Incoming Bob Jones University president Steve Pettit said he plans to continue the school’s long tradition of cultural conservatism while also balancing the demands of a modern society.
“That’s what Bob Jones University desires. I don’t think they would have asked me to come if they didn’t want that,” he said, speaking at a press conference one day after being announced as the university’s new president.
“Bob Jones University has a long-standing tradition of being culturally a very conservative Christian institution. And that’s what I am,” he said. “We just want to implement that in the day and age in which we’re living.”
Pettit, who on Saturday will become the first president not from the founding Jones family, said he feels an obligation to adhere to the school’s mission and purpose.
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“Our commitment is to biblical obedience,” he said. “We have no apologies for who we are. We will continue to be a conservative Christian university.”
Pettit is no stranger to the school, having received a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Bob Jones in 1980 and currently serving on the board of trustees.
In his board role, Pettit said he voted for the investigation into handling of past sexual abuse allegations being conducted by GRACE, or Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. A final report on the yearlong study is expected soon.
“We will do everything that is right and appropriate to really serve people who have suffered and to change the things within our culture as they come,” Pettit said.
He emphasized “honesty and total transparency” in addressing the situation, which has raised some eyebrows over the school’s having terminated and then reinstated its contract with GRACE earlier this year.
Pettit, an ordained minister and business administration graduate of The Citadel, lacks a background in educational leadership, but he said his experiences as a pastor and business leader have prepared him for the job.
A well-known evangelical leader, Pettit has spent three decades traveling around the country and the world to minister with his Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team, which is composed primarily of young men and women.
“I’m extremely comfortable with students, and I think this is the right thing for right now,” he said. “They (Bob Jones University) need a leader who is able to give vision, passion.”
Pettit said his goal for his first 90 days in the job is to listen and learn, and he has already had early meetings with students and faculty.
Pettit takes over for Dr. Stephen Jones, who cited health concerns when he announced his plans to retire at the end of the school year. Jones was the fourth generation of the Jones family to lead the school, which was founded by evangelist Bob Jones Sr. in 1927.
“It’s been 87 years of faithfulness to God. We’d like to continue on in being true to the Lord,” Pettit said. “The Hebrew words for nervous and excited are the exact same word. That’s where I am.”