Author’s Note: I wrote this article for BJUnity several months ago and recently rediscovered it in my drafts folder. The chapel services mentioned in the article took place in November 2013, and audio of the services was given to us so that it would be made available to anyone who wants to know what goes on behind the chapel doors of Fundamentalism (thanks to our good friends at BJU News).
Since these horrendous and completely misinformed attempts at “explaining” homosexuality, BJU has been in the media again for its firing of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.), a third-party organization hired by the University to investigate, objectively, how Bob Jones U handles reports of sexual abuse. GRACE worked for over a year collecting surveys filled out by past and present students as well as conducting interviews in person and over the phone. I was one of those participants. Even though I never had an in-person interview, the entire process was still exhausting and terrifying. Even though I, personally, have never been sexually abused, per say, I was sexually harassed, both in regular life and at BJU. I had a stalker for two years on campus (another student) and was told that he would receive “spiritual counseling” if it continued and that I should trust God. Never once was I encouraged to report this student to the police. Never once was I informed that stalking is a punishable offense by the law. Also, while at Bob Jones, on a mission trip actually, I and the other women on the mission team were forced to sit through a scolding by our male team leader, in front of the males in our group as well, as he came down rather harshly on how we dressed. Now, none of us ladies are what you might call curvy, and what prompted this talk was that three young Korean men who were practicing martial arts outside the subway station came up to one of the girls in our group and told her she was beautiful. Our team leader told us that if we’d been appropriately dressed, that would have never happened, that those young men were lusting and that it was our fault for being immodest. I remember feeling skeezy afterward, sick to my stomach that we’d just been objectified by this man for “the glory of God.”
All that providing some sort of context–about a month before GRACE was due to finalize its report on BJU’s handling of reports of sexual abuse, BJU inexplicably fired GRACE. This created an uproar in several different communities–Greenville, SC, Fundamentalist circles, Evangelical circles, etc, and even was picked up by the New York Times. After three weeks of going nowhere, BJU rehired GRACE. I would encourage anyone to read the links posted here, as they give much more information than what I can adequately express.
So much thanks to friends and allies all across the country who are getting involved to shine the light of love and truth inside the dark, dank caves of Fundamentalist mentality that is so rampant in institutions such as Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College: John Shore, Unfundamentalist Christians, Phil Snider, and Hannah Proctor, just to name a few. This fight is just about gay rights in the church or in the country. It’s about exposing the toxins and spiritual abuse that permeate nearly every interaction with Fundamentalist culture and the hold it has on our society, much to the dismay of those who have never encountered it first-hand. It’s for Christians and pagans and agnostics and atheists and Hindus and Buddhists. It’s a human rights issue, and we are working every day to illuminate more.
This week, every chapel service at Bob Jones University is dedicated to the Biblical response to homosexuality. Upon hearing this news, my heart sank for every single student that has to sit through these services. The harm these services create in everyone who listens is impossible to describe.
I don’t remember a lot of details that dealt with homosexuality specifically from my time at Bob Jones University . What I do remember is, I believe, very telling. My sophomore year, Bob Jones III read an “angry” letter from a lesbian woman as proof that homosexuality creates, or is possibly a result of, utter depravity. While I don’t recall everything the letter said, I know that the writer said she no longer believed the lies she’d heard as a student at BJU so many years ago. “Dr. Bob” ripped into her in a way that shocked me. At the time, I couldn’t say for sure what I believed about my own sexuality (doubting it, I’m sure, at odds with myself), but the vitriolic tone he took toward her in his public response exhibited nothing of Christlike behavior. He took pride and pleasure at being able to tear her down. I remember my surprise then anger that a professed man of God could and would hide behind the mask of Christian superiority to mock and publicly humiliate, slander, and destroy the reputation of another human being. He, of course, followed this up with the familiar plea to the student body that if “this University ever falls away from God, close the doors of this institution,” or something like that.
Another incident I remember happened the second semester of my freshman year when George W. Bush was looking at making DOMA more hetero-friendly (as if it weren’t already). Bob Jones III begged us as students to write to our Senators and Representatives to back up the President and protect America for God. Much to my dismay today, I wrote to my Senator, pleading that she support marriage between one man and one woman. Today, I am so ashamed of this action on my part. What surprised me is that she wrote me back, explaining states’ rights and why DOMA violated these rights. She encouraged me to contact her with any further questions. Now, I don’t believe that if I would have written back that she would remember me. But I was impressed, and quieted, by her graceful response to my emotional outburst. I began to think that perhaps all I knew was wrong.
Artist’s Series September 2002 at BJU
I remember the general attitude amongst the student body toward the homosexual lifestyle and gay agenda to be reflective of the administration’s attitude. First, everyone really thought that there is a gay agenda and that it is to tear down the family, the nation, and the will of God. Apparently this made it ok to vilify and mock those who “struggle with same-sex attraction.” My sophomore year, one of the biggest stories in the women’s dorms was of a group of five women who were kicked out for allegedly showering together in a massive lesbian orgy. People weren’t shocked so much; they were disgusted and made crude jokes. Another example of the culture toward the gay community was that for a period of time (maybe still today) one of the male dorms was known as the “gay” dorm. Guys would make jokes about being molested at night, waking up with sore rear ends, etc. At the time, it was all a part of being a student at Bob Jones University. Having been out of that for several years now, I see it as being, at best, a horrific denial of sexual abuse.
All of this and more to say, I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to push down the feelings and the hurt and the reality that I didn’t fit in. And I remember when it all added up to enough, and when I started to stop caring, and when I got so depressed that my best friend dragged me to a counselor, and when the depression gave way to fury. Fury because I knew that somehow I’d been lied to about the nature of God, the nature of reality, the nature of religion and fundamentalism. Fury because people I’d trusted had knowingly hidden the truth.
I left. I had to. If I hadn’t, I would have been expelled though I’d done nothing wrong other than question the University. And leaving didn’t make the hurt go away. I had to search myself and everything I’d grown up with. Some of it I rejected, and some of it I held on to, and perhaps most importantly, I added to myself by embracing more than the limited perspectives of my childhood and my education.
When I was at Bob Jones, there was no group like BJUnity to help me. I came to the realization of myself mostly by myself. But becoming a part of BJUnity a couple years ago helped me heal the wounds I was still carrying around.
For some students at Bob Jones University, leaving is not an option for one reason or another. Protect yourselves. Do not give in to the rhetoric of the pulpit. Do not surrender your rights thinking the administration will help you. Reach out for honest help.
For those students, and for anyone else struggling with reconciling their faith and self-worth to their inborn sexuality, let BJUnity help. We remember. We know.