Bob Jones University's response to a two-year investigation into its handling of reports of sexual abuse was "shallow words backed largely by inaction," according to an open letter released Monday by some members of the task force that created recommendations for how the university could change its culture and make amends to victims.
"We are deeply grieved by your response to the GRACE Report," the letter begins.
The university rejected many of the recommendations in a response issued this month.
The recommendations were drawn up as part of the investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, a non-profit independent organization that BJU contracted with to conduct the study. The task force was made up of a GRACE representative, two BJU representatives and two survivors who had spoken to GRACE investigators.
Their mission, the letter said was "to review the contents of the GRACE Report, develop a list of recommendations, and help transform the university into a safe, healing, truly spiritual institution."
Among the recommendations were for the school to outsource counseling, that two staff members — Chancellor Bob Jones III and former Dean of Students Jim Berg — be disciplined and that a memorial be installed on campus to honor survivors.
The task force also recommended that books and DVDs made by Berg, who handled most of the counseling for decades, no longer be sold. The university announced that all of his materials were reviewed and found to be biblically sound and that personnel matters are confidential.
GRACE spoke with about 40 victims and found that students who reported abuse were blamed for bringing it on themselves and that proper authorities had not been notified. The abuse spanned a 40-year period and involved abuse that occurred on campus, off campus and before some of the students enrolled.
Survivors told of counseling sessions in which they were asked if they had been drinking, had a previous relationship with the abuser or whether they enjoyed it.
University spokesman Randy Page said in an email message the university had not received the letter but was given a copy by someone in the media. The university is reviewing it, he said.
Page also said the message was not from the entire task force but "purports to be a statement by the survivor representatives of a larger task force. Each member of the task force signed a confidentiality agreement stating they would not disclose any deliberations or information from the task force meeting."
He said the university has responded to 25 of the 28 recommendations.
"The president has already met with several victims mentioned in the report and continues to meet with others," Page said.
University President Steve Pettit addressed students on the day the response was made public on its website and apologized for the past.
He said sexual abuse is a heinous crime that requires abusers be brought to justice. He noted that some had been helped by loving counseling but acknowledged that others had not. He said it was apparent that the university was too focused on rules and not enough on people.
"Some students reported that they were afraid to share their problems out of fear of facing discipline," he said.
In the letter, some members of the task force said, "Over two years and countless hours were invested by wounded souls who poured their hearts into the GRACE Report, detailing how Bob Jones University treated victims of sexual assault — not just in the past, but in the current student body. The report powerfully documented our stories and ultimately wove together a tapestry of our lives displaying not only our greatest heartaches, but also our greatest hope: The hope that, through our stories, healing and change would be achieved. That hope was shattered by BJU's official response."
The letter said people told their stories in hope that lasting change would come about.
"We are angered that the official response was an attack and blatant disregard of the report's recommendations," the letter said.
The letter said the university leadership did not humbly apologize wrongdoing but instead made statements that "minimize, obfuscate, and blatantly misrepresent facts."
"While some statements from the university sound good to the general public, they are couched within blame-shifting phrases like, 'those who felt or perceived' which puts the onus back on the victim. Instead of apologizing for our feelings, own up to the full impact of your actions!" the letter said.
In his remarks to students earlier this month, Pettit told about meeting with a survivor. He said she told him she left the university feeling hurt and confused.
In fact, the survivor left feeling suicidal with shattered faith, the letter said.
"Your minimizing words show that you do not yet grasp the damage caused and the long-term impact that has resulted as a consequence of the university's actions," the letter said..
The letter called for the university to stop its counseling program and listen to the people who have been harmed by it.
"It is time for you to become a student. Listen. Truly listen to the victims. We are your best teachers. This is not a time for you to self-repair and certainly not a time for you to lead."
The letter also called for paying for outside counseling for those who were harmed.
Pettit also said in his message that a former prosecutor determined no laws were broken in reporting abuse and assault.
"We feel your statement that BJU has not broken any laws was, at best, disingenuous. Christians are called to a higher responsibility," the letter said.
Christians make sure victims are safe and protected, the letter said.
"Whether or not the law requires a report does not eliminate the need to help the hurting by providing resources to heal and pursue justice," the letter said.
"We remain committed to our responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless and to cry out for justice and accountability at BJU," the letter said. "True healing can occur only when we are willing to speak boldly for truth, no matter the cost. "