Is Bob Jones University Covering Up Sexual Abuse…Again?

As I was writing this post, I was thinking of that question about trees falling and sound, then I found this graphic from Naked Pastor that so poignantly illustrates the concept and the emotions that I'm experiencing around this.  Copyright David Hayward. Used with Permission

Copyright David Hayward, nakedpastor.com. Used with Permission.

Apparently Bob Jones University, the kingpin of my former cult, seems to think that ignoring sexual abuse will make it go away. At least, that’s the impression they give through the termination of their contract with the ombudsmen whom they hired last year to do an independent investigation of their past handling of sexual abuse cases.

I have to say that I’m not surprised they would backpedal shortly before the investigative team at G.R.A.C.E. released their findings. It wasn’t a smart PR move for a cult to bring an outsider in for such an in-depth review of their policies and was bound to backfire on one level or another, but I’m sure they didn’t feel they had many other options after the incidents that Dr. Lewis details in her post here, which included the student-led protest to remove a board member who had covered up a rape in his former church fifteen years ago and the vocal concerns of alumni over the questionable sexual abuse policy in BJU’s employee handbook.

Perhaps BJU hoped that a year later people would have forgotten their reasons for wanting an independent investigation…or perhaps the cult just underestimated the amount of shit that the investigation team would be able to uncover…regardless, BJU sent a termination request to G.R.A.C.E. this past week.

As I said, I’m not surprised, but I am outraged and grief-stricken.

I knew so many dear friends who had gone through horrendous pain to tell their story in interviews this past year, reliving their pain in the hopes that they might finally get the acknowledgement of the injustice of the way their trauma was handled. Now, I watch them grapple with the disappointment and devastation of having been silenced once again.

It’s downright heartless to encourage victims to speak of their abuses with promises that they will be heard, only to shut them down again and again—but it’s a tactic that the IFB loves to use.

Because they think they can break victims that way.

Because they think they can control the flow of information.

Because they think they can get away with it.

But they’re wrong.

Once upon a time, Bob Jones University might have been able to keep survivors’ stories under wraps. They might have been able to scatter and divide survivors, as good as erasing them from existence.

But they can’t do that anymore. Survivors have found each other, and through that, they’ve found their voices. They’ve discovered they have power and strength together. They’re not alone. They’re not without hope. And they’re not at the mercy of the cult anymore.

BJU has been allowed to get away with their abuses and control tactics for so long that it’s easy to believe they will continue to be able to get away with them, but the Internet is changing things. Survivors have been figuring out how to speak out over the last few years and finally–FINALLY–people are starting to listen.

Progressive Christian blogs like Naked Pastor and John Shore are spreading awareness. The media, both local and national (and many more than I can link to. Google it and see), is starting to report. And here’s the real kicker: for once, survivors aren’t going to shut up just because the cult refuses to listen.

They can keep playing the same games they’ve always played, but there’s an audience now. Their own precious image was the cost of this little cover-up. For once, even people within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult might think twice about sending their kids to BJU.

You can paint a skunk white, but you can’t hide hide the smell. Sooner or later, the world will see BJU for what it really is, and the survivors will be leading the charge to tear down the gates.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18: 5-6

When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist: In Memory of the Dante Papers

Before I left the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, I went through a phase of trying to “fix” fundamentalism. It was a time when I could recognize the discrepancies, cognitive dissonance, and abuse, but I wasn’t quite ready to recognize the cult as a whole. I was a student at Bob Jones University, three years into my degree, when I got involved with a small group of students who were writing newsletters under the name of Dante and distributing them anonymously throughout the campus. We weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, and we believed we had every right to write those papers. But we also knew that if the administration found out, we’d be in pretty severe trouble.

“The Voice of Truth” had three good runs. Then one of the group members got caught and kicked out. He refused to turn in the rest of us, so we were able to return to the university if we chose to. I was torn. A year away from graduation—practically speaking, I could have just kept my head down, gotten my degree, and gotten out. It seemed like the smarter move at the time . . . before I found out that the degree was bogus and worth about as much as a non-degree anyway.

But I couldn’t overlook the complete disregard for freedom of speech. How could a school that practically worshipped the Constitution as inspired by God violate other people’s Constitutional rights so blatantly? I wrestled up until a couple weeks before I was supposed to return. As I began trying to pack, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish packing. I simply couldn’t go back and be silent about what had happened. I withdrew from the school, explaining my protest to the admissions office.

I don’t think any of the group actually returned that semester, and the school had a quiet fall. When spring came around, two of us collaborated one last paper to send out to let the students know what had happened.

I’ve been out of the IFB for several years now, and I still value freedom of speech as the cornerstone of freedom. Wherever there is power, I suppose people will always have to fight to protect their freedoms, but lately with Obama’s expansion on the Patriot Act (as if it weren’t bad enough initially) and the recent revelations we’ve seen regarding privacy right violations, the punishment of whistle blowers, and the silencing of protesters, it seems an especially timely year to remember what freedom of speech means to me—what I sacrificed for it, what it was like without it.

With Banned Book Week starting Sunday, I wanted to post the last of the Dante papers that ever went out. It’s a bit cheesy in some places and still carries cultic influences in others, but for the most part, the core of the message is one that I think is vitally important even outside of the IFB. Don’t ever take freedom for granted. Guard and protect it. Treasure it. Use it.

Voice Of Truth Issue 4

Last year, a student [editor’s note: we let the university think it was a single student to protect the others involved] began writing anonymous papers in an effort to spur the students and administration to think critically. He was not attacking the school, although some of the people who read the papers felt the need to defend themselves. He was not, as some have asserted, complaining or trying to gather a following and incite rebellion like Absolom, or he wouldn’t have written anonymously. He wanted to help and improve the school, not tear it down. For that, he was “denied re-enrollment,” which is the same treatment BJU gives those who engage in extra-marital sex during the summer.

First of all, there was nothing wrong in what he did. The administration, when pressed for an answer, admitted that he broke no rule in the handbook. To be quite honest, we all get stuck in our ways, and from time to time, we need someone to challenge our beliefs. Why? If our beliefs cannot stand up on their own merit, we must re-evaluate what we believe. Questioning a belief is not wrong, even if the belief itself is correct. Unfortunately, in fundamental circles, the very idea of questioning what you’ve been taught is not permitted and asking “why?” often brings both rejection and accusations of heresy. Have we forgotten who our God is? God can handle our questions. He is not afraid to let His people question Him. Many in the Bible have done so, including Job, David, Elijah, Noah, and Moses. In fact, questioning what you believe can be very good because it makes you stronger. Each of us will have to defend himself at some point. We should be sure of what we believe so that we can be ready to give an answer to any man who asks.

Secondly, the school was very wrong in expelling the writer. Such an act was cowardly and tyrannical. By kicking him out, the school blatantly infringed upon his constitutional rights. He broke no rule; he broke no law; he told no lie. He merely expressed his opinion in writing, protected by the First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “We punish men for crimes they commit, but never for the opinions [that] they have.” The previous writer committed no crime. What made the administration so angry and so defensive? Was it that he expressed his opinion, because he expressed it in writing, or because he expressed a differing opinion from the one held by the school? The freedom to express what we believe without punishment or suppression is one of the fundamental freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to win for us.

Along with that freedom comes the freedom to read and either accept or reject what we read, which the school effectively took away from the students in expelling Dante. No one forced those who disagreed with him to read his paper. Those who read and agreed did so of their own volition. Another President, John F. Kennedy, said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” What is the school so afraid of? Again, if their beliefs are true, their beliefs should be able to stand the test of one lone voice crying out. And whether or not the school’s beliefs are true, the students have a right to hear both sides and choose for themselves what they believe. BJU stole those rights away by suppressing free speech.

The original writer of The Voice of Truth was not trying to war against BJU. The administration turned it into a war. Obviously, the school, its administration, and its students are not perfect. However, many choose to accept BJU’s rules and regulations without question or thought. So have generations before us. But looking at the history of the school reminds us that BJU has been very wrong before. Most students know that BJU lost its tax-exempt status at some point. Few, however, know why. The school used to prohibit inter-racial dating and inter-racial marriage. In fact, any student who openly disagreed with the school’s stance could be kicked out. Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, such a racist policy could not survive. Dr. Bob III rescinded and apologized for that policy in 2000 on national television. However, I wonder how many who were kicked out for that reason got even so much as an apology letter?

