The fundamentalist college fired GRACE, the investigator it hired to look into allegations of sexual abuse there — this, as the investigative report was nearing completion. RNS reports:
In December, BJU president Stephen Jones announced his resignation due to health concerns, a point made in its termination letter to GRACE.
“This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered,” a press release from GRACE said.
The investigation was led by Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, who said he has no further comment. Tchividjian, who blogs for Religion News Service, wrote Friday on why Christians struggle to report sex abuse claims.
“At the heart of the struggle is a fear that is rooted in the need to self-protect,” he wrote. “All such ‘fears’ are usually masked by a rationale that the reporting of such abuse may ‘damage the reputation of Christ.’”
GRACE was similarly fired last year by an independent Baptist missions agency shortly before it could conclude another abuse investigation of missionary children.
A spokesperson for the university said the school was committed to moving forward – either with GRACE or another third party – to finish the project and publish a public report.
We can’t know at this point, but BJU’s actions make it sound like GRACE was getting too close to the truth. Former BJU student Erin Burchwell, who claims she was molested at least 40 times, believes so, and told a Greenville, SC, TV station that there was a cover-up at the religious college:
Burchwell said the GRACE investigation would have validated her claim.
“I’ve been told for 15 years not to talk about it, but now I’m allowed to talk about it to somebody who’s validating me and telling me that I was wronged.” Burchwell said.
She grew up on Bob Jones campus and attended BJU in the late 90s. She says that’s when a male graduate student assaulted her over a period of several months.
“He did not rape me, so it can’t be considered a rape case,” Burchwell said. “But he molested me multiple times. I mean, probably 40 or more times.”
Burchwell claims when her parents finally reported the assaults to university administrators, they were told not to go to the police.
Burchwell says administrators also tried to blame what happened on her clothing.
“What was I wearing when all these incidents occurred? What did I have on? Was it tight? Was it low? Obviously, the point being it was somehow my fault,” she said.
Bob Jones University is about to find out the first rule of modern crisis management: trying to prevent the truth from coming out not only fails, usually, but also causes worse problems for you in the long run. If there really were victims of abuse at BJU, may they find the strength to come forward on the record, and challenge the alleged culture of cover-up at the school. And may the news media see the smoke signals that sacking GRACE sends up, and start looking for the hidden fire at BJU.