Petition Demanding BJU Apologize for Rape Counseling Reaches 7,000 Signatures in 4 Days

Update: 5 days later, the petition has reached 14,000 signatures.

After an Al Jazeera America report found evidence that BJU has systematically counseled rape victims to “repent” and “forgive” their abusers, an online petition begun in response to that report has amassed over 7,000 signatures in under a week.

The petition asks BJU to change its counseling tactics and apologize to those affected.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

In 2011, a petition signed by just 1,200 BJU alumni and others resulted in the resignation of Chuck Phelps from the school’s cooperating board.

Here’s Leaked Audio of Steve Pettit’s First Faculty/Staff Town Hall as BJU President

We were just sent this file, a recording of the June 16th, 2014 faculty/staff meeting, Steve Pettit’s first such meeting as President. Stephen Jones typically used these town halls as a chance to summarize the University’s current status, and Pettit appears to be following that example.


A few notes from the recording:

-Pettit says his first 30 days as President have been a “whirlwind,” but that he’s been impressed by the school and finds the job to be “a great blessing.”

-A Q&A session follows, with Gary Weier reading faculty/staff submitted questions and Pettit answering. Live questions are also taken.

-Pettit says Marshall Franklin and Weier have briefed him several times on the ongoing GRACE investigation, and that he’s proud of Stephen Jones for making BJU “the first faith-based organization” in America to undergo this kind of review (not strictly true). Pettit gave no details of how the report is going but said it will be released by August 31st at the latest.

-Pettit admits that BJU’s enrollment has declined significantly over the last 5-7 years. He plans to increase enrollment by personally calling prospective students and keeping “a very busy schedule” visiting BJU’s feeder churches.

-Pettit says he “completely supports” BJU’s music philosophy, although he considers himself “a centrist” on the issue.

-Pettit does not believe the Bruins sports program has become too expensive.

-Pettit says he “did not come to change BJU” but “to serve at the good pleasure of the Board” and “keep us on our mission.” He says he “has no changes on the horizon.”

-BJU has cut financial ties with a school it was invested in in China.

We’ve updated our Leaked Files page with this newly leaked file, and we’ll continue to publish anything we are sent.


BJU Responds to Our “Character Probation” Post, Contests Details

Responding to our leaked document posted yesterday, BJU PR man and conservative political activist Randy Page commented on a BJU News Facebook post in an attempt to clarify the school’s “Character Probation” program.

Page did not contest the legitimacy of the letter we posted.

Instead, commenting as the official BJU Facebook account, Page claimed that the program is not new and is minor in scope. This conflicts a few details our source provided us with yesterday.

Click here to see Page’s comment on Facebook, or see below for a screenshot.



BJU to Implement New “Character Probation” Program for “Struggling” Upperclassmen


Clarification: our first version of this post stated that this letter was sent to any upperclassman who was not a “spiritual leader.” In fact, this letter was sent to a smaller group, those who had not been “recommended” for such a leadership position. Although smaller, we still believe the impact of this letter is significant enough to print here.

Update: Please see BJU’s response to this post here.

BJU has transitioned to a new “Character Probation” program for upperclassmen who have not been selected recommended for either of the new dorm leadership positions (“Assistant Group Leader” or “Group Leader”, which have replaced the “Assistant Prayer Captain” and “Prayer Captain” positions). A letter has been sent to any upperclassmen who will be on “Character Probation” next semester, a copy of which has been obtained by BJU News and appears below.


“Character Probation,” while supposedly “not primarily intended to be a disciplinary action,” is clearly a way for BJU admins to keep tabs on students who aren’t fitting the mold.

If you’re a BJU student who’s been targeted by this new program, feel free to leave a note on your experiences in the comments here. And you can always email us anonymously.


New Gothard Revelations Hint at BJU’s Ugly History of Abuse

Recovering Grace, a website dedicated to publishing documents and stories related to abuse in Bill Gothard’s various organizations, has recently unearthed a few troubling tidbits that point to similarly abusive tactics used at BJU over the years.

Recovering Grace has been in operation since 2011, but has made headlines in recent weeks because its revelations finally reached critical mass, resulting in Gothard being put on administrative leave by his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (known as the Institue in Basic Youth Conflicts during its early days). You can read more about this news from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, among many others.

The scandal involves a wide array of allegations spanning decades. According to dozens of victims who’ve told their stories on Recovering Grace and in its comments, Gothard and other IBYC leaders used their “spiritual authority” to control, abuse and manipulate employees, mainly young women. Gothard himself stands accused of sexual harassment and failure to report child abuse, among other things.

An investigation of this scale necessarily implicates more than one organization, and in this case BJU is among those named. In 1980, two BJU officials (only one is named, a Rev. Van Gelderen) were summoned by Gothard to help him downplay a scandal that was about to overwhelm his multi-million dollar ministry. You can read more about that scandal on Recovering Grace, but suffice to say that the two BJU men were used by Gothard in his attempt to hush up accusations of sexual harassment against Gothard’s brother. Gothard asked the two BJU officials to help convince the IBYC board not to send a letter to supporters admitting the scandal and apologizing, and they obliged. Their plot failed, however, and when the board overruled Gothard and the BJU staffers and demanded that the sexual harassment be dealt with, Van Galderen reportedly reversed his stance and regretted coming at all. This incident is a fascinating parallel to BJU’s current PR troubles, as the school clearly still clings to a strategy of withholding potentially damaging information until the story has already exploded in the media.

Most damaging in this narrative, though, is a remark Van Gelderen made to the IBYC board when trying to dissuade them from properly handling sexual abuse:

They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.”

This ominous declaration can only mean one thing: in the 1980s, BJU already had a firm process in place for dealing with cases of sexual harassment and scandal within its administration. Whatever else that process might entail, it’s clear from Van Gelderen’s testimony here that covering up information and keeping supporters in the dark was key. Here’s the full text of this passage:

At the end of May 1980, discussions were still ongoing as the directors and staff attempted to approve a draft for a letter explaining the situation to the seminar alumni pastors. Bill was strongly against sending out this letter, but IBYC staff and leadership had almost completely lost confidence in his judgment by this time. Bill had lost control over his staff, and he knew it. They refused to remain under Bill’s asserted authority and were insisting upon straightforward and public transparency about the scandal. Bill pulled in two men from Bob Jones University—the administrative vice president and a BJU board member, Rev. Van Geldren, to help confront the staff. The BJU delegation rebuked the staff, stating that “a letter to pastors should not be sent out, and that it was wrong to inform the pastors and supporters of the Institute what was happening.” They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at the [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.” In the end, though, Bill did send out a letter. The public and the media had picked up on the story, and he decided that he needed to make a statement.

In a sharp turn of events, two days after confronting the staff, Rev. Van Geldren had already apologized to the chief pilot (who was involved in uncovering the scandal) for his blind support of Bill, and apparently informed him that he had come to the conclusion that Bill could not be trusted. Rev. Van Geldren then did what we pray many parents are doing right now as they read these reports thirty years later—he withdrew his daughter from working at the Institute.

The second incident reported by Recovering Grace involves one of BJU’s longest-serving (1967-2013) Board members, John McLario. McLario was called in by Gothard to be a replacement for his father as IBYC chairman and president. This revelation shows a strong connection between BJU and Gothard’s ministry at this time, and a willingness on McLario’s part to help smooth over the scandal that was then threatening to destroy the IBYC. McLario did more than just accept the positions at IBYC, however. On his first day as new leader of the IBYC, McLario demanded that all of Gothard’s former staff, many of whom were victims of sexual harassment, declare their allegiance to the IBYC or lose their jobs. Here’s the full quote:

The media frenzy was being held at bay with partial truths about mishandling of Institute properties. Some prominent members of the IBYC staff and of the evangelical community began to step forward to help handle things. John McLario, an attorney and executive council for Bob Jones University, was asked on July 8, 1980, to take over as IBYC president and chairman of the board. William Gothard, Sr., submitted his resignation to the IBYC board on this same day. McLario took a heavy-handed approach to what he believed to be a rebellious staff. According to one timeline, “McLario meets with the entire staff and, without anybody saying who he was, he commenced to inform the entire staff that they have one hour to decide to resign immediately from the ministry or continue to work without any more resistance or questions. This action of McLario was fully supported by the Board and Bill Gothard.” At least one of the girls who had been involved with Steve received a phone call from McLario pressing her to remain compliant and silent about all that had happened (we are told this inspired exactly the opposite reaction from her). Within days, approximately one-half of the IBYC staff had resigned or been fired…

…As is often the case in fact versus fiction, what happened next was both anti-climactic and profoundly remarkable. John McLario abruptly resigned only seventeen days after assuming Institute leadership, reportedly to avoid dealing publicly with his own alleged sexual immorality.

Drawing conclusions from these incidents is simple enough: some of BJU’s highest-ranking, longest-serving and most-respected leaders were complicit in the horrifying abuses perpetrated by Gothard and his minions upon their staff. BJU was the first place Gothard turned to when he needed people to help him cover up scandal. And according to his own words, a respected BJU leader said that BJU, even in 1980, was already long practiced in “handling” scandals in a manner meant to protect leadership and silence victims.

BJU Quietly Cuts Four More Majors [Update: No]

Update: BJU has responded to this news, citing a “technical issue” and adding majors back.

BJU has removed four majors from its list of offered programs:


-Journalism and Mass Communications

-Health and Fitness Recreation

-Pre-Physical Therapy
Back in 2012, BJU cut or consolidated dozens of its academic programs at the request of its Academic Counsel in response to declining enrollment and shrinking faculty. But that change came with at least some warning in the form of documents leaked by BJU News.

This change was done quietly, with no announcement. The only way to see the changes is to compare this Wayback Machine cache of the website with its current contents. The four majors above were cut sometime between February 13th of this year and today.
The most likely explanations for the changes are, by now, familiar: declining enrollment, lack of funds and scarcity of teachers. Another possibility is that BJU is prepping to submit its application to SACS and needs to eliminate any programs that aren’t up to par in some way. SACS applicants are not allowed to make any changes to academic programs after an application is submitted (see Page 37 of that link).

BJU and GRACE Agree to Complete Investigation, BJU Promises “Commitment to a Thorough, Transparent and Objective Review”

Bob Jones University announced today that GRACE will continue and complete its investigation into the school’s history and policies regarding sexual abuse.

Nearly three weeks after abruptly terminating its contract with GRACE, BJU now says the two organizations are “united in our commitment to a thorough, transparent and objective review.”

The announcement comes as a seeming victory for all sides of this controversy, as supporters and detractors of the University alike decried BJU’s termination of GRACE and called, nearly unanimously, for their reinstatement.

GRACE has not, as of yet, commented on the announcement.

BJU published a Q&A about the recent events here, which among other things plainly answers the accusations of its critics:

Of note here are a number of subtle attempts by BJU to spin this announcement, and re-define the last month of news as nothing controversial:

-BJU acknowledges on its Timeline that the GRACE contract was terminated, but still tries to get away with using the word “suspended” several times in the Q&A.

-BJU attempts to frame the GRACE investigation as a “review”–as primarily an administrative action meant to update BJU’s policies and ensure the school meets legal requirements. However, the main focus of the GRACE review has been on victims who have spoken out about the school’s neglect and systemic abuse.

-BJU seems confused about whether or not any victims do, indeed, exist. Under the Q&A, the question is posed:

“Did GRACE discover any instances of abuse that were not properly reported to authorities?”

To which the answer is given:

To date, BJU has received no report that GRACE has discovered any BJU or BJA abuse reporting obligations.

Then, in another section of the Q&A:

It is for the sake of these individuals that BJU went to great lengths to resolve our differences with GRACE. We are deeply grieved by the pain and disappointment these individuals have experienced.

BJU appears stuck between refusing to admit that any real grievances exist against it (see the “underserved” verbiage) and its obligation to admit that the GRACE investigation is happening for a reason.

Despite the PR spin from the University, this announcement is good news for all sides. Victims and critics of the school will finally see their stories aired in public, and by a third party that BJU won’t be able to influence. Supporters and defenders of the school can at least know that BJU is no longer attempting to hide or stamp out GRACE’s findings. All that’s left now, as before, is to wait.