Could it be that just as BJU was wrong with its unconstitutionally racist rules, BJU is just as wrong with its unconstitutionally suppressive rules? Although it’s obvious that, biblically and constitutionally, it was wrong for the school to kick the writer out and to try to suppress the paper, few would say anything. All of you, students and faculty, have a choice. Will we allow this suppression? I still strongly believe that BobJonesUniversity is a good school with many merits and the potential to be a great and shining light for Christ. However, the school’s attitude of stubbornness and tyranny often covers this light in the bushes.

 

Authentic Movement Continued: Holding Safe Space

Last week, I talked about my first experience with Authentic Movement at an herbal conference that I attended recently. Today, I want to follow up with a discussion of safe space and spirituality.

As a cult survivor, I am naturally skittish around spiritual gatherings. As I said last week, my motto tends to be, “Never let anyone get you into a state of anything less than guarded.”

As a psychology graduate and someone who has dedicated my life to researching and understanding cult trauma, I can give you an academic breakdown of the methods cults use to tear a person’s identity down. I have written about my insider’s experience with recruitment here before too.

I know that cult experiences, though often appearing similar, are not the same as spiritual experiences. I can feel the difference between a positive spiritual exchange and an invasive, creepy ambush. But I’m always hung up on the visual similarities.

Some cult psychologists have chosen to take the easy way out. Since cults use trances, meditation, singing, drumming, dancing, and a myriad of other “spiritual” practices to manipulate people, some just view those methods as always dangerous. It makes sense. Why take the chance?

Others, like Margaret Thaler Singer, tentatively leave room for such spiritual practices to be used constructively by non-cult groups as long as participants give informed consent. In her book Cults in our Midst, it is very clearly it’s the lack of full disclosure that marks a cult in her mind.

I think informed consent is so important that it could almost become the sole criteria for differentiating cultic groups from safe groups . . . almost.

It still doesn’t explain how meditation in one space can be perfectly safe but in another space can potentially destroy one’s life. It doesn’t explain how two religious ceremonies can contain similar elements but one is destructive and abusive at its core while another is empowering and positive.

I didn’t go to the Authentic Movement class to learn about the difference between cults and safe groups, but I did stay for that. I was intrigued when the teacher said, “I’m not here tell you what to do. I’m not here to judge, interpret, or project any thoughts onto your movements. I’m only here to hold safe space for you.”

I wanted to find out what that meant. I think part of me might have even stayed because I wanted to see if she could even follow through on that promise.

True to her word, the teacher never said anything, either during or after, about anyone’s movements. The interpretation of what came up was entirely left up to the individual.

In fact, the entire weekend was like that, not just her class.

There were services that were very reminiscent of church from my childhood where we sang “hymns,” had a short meet and greet, were led in prayer, and listened to a speaker. However, unlike in my childhood, I never felt violated, manipulated, or threatened in any way at the herbal conference ceremonies. I was never pressured to make a confession or dedicate my life to a god, goddess, or cause. I wasn’t even expected to attend or participate.

It was so different from my previous experiences of camp at The Wilds that I spent the first day somewhat reeling from the unneeded defensiveness–something akin to the psychological version of when you think you’re picking up something heavy, but it’s actually so light that your arm flies over your head from the unnecessary force applied.

The herbal conference also had rhythmic drums, chants, meditation, yoga, and dancing around bonfires—all things that I know cults can and do use to numb the critical thinking of members, yet the atmosphere was one of openness and freedom. I did not lose myself in the those moments, but I know that I could have and that I would have been honored in my vulnerability, not preyed upon.

What made the difference?

Safe space.

It’s not just the lack of informed consent that makes cults dangerous. It’s the lack of respect for autonomy.

It’s not the tools (meditation, singing, preaching, prayer, etc.) that are the problem; it’s the environment.

Cults don’t care about creating safe space. They create experiences by manipulating your feelings and your perceptions, then they tell you how to interpret those experiences based on their projections of who you are and their judgment of your non-conformity.

But healthy spiritual groups don’t do that. They merely offer a place in which you can have your own experiences and interpret them for yourself. The spiritual leader’s job, whether it be a pastor, priestess, or guru, isn’t to guide you to where they are. It’s to hold you without judgment, interpretation, or projection as you guide yourself.