Religions become cults when they expect their followers to obey its directives without question. Ministers become cult leaders when they seek complete control over their believers. Bob Jones University fits these descriptions.
A year-long investigation of BJU by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or GRACE, suggested that at least two men be disciplined relating to charges of sexual assault. The university will not comply.
University President Steve Pettit disagreed with GRACE. Although he did not release the names of the men singled out in the investigation, they are believed to be Bob Jones III, the chancellor and grandson of the founder, and Jim Berg, who performed most of the counseling which was the focus of the complaint.
When students filed complaints of sexual abuse on campus, Berg, with Jones’ approval, allegedly were told that they ‘brought the abuse upon themselves.’ They were also directed not to file a formal complaint with the authorities.
Berg served in his capacity as a counselor for 30 years. GRACE recommended that he be banned from counseling, and that the school should cease sales of his books and DVD’s. Pettit refused to comply.
Jeffrey Hoffman was born on the campus and attended school there through high school. GRACE interviewed him about an alleged sexual molestation at the age of nine by a BJU staffer. After Pettit’s response, he said that apparently nothing will change, and he was disappointed.
Of those students who filed complaints of sexual abuse 60 percent were made to feel shame for having done so. One-third told GRACE that they feared retribution by the school if they followed through with their complaint.
Pettit claims that policies for counseling students have twice been re-written, and that a separate counselor has been appointed for women.
Previous reports from women who sought assistance and counseling from BJU said that they were told that it was their fault for the way they dressed and acted around the young men who abused them.
Is this another case of religious institutions making up the rules as they fumble through situations for which they have not been adequately trained? Or is this another effort by a religious organization to seek complete control over the minds of young men and women?
Those who sexually attack and abuse weaker individuals are not only despicable, but cowardly. Reading publications regarding rape and sexual abuse, psychiatrists tell us that these attacks are more about physical dominance than sexual gratification.
Are institutions which refuse to acknowledge the fact that sexual relations are not only a normal, but also a necessary segment of human existence and growth, partly to blame for cases of abuse? Wouldn’t they be wiser to instruct students about safe and responsible sexual relations instead of strongly suggesting abstinence as the only acceptable response to sexual urges?
Many Americans consider all religions cults. Religious institutions direct their followers in all matters of life. Rebellion against religions by younger men and women in our society are the result of a refusal to have another individual tell another how to live their lives. Religious leaders believe they are the authority regarding what is right or wrong. They apparently doubt that those they preach to lack a conscience or a sense of morality.
BJU is a private school. Parents and their children make a conscious choice to attend the university and abide by it precepts. Although sexual abuse is a hideous crime, those who attend universities such as BJU are indicating that they will accept whatever occurs on the campus, and trust school administrators to act wisely in all matters.
By James Turnage