“I will no longer let the fear of vicious comments or replies stop me from speaking what I believe to be right. I will also never give a message that everybody will agree with. I know that even my most faithful followers will never agree 100% with what I say. I also know that they know that and are fine with it. I am done letting the bullies win. They won’t anymore. Not here.” ― Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing link
This has been an rewarding week for bloggers. As you know, G.R.A.C.E., which was fired by Bob Jones University, has been rehired. At the same time, Bill Gothard has been put under administrative leave as his board finally investigates years of complaints about alleged sexual harassment/abuse. TWW attributes both of these actions to the brave voices who spoke out on blogs: Recovering Grace (Bill Gothard) and Do Right Now BJU. Let us reemphasize this point. Without the brave pressure of these well-spoken bloggers and victims, neither of these two events would be happening. Cue raucous applause!
Today, TWW is excited to post an original article by Dr. Camille Lewis. Dr Lewis, a long time advocate for an investigation into the reports of alleged sexual abuse at BJU, was recently quoted in the New York Times, responding to questions about the Bob Jones University controversy.
Critics angrily dismissed his statement. “As always, they’re worried about protecting the church and the university, not the victims,” said Camille Lewis, who spent two decades at Bob Jones as a student and faculty member before leaving in 2007 and said she had tried to help several abuse victims over that time.
…As a college senior, she took a friend to a university administrator for counseling after the other student said she had been molested by her father, a Sunday school superintendent in their church.
“They said not to go to the police because no one will believe you, to defer to authority like your father or especially someone in the church,” she said. “They said if you report it, you hurt the body of Christ.”
Dr Lewis holds Ph.D. (Indiana) and was formerly the Chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Public Address at Bob Jones University. She blogs at A Time to Laugh. She is a gifted communicator who takes us through some of the history of BJU. She peppers her critique with great sensitivity and an obvious love for the students. She also shows us a number of historical documents and pictures.
As an aside, let me also add that I have been impressed by former BJU students who express great love for the professors at BJU and point, instead, to what appears to be an insensitive administration who has not yet figured out that "covering up" is rarely possible in today's easily accessible social media.
Thank you, Dr Lewis, for gracing us with your post!
After spending several years on the faculty at Bob Jones University and observing the methods and psychology of Bob Jones Sr., I can assure you that a ‘unanimous’ expression from any group can mean only one thing: it is the view or opinion of Dr. Bob Jones Sr. As is true of a communistic state, a dissenting expression by anyone connected with the institution is absolutely impossible! The stormy history of faculty turnover there testifies to that fact.
Eldon Titus Hitchcock to L. Nelson Bell, 1957
Bob Jones University repeats its Origin Story so frequently that every graduate becomes an apologist, a shopkeeper of the “Show Window.” A gifted but poor teenager, the second youngest of a scrappy peanut farmer, Robert Reynolds Jones begins holding brush-arbor meetings in the Alabama Wiregrass. He attends college, meets a lovely young thing, and they run off together into the evangelistic sunset. He becomes the Billy Sunday of the South, and as he would hold these 6-week revival meetings, his heart was broken over young adults losing their faith while attending secular colleges. After stopping to get sandwiches at a drug store, a 40-something Bob popped into the car and announced to his wife, “Mary Gaston! I’m going to build a school.” To which she responded, “Robert, are you crazy?”
And alumni all chortle on cue.
That’s what we were taught to repeat, and nearly every history you pick up repeats that same Origin Story. You can look at an academic dissertation-turned-book or BJU’s own version. I’ve got book chapters and journal articles and single paragraphs that repeat that homespun, Horatio-Alger-esque story. Current BJU history professor John Matzko is working on a more complete official biography of Bob Jones Sr. He will probably arrive soon here under his alias John Foxe or Anson Mills to correct us all.
I am immersed in an ongoing project to tell a more complete story of Bob Jones University’s history from the sources that are too often overlooked. Secular historians have done a great disservice by simply repeating the BJU’s scripted narrative of goodness. My project seeks to correct that blindspot. After I left BJU’s employ myself, I dredged up archival research from all over the country to understand my own departure. And I was pleasantly surprised to find so many kindred spirits among the former BJU faculty and staff.
Bob Jones, Inc. has always had trouble with employees. Their 29614 zip code is a mill town with working class whites trapped by the place and the power. These are smart people who are simply too poor to leave and too busy to imagine anything different. Bob Jones, Inc. has one response to its employees over the years. The first one I have on record is from 1929. Jones fired faculty member and local Presbyterian pastor, William J. Hall, in the middle of a semester for the terrible moral failing of calling Harry Emerson Fosdick, a “great Christian man.” Bob labeled Hall “a dangerous modernist,” but a survey of the local Panama City, Florida papers at the time reveal him to be an ordinary small-town, orthodox, Scotch Presbyterian pastor with an opinion and a backbone, and nothing more.
Bob soon learned to hire ‘em young, impressionable, and troubled. Orphaned, recently-widowed, or just down-on-their-luck — these were the first string of faculty whom Bob molded to comply. Let me show you a few I’ve found who got out.
