Investigative Report: Sex Abuse at Fundamentalist U

HT: DW

Are fundamentalist universities guilty of encouraging sex abuse? Does “purity culture” encourage predators? Does the environment at fundamentalist universities force victims, at best, to suffer in silence and shame?

We don’t have all the answers, but the GRACE report of sex abuse at Bob Jones University offers a few clues. Short answer: BJU is guilty of establishing an idiosyncratic administration and campus culture that punished victims and rewarded loyalty over caring and competence.

I’ve taken some heat in the past for wondering if fundamentalist universities had been targeted unfairly on this subject. Certainly, fundamentalist schools have done a terrible job in handling sexual assault and abuse. But so have secular and liberal schools. Wasn’t it possible, I asked, that the no-drinking, no-partying culture at fundamentalist colleges helped deter some cases of assault? Given the large number of alcohol-fueled assault cases recently, I still think these are fair questions.

In spite of such questions, however, the recent GRACE report paints a damning picture of Bob Jones University. I’ll repeat: I do not think it is fair to assume that conservative schools will somehow automatically do a worse job of handling abuse and assault cases than other schools. However, the GRACE report points to systemic problems at BJU that are likely shared by smaller, less prestigious fundamentalist colleges and schools.

As I see it, BJU has failed in two significant ways. First, it has insisted on a climate in which student complaints of any kind were viewed as a moral failing for the complainer. Second, since the 1930s BJU has maintained a policy of rewarding staff loyalty over any other concern. As a result, leading administrators were woefully—perhaps even criminally—incompetent to deal with student victims of sexual abuse and assault.

I do not make these charges lightly. Nor do I have any personal animus toward BJU or other fundamentalist colleges. But the record is clear.

First, some brief facts of the case. Two years ago, administrators at BJU commissioned an outside study of their response to abuse claims. In itself, this sort of outside examination made a clear break with BJU tradition. The assembled commission, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or GRACE, recently published its findings. BJU’s current leader, Steven Pettit, has apologized for any suffering the university has caused or ignored.

That is a start. The university, in my opinion, has two main faults for which it needs to apologize.

First, the leaders of the school have insisted for decades on one cardinal rule: No “griping.” Students who complain have been consistently treated as disloyal, or at least suspicious. For example, in one statement made by the founder, Bob Jones Sr., on June 19, 1953, Jones advised the BJU community of the first rule: “Griping not tolerated, but constructive suggestions appreciated.”

In practice, the culture at BJU has promoted a suffer-in-silence mentality.

Second, and perhaps more problematic, hiring and promotion practices at BJU have encouraged loyalty above all other factors, including competence. In cases of abuse and assault, this has led to terrible consequences. As the GRACE report documents, administrator Jim Berg handled many abuse reports since 1981. Time after time, Berg demonstrated his lack of preparation. For a while, Berg was unaware of South Carolina’s mandatory-reporting law.

The blame here belongs to more than Berg alone. Berg’s leadership role was the product of an institutional culture that valued loyalty first. Berg’s decisions and professional intuitions were the product of a culture that saw itself as removed from all obligations to the outside world.

The evidence for this loyalty-first culture is abundant. In the same 1953 statement referred to above, Bob Jones Sr. warned faculty that he had an obligation to fire anyone “who is not loyal.” This statement came in the wake of mass resignations at the school in 1952 and 1953.

That was not the only time the school’s leaders made their emphasis on loyalty clear. In 1936, just before another group firing, Bob Jones Sr. warned one faculty member,

First: There must be absolute loyalty to the administration. If something happens in the administration which you do not like, your protest is your resignation. If you stay here you must not under any circumstances criticise [sic] the administration.

The results of such a sustained policy are clear. Those who remained in leadership positions at BJU were rewarded for loyalty first, competence second. In the case of student abuse and assault, such an emphasis left students in the hands of utterly unprepared administrators.

All schools—all institutions—can suffer from incompetence, of course, but the BJU policy of loyalty-first intentionally undervalued professional competence.

It bears repeating that BJU’s current leader has apologized for these faults. As he put it,

I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault …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.

And, sadly, we must remember that fundamentalist institutions are by no means alone in establishing and protecting cultures of abuse. Other religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, and other colleges, such as Penn State University, have similarly criminal histories.

As it might at those institutions, perhaps the future at BJU and other fundamentalist universities will be brighter than the past.

Why Don’t More College Christians Fight Campus Rape?

The fight against sexual assault on college campuses has cranked into high gear. At least one conservative intellectual is asking where the conservatives are in this fight. We could get even more specific: Where are all the campus Christians? Wouldn’t it make sense for conservative religious folks to lead the charge against drunken fornication?

California attracted attention recently for its new “yes means yes” law. Both (or all) partners in any sexual activity must give continuing and explicit consent to every new advance. Just because someone grinds on the dance floor, the reasoning goes, she or he has not consented to sex. Even the White House has gotten involved, launching a task force to investigate campus rape culture.

Allies in the fight against hook-up culture?

Allies in the fight against hook-up culture?

In this week’s Weekly Standard, Heather Mac Donald wonders why more conservatives aren’t participating in the current campaign against campus rape. As she puts it,

Sexual liberation is having a nervous breakdown on college campuses. Conservatives should be cheering on its collapse; instead they sometimes sound as if they want to administer the victim smelling salts.

