangelical journalism died with one poorly chosen March 2013 print CT headline about the firing of GRACE: “Investigator or Prosecutor?” (Don’t worry, the link to the online version is coming.) The headline could just have easily read: “Firing or Silencing?” But it didn’t. And that’s significant. (See how words can shape perspectives? Most of us who write do.)
Bobby Ross’s shoddy piece of journalism—for which he contacted only a few actual victims, at the eleventh hour before publication, via email, and with a list of irrelevant “stock”-type questions, and then went on to use our real names without permission—immediately framed ABWE’s “concerns” about GRACE (that they were just “prosecutors,” not “investigators”) as legitimate and understandable. The heart of the matter—that ABWE’s blame-shifting had even gone so far during the firing as to publicly accuse the interviewed victims of collusion (scroll down to first item on the numbered list when you click that link)—was totally missed. You can still read the CT piece online, only CT’s editor was so bombarded with outrage that he changed the title of the Ross piece online (too late for print!) and even changed some of the wording within. (Note the URL address of the piece ending in “investigator-or-prosecutor” still reflects the original title, forever out there on the interwebs as evidence that, yes, THAT REALLY HAPPENED.)
(Note: Has CT already posted about the BJU/GRACE firing? Yes. Did it seem like hard-hitting journalism that raised serious questions about what is happening at BJU to you? Me either, but at least this time CT didn’t so obviously side with the institution from the headline on. Still … one can’t help but notice who got to have the last word.)
2. GRACE Themselves: GRACE won’t break their contractual agreement of confidentiality with the institution. It’s a problematic agreement in the first place, one I started advising other victims of abuse just two weeks ago not to allow on their watch. That said, now that BJU has fired GRACE, GRACE is contractually obligated to never let any part of their findings—which would otherwise have been posted online at the conclusion of the investigation—see the light of day.
If our experience with them is any indication, GRACE will not publish these findings,* GRACE will not talk about these findings with the public, GRACE will not leak these findings, GRACE will not even hint as to what the findings are in phone calls with victims. GRACE will quietly report to authorities (whose hands are usually tied—see my #4) anything they are obliged by law to report, and the rest will be locked into a file for the rest of eternity. The findings are dead, done, a waste of everyone’s blood, sweat and tears. Our investigation took literal years from our lives, and we’ll never even know what GRACE discovered.
The lesson? If an investigative team is fired, their “findings to date” should be made immediately available to those who were interviewed. If you’re a survivor, don’t agree to any investigation that doesn’t guarantee you this safety net. Would institutions ever sign on for these investigations knowing that they couldn’t control a bad PR nightmare at the end by firing the team before the report went public? Maybe not. But clearly the whole idea that the institution owns the findings isn’t working out so well for GRACE and the victims who just want truth.
3. The Good Ol’ Boys Club: None of the denominations or Christian organizations affiliated and associated with the institution will have the courage to hold them publicly accountable. You would hope that those with influence in such situations would use their influence for good, because in such insulated faith circles it’s really the only thing that works. But those with potential influence just don’t typically choose to use it.
In our situation, we quickly recognized that the only organization remotely influential over ABWE and ABWE supporters was the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches) and we first called out the connection between the two ministries in October 2011. Almost immediately people associated with leadership at GARB began privately feeding us the line that they were just as concerned about ABWE’s behavior as we were and were contemplating what to do about it. Well … that was 28 months ago. As of November 2013, my last contact with the higher ups at GARBC, their stand was exactly the same. Essentially: “We’re so concerned, but we’re just … [insert excuse here].”
Here is a sad, sad warning to the victims from BJU: The cavalry isn’t coming. Stop looking to your fellow Christians in the BJU-associated churches and ministries you grew up in and believed cared about you to come to your defense, because you won’t even be able to count on one hand the ones who will over the next 12 months. The few who do just won’t be enough. On the other hand, you will quickly lose count of your Diane Keatons, and I’m really, really sorry about that.
4. Ignorance: There is general public ignorance about the difficulty of prosecuting these things and the difficulty of bringing civil suits against such institutions. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “If anything criminal actually happened, people would be in jail.” And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: “Oh, ye who know nothing about how these things work.”
If you think for even a second that prosecuting old cases of abuse and rape and failure to report is a simple thing, you live in a fantasy world, and I’d like the address so that I can move there and live there with you instead of in this wasteland of injustice where statutes of limitations and other pesky obstacles like burden of proof (and, for some of us, a little thing called foreign soil) stand in the way of what you seem to think should be quite simple if victims are “telling the truth.” Which brings me to number five …
5. You: That’s right, I said it, the last reason is simply YOU. Let’s be honest. If you are not one of the victims, your interest in this matter is fleeting. If anyone actually is still posting it on Twitter and Facebook in two week’s time, you’ll stop clicking the links. You’ll stop being outraged. Your compassion’s short attention span will move on to another cause. And let’s face it … if you aren’t from a similar patriarchal fundamentalist culture where stuff like this whole “let’s cover up abuse because it’s bad for the gospel” happens all the time, you’re thinking: “Well what else do you expect from a patriarchal fundamentalist culture where stuff like this whole ‘let’s cover up abuse because it’s bad for the gospel’ happens all the time?”
But I want to talk to you about that. About your apathy. About your thinly disguised rape-apologism that is akin to saying that because the victim was drunk, she doesn’t get your sympathy and outrage. Because isn’t your shrug of the shoulders over victim blaming and silencing in such extreme and almost cult-like settings of fundamentalism (“I mean, what else did they expect … we’re talking about Bob Jones University?”) exactly like asking what else a woman expects at three a.m. in the dimly lit corner of a truck-stop bar?
So you have a choice now.
You can be that person who gives this a few seconds of your compassion through a retweet or a comment or a change.org petition and moves on. (In which case, you’ll quickly forget that there are dozens of victims out there who likely just saw their last chance at any form of justice slip away. In which case, those victims can be assured that when they get online a year from now to see if people still care, they’ll quickly figure out that even their so-called “advocates” are way more into Mark Driscoll’s latest blunder than the fact that BJU got away with it.)
Or … you can remember that your consistent, persistent, and tireless collective outrage and unified voice is likely the victims’ only hope.
*NOTE: By “findings” here, I am referring to the final report GRACE would have prepared, a summation of the findings in regard to the abusers and institution, based on the sum total of information provided by all transcripts from all interviews, with only victim names withheld. With regard to individual transcripts, GRACE provides a copy of an interview transcript to each individual post-interview and that transcript is then considered the possession of that individual after that point.