Report From the Bob Jones University Sexual Abuse Seminar — Part 3
Most of my time for this post was eaten up hoofing it a ridiculously far distance in the Wash DC Dulles airport. After getting back to Portland last night, my brain was not functional enough to write. So, I finally get to it here.
The last session Wednesday evening was on the topic of your church and media relations. The speaker was Pamela Snyder who holds degrees in this field. She did an excellent job. Initially I thought that this subject was going to simply be how to spin things with the media and protect your reputation. The whole subject certainly has elements of that, but I do think Pamela was quite sincere and that she shared some very practical wisdom. Wisdom which, as I will mention in a moment, the BJU administration should have paid more serious attention to in Thursday morning’s opening sessions.
The Q&A time Thursday AM was insightful. As was consistent through this whole seminar, the 5 speakers who had given earlier presentations, sat on the panel and were very good. They get it because they work right in the middle of abuse victims and the courts and law enforcement and the whole scene.
Our book was finally mentioned to the whole audience on Thursday morning, and we appreciate this. That announcement created an increased flurry of activity later at the Calvary Press book table. I was hoping that in the course of announcing the book they would also recognize that I was present at the seminar, but they stopped short of that. In fact, my name was never mentioned and my presence at the conference was never acknowledged — only the book title. Sure, I have to watch out for a petty bruised ego here, but I hope that my motive in mentioning this is to show the existence of a climate that is intensely distrustful of anything or anyone outside its defined perimeter. I understand that the faculty at BJU don’t know me or much about me. And they certainly have a duty to guard against endorsing an unbiblical resource. But in my opinion the distrust there is unreasonable and detrimental to everyone there. They should have even had books like Lundy Bancroft’s there for people to buy, but their isolation from “the world” is cutting them off from many, many excellent resources like this. Worse, it is bringing great harm to many people because it produces what I conclude to be an unbiblical “biblical counseling” philosophy that is deficient in wisdom.
Thursday morning the assistant to the president of BJU read a prepared statement to all of us, then again later to the gathered student body during the chapel. He explained how BJU had contracted with an organization called GRACE to serve as what he called the school’s “ombudsman.” Their assignment is to be an objective third party to review and comprehensively study BJU’s past, present and future handling of sexual abuse occurrences. He said that the school may have not properly handled such cases in the past and that the president wanted to take definitive steps to correct this.
Now, that sounds all well and good. But remember the media expert lady, Pamela Snyder? I am almost positive that she would have been sitting there in the audience absolutely cringing as this fellow made his presentation to us. Why? Because (as everyone who attended Pamela’s Wednesday evening presentation also knew) he violated almost every single fundamental rule that she had talked about! He was a “suit.” He was sharply dressed in suit and tie. His hair was slicked back. And he read his statement. Guess what? You CANNOT convey sincerity and genuine sorrow via a read statement. I told a couple of people there that if I had been able to have our blog readers be present during that guy’s presentation, they would have been looking around for rotten tomatoes! It just didn’t work. It wasn’t believable.
Later, I went back up to our book table and as I said there were noticeably more people there looking at the book and some bought a copy. I had the opportunity to talk with a young pastor there who asked me about a scenario in his own church that involved a sexual offender who had molested numerous children. As we talked, I went on to tell him about the book and how this issue of sexual abuse shares many common dynamics with domestic abuse, including the common grievous errors that churches and pastors make in handling these things. We were connecting — until I mentioned my conclusion that abuse is biblical grounds for divorce. Typically, he went silent and was noticeably uncomfortable. He said “but we must obey God’s Word.” And he meant it. I think he is a sincere Christian who is zealous to obey the Lord. But I told him, “yes, we must obey God’s Word. But in doing so, we had better be sure that it is God’s Word we are obeying and not the traditions of men.” I then gave him the following example:
This last year you might remember the horrible and tragic death of a young mother and her two young daughters in Ohio in a Cracker Barrel restaurant. We blogged about it. The abuser father/husband, when his wife told him in this public place that she and the girls were leaving him, went out to the car. She called the police but just before they arrived the abuser came back in with a shotgun and killed all three of them. Right there! Could you imagine it? He then was killed by the police as he came out of the restaurant.
Now, I continued, lets assume that the mother had survived. And let’s say that the abuser was taken into custody by the police. And I asked that young pastor, “are you going to tell that poor lady that she is forbidden by God to divorce that demon?”
He was silent.
You see, we KNOW that to insist that God demands these victims to stay married to these devils is ludicrous. That it is cruel and unjust and absolutely incomprehensible. It makes no sense. And yet, since so many of us were taught that “God hates divorce” (sorry for using that term Barbara), this is exactly what we tell these people. Although, you know what? I am seeing increasingly that behind closed doors with the qualifier “you didn’t hear if from me,” some pastors and “authorities” are saying — “well, it is sad, but go ahead and divorce.”
When our interpretation of Scripture makes no sense in that it is totally inconsistent with the very character of God who desires MERCY and not sacrifice, then we can be sure that our take on God’s Word is WRONG!
Finally, there was a chapel message preached by Pastor Ken Casillas, and it was excellent. Dr. Casillas is on the BJU seminary faculty and is also a pastor in the Greenville area. He addressed the matter of how we can help victims of sexual abuse. One point he made particularly stands out in my mind because it goes right up against some of the hardcore “biblical counseling” that we often run into. He said that we must remember that we are not writing a seminary paper in these cases, but that we are dealing with human beings. And too often, he acknowledged, we have run to force “forgiveness” upon them and to accuse them of being “angry” in a sinful way, and he said this is absolutely wrong. I greatly appreciated his message.
In summary then, what was my experience at the seminar? I can say that I am very glad that I went. I had a chance to put our book in the hands of some key people. I was encouraged by the speakers themselves. And I can also say from this firsthand observation that our Cry for Justice needs to keep on sounding because we cannot assume that just because this seminar was held that anything of substance is really going to change. The seminar still lacked any forum for victims to tell everyone how they suffered at the hands of their “Christian” abuser and how they suffered even more when they went to their pastor and church for help. That remains the untold story and we must keep telling it.