James Abraham Zellner and his wife Ruby graduated from Bob Jones College in 1932. Zellner was both a Ku Klux Klan Kleagle (their term for “evangelist”) as well as Bob Jones Sr.’s evangelistic sidekick around Eastern Europe. Jones even performed James and Ruby’s wedding! Zellner’s departure from what I call “Klandamentalism” was dramatic, pushing him right into pro-civil-rights activism. Yes, you read that correctly. He was an evangelist for the KKK and for Bob Jones, Inc. but he ended up an activist for civil rights. Their son was named after Bob Jones Sr., and Bob Zellner chronicles his parents’ exodus in his memoir, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek.
Then there’s Ruth Flood, a willowy and pretty speech teacher whose elocutionary talent caught Bob Jones Sr’s eye. Freshly graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Taylor, she joined the Bob Jones College speech faculty and often played opposite Bob Jones Jr. in his lead Shakespearean roles. In 1935, Bob Jones Jr. invited her to join him on an overseas trip to England to “study” with Fanny Bradshaw at her “Shakespeare Fortnight Hostelry.” It was less a study trip than a “drama camp” for bored rich kids whose daddies could afford the luxury ocean cruise overseas during the Great Depression. The next school year, according to BJU’s official history, Ms. Flood was suddenly struck with a “more than nine-month” “physical and emotional breakdown” that drove her back home to Ohio. She did return to BJC, spoke in Chapel, and was honored in a 1938 yearbook dedication, only to leave behind all things related to BJC that May. Bob Jones, Jr. would marry Fannie Mae Holmes within a few weeks. Ruth never married, and, unless a person born in the last half of 1936 has something more to tell us, Ruth’s story died with her in 2002.
Ruth had two friends during her time at Bob Jones College — both of whom left BJC in 1938 when she did. There was Joseph Free, a speech teacher who scandalously advocated critical thinking in his curriculum but who died shortly after WW2, and Dorothy Seay, who drew much ire from Bob Jones Sr. In 1940 hiding behind anonymity, Seay wrote in H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury about life at BJC. The dorms were primitive and drafty with toilets leaking on to beds, student discipline was brutal with the familiar phrase “No griping tolerated!” quelling objections, and even evangelist “Fightin’ Bob” Shuler’s daughter Nell was not immune to the usual Bob Jones, Inc. decree that she not “[breathe] one word against the school [to your father].” Seay notes that women students at BJC would receive demerits for saying “no” to a male student’s invitation to a date. “Any boy good enough to come to [Bob Jones] College is good enough to have a date with any girl in the college.” The demerit penalty for saying “no” had been tossed aside by the time I was a BJU student forty years later, but the regular haranguing from the administration to women students continues: be agreeable or else.
Morton A. Brown is my favorite. He was a very much-loved history teacher at BJU from 1949-1952. Well, his students loved him; Virginia Mollencott told me as much. Bob Sr., however, felt no such affection. Bob fired Brown mid semester when Brown defended his off-campus family doctor whom Bob had denounced as having a bad attitude. I have the correspondence between Bob Sr and the doctor as well as Brown’s appeal to the BJU administration objecting to Bob’s “witch hunt.” Brown is articulate and precise — like most academics. Read Bob Sr’s words in those letters, and you’ll have a good picture of what employees hear on a regular basis from the BJU administration. Brown’s most pointed declaration matches Hitchcock’s statement at the beginning of this post:
Unrest in the University has in fact been so conspicuous that I believe that the only thing which might save Bob Jones University from a dangerous administrative crisis in the near future would be for the Board of Trustees to work out some procedure whereby official policy is not so inextricably tied to the personal views of one man.
That observation still fits sixty-two years later.
Brown’s firing was just a prologue to the “Storm of ’53,” as BJU calls it: the firing of Ted Mercer. In ’52, Bob Jones Sr. promoted Ted Mercer to be his son’s right-hand-man because Jr. was suffering with pleurisy (according to the oral histories). Mercer was also well-liked among the student body. But something happened to make him BJU’s persona non grata. He was fired in 1953, but not before he made a photostat of BJU’s mailing list. He sent out a copy of his story to everyone on that list. Mercer was winsome, articulate, and mad, and he formed his own mid-century following. Bob Jones Sr. let everyone know that Mercer was “inefficient”, “disloyal,” “criminally insane,” “demon possessed,” and, last but not least, homosexual. Just two years earlier, Mercer had received Bob’s highest accolades, but by June, 1953, Bob Jones, Inc. had flipped. Still-living witnesses report that Bob Jones Sr. himself frequently and privately repeated that Mercer was gay. Even 45 years later, long after Mercer’s death, BJU’s official history (154-59) still reiterates this unfounded and unnecessary conclusion.
In all these stories the message is clear: once you leave BJU’s employ, if you say one word, your name is mud.
There are more stories. This one’s the most tragic: Murray Havens’ family was given 24 hours to vacate their on-campus home after Mr. Havens was found dead on those premises. He was in the middle of producing an elaborate Art Gallery show for Bob Jones Jr. and had checked himself into the hospital because of stress. Junior forced him to check out and then something snapped. His death was labeled a suicide.