She argues that the so-called “epidemic” of campus rape is a figment of the overheated leftist imagination. Yet Mac Donald acknowledges that college leftists have succeeded in their fight to redefine sexuality on many college campuses. They have done so, Mac Donald writes, by unintentionally creating a “bizarre hybrid of liberationist and traditionalist values.”

As we’ve seen, some evangelical groups have found themselves at loggerheads with secular schools. Why don’t they jump on this bandwagon? Could campus evangelical groups such as Intervarsity Christian Fellowship build bridges to campus feminists on this issue?

In the past, we’ve seen efforts in this direction. This same not-coalition of feminists and cultural conservatives has struggled to come together to fight against pornography.

Of course, what seems like an obvious partnership has even more obvious reasons to stay separate. Even when both groups staunchly oppose pornography or fornication, their yawning differences tend to split them apart.

The new batch of anti-rape rules, for example, never suggest that casual sex should be avoided. Rather, the rules imply that pleasurable, consensual sex is a valuable experience.  Schools should improve this experience, not eliminate it. In other words, the new campus affirmative consent rules do not hope to limit fornication, but rather to encourage it by making it safer and more pleasurable for all. As one proponent of affirmative-consent laws put it, “good communication between sexual partners can be fun, even sexy.”

It might make conservative campus Christians a little queasy to become political partners with activists who have this sort of attitude about the proper relationship between sexual partners. But historically, conservative evangelicals have managed to forge political partnerships with other groups they found theologically objectionable.

Perhaps the most dramatic example has been in the fight against abortion rights. As historians such as Daniel Williams have demonstrated, at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, many conservative evangelical Protestants viewed the anti-abortion cause as a peculiarly Catholic issue. Yet over time, the pro-life cause united conservative Protestants with conservative Catholics. Though it may be hard to remember in retrospect, for decades—centuries even—conservative evangelicals viewed the Catholic Church as the embodiment of the Anti-Christ. For evangelicals to team up with Catholics required—for some—an enormous amount of nose-holding.

Couldn’t conservative evangelicals do the same here? They don’t need to agree with the sexual-liberationist ideology that guides many campus activists. Instead, they could partner with feminists to fight campus rape, while maintaining their own very different reasons for doing so.

Conservatives Blast the “Myth” of Rape Culture

Why do some conservative thinkers insist that anti-rape-culture activism is a fraud? That “rape culture” itself is a myth?

As we’ve seen in these pages, talk about rape culture is often tied to the atmosphere of colleges and universities. And it is understandably an incredibly sensitive subject. Even asking about the nature of rape culture can be seen as truckling to rapists and those who hope to explain rape away.

Full disclosure: I am one of those who thinks that denying this problem is part of the problem. I agree that colleges and universities need actively to confront cultures that encourage sexual assault. For too long, college administrators have winked at the “boys will be boys” attitudes that lie at the heart of rape culture. In these pages, I have asked whether this is worse at conservative Christian colleges. I have wondered if non-denominational Christian schools, “fundamentalist” schools such as Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College have a harder or easier time dealing with these issues. In those cases, I was accused of apologizing for sexual assault myself.

And watch: I won’t be surprised if I am accused of supporting rape culture for writing these words as well.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because there’s a new question that stumps me. Why do some conservative intellectuals attack the very notion of rape culture? What is “conservative” about dismissing the existence of rape culture on college campuses?

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

This past week, we’ve seen Caroline Kitchens of the American Enterprise Institute denouncing the “hysteria” over rape culture in the pages of Time Magazine. Kitchens asserted that there is no rape culture. There is no culture, that is, in which rape is apologized for and excused. America as a whole loathes rape and despises rapists, Kitchens points out. “Rape culture” only exists in the imaginations of over privileged college students and their tame faculty. Colleges such as Boston University and Wellesley ban pop songs and harmless statues as an overblown response to such rape-culture myths, Kitchens writes.

Kitchens claims the support of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). She cites a recent RAINN letter to a White House Task Force. In order to help victims of sexual assault on college campuses, this RAINN letter asserts, administrators should understand that these are the acts of criminal individuals, not the result of a nebulous cultural trend.

It is rape-culture stereotypes themselves that absolve abusers of responsibility, Kitchens argues. “By blaming so-called rape culture,” she concludes, “we implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence.”

Kitchens is not alone. In the pages of the conservative higher-ed watchdog Minding the Campus, KC Johnson has agreed recently that “rape culture” is a “delusion,” the product of overheated leftist imaginations. Johnson, a high-profile historian from Brooklyn College, worries that campuses from Dartmouth to Occidental to Duke suffer from an overabundance of intellectual cowardice and groupthink. “Fawning” media coverage has allowed for “transparently absurd allegations,” Johnson writes. Plus, harping on “rape culture,” Johnson argues, allows “activists to shift the narrative away from uncomfortable questions about due process and false accusations against innocent male students, and toward a cultural critique in which the facts of specific cases can be deemed irrelevant.” Finally, the blunt instrument of “rape-culture” accusations provides activists with “a weapon to advance a particular type of gender-based agenda.”

Such claims are intensely controversial. But before we examine the legitimacy of these arguments, we need to ask a more basic question: Why do conservative intellectuals make them? Now, I understand Johnson is no conservative himself. But it is telling that conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute and Minding the Campus are the ones hosting these anti-rape-culture accusations.

Is there something “conservative” about disputing the existence of rape culture? Is “rape culture” a leftist ploy to assert (more) control over college campuses? To tighten the screws of the academic thought police? Or is something more profound at work? Do these conservative voices dispute the existence of rape culture in order to perpetuate traditional gender roles?