Jack Peters was fired in 1971 for insisting that Lucille Sullivan, an African-American lady in BJU’s employ, be allowed to take her one class like every other employee. BJU refused on the grounds that . . . (wait for it) Ms. Sullivan was not white. Chuck Smith was fired mid-semester in 1986 for . . . well, we don’t know why he was fired. There are countless others, many of whom are still alive. BJU’s usual tactic is to fire one spouse while keeping the other one employed in order to continue the psychological hold. And before you think this problem is old news or the fault of long-gone administrators, it happened just this last May on the kinder-but-gentler Stephen Jones’ watch. A much-loved music professor, William McCauley, was fired in May 2013. Many of us wonder if his firing was nothing more than retribution because his daughter had filled out a survey for the sexual abuse investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.). The timing fits that conclusion.
The pattern is obvious: the BJU employees who have received the most brutal harassment from Bob Jones, Inc. are those who dare to speak truth to power. Bob Jones, Inc. succeeds as it is able to maintain a singular, organizational-affirming voice. There is one story to tell: the story of Bob Jones, Inc’s goodness. Deviations are met with the predictable ad hominem retorts from “You’re just bitter” to “You are hurting the Body of Christ.” Even now, BJU loyalists are constructing their hackneyed response to this post. Watch for them.
But employees are one thing. Yes, South Carolina is a right-to-work state. Yes, the employees are fully adults in the eyes of the law. However, the students — from preschool through college — are another thing entirely. Yes, employees are told to “shut up or else” and often do. But when that enforced silence makes (alleged) crimes go unreported and covered up, there is a serious problem.
That’s why the G.R.A.C.E. investigation is so important. The G.R.A.C.E. team is listening and validating those who survived (alleged) criminal behavior, those whose stories are yet unheard. Their stories contradict BJU’s narrative of goodness. And if the G.R.A.C.E. investigation corroborates the counter-narrative, BJU’s fiction falls. Its hagiography will have no purchase. Its Show Window is shattered.
G.R.A.C.E must finish and report, not just to foreground a counter-narrative, but so that justice can be served.
For me, I do what I can. I search. I look for all the archival dots to connect into a complete historical picture. I’m identifying the patterns over the last 100 years in this mill town now in 29614. The big-picture matches the smaller pictures of the individual abuse survivors at BJU. This metanarrative from the overlooked and silenced voices isn’t as appealing as Bob Jones, Inc’s narrative of goodness. There’s no single rags-to-evangelistic-riches hero who conquers home-spun troubles to build a glamorous, prosperous life. There’s no rugged individual. A Horatio Alger story is attractive to Americans, but the survivor stories are just frightening.
I’ve told my own story.
I joined the faculty as a graduate student and a new wife in 1990. This was the video I consumed that year. Seeing all those faculty that I truly cherished asking me to support them and their life’s work, I was sold. I was joining them.
My husband and I worked there as faculty from 1992-2007, with a four-year leave of absence while we earned our doctorates at Indiana University. My dissertation was an Esther-like attempt to woo Bob Jones University to its better self. The 2006-07 school year was a turbulent one for us. My dean scolded me for not spanking my 2.5yo, for having the audacity to publish my dissertation, and for gifting Jeff Van Vonderen books to my students. Our ultimatum came the next July, with President Stephen Jones stating that if we didn’t keep quiet about our “Reformed” theology, we would be fired. I’ve already told the story in great detail.
Yet I can’t not connect myself to BJU. It’s a major part of my CV and the subject of my first published work. Many of my peers can just drop Bob Jones University from their resumes. Some even return their diplomas. I can’t. I’m here. This is who I am and what God has brought me through. So like William Hall and Jack Peters, like Ted Mercer and Morton Brown, I speak. Ruth Flood can’t speak up anymore. Dorothy Seay used anonymity. Lucille Sullivan chooses not to speak. The men found their voices, but for some reason we women have to be more nuanced or altogether silent.
I’m still a speech teacher. One of my students called me the “Miss Frizzle of Oral Comm” a few weeks back. I guess that fits. When you teach public speaking, you not only have to demonstrate how to speak but you also have to create a healthy communication climate in the classroom where students can feel safe enough to try. And in that trying, they’ll find their own voices. Imitation is the initial means, never the goal. Self-actualization is the goal.
When we left BJU in 2007, I wrote my students first before I tendered my resignation. It was a power move on my part like it was for Morton Brown. I knew as soon as I had resigned, I would be locked out of my email, my office, and their lives. So I took one last shot. I ended the note like this:
This whole thing began when Grant and I spoke out against the injustices we saw the students enduring. We are now experiencing firsthand that same treatment. And rather than sit silently by, we have chosen to let our departure speak for us. If you are ever in a position where you are asked to violate your own conscience, I pray that you will remember that doing so is neither right nor safe. I pray that you, too, will choose to do the hard thing.
Looking back, it was the only option that made sense for this speech teacher. I had to leave to be true to my conscience and in doing so I took the first step in forging a safe communication climate out here. In the sunshine, outside of the power of Bob Jones, Inc.
Almost. It’s not easy being a whistle-blower in Greenville, South Carolina. There’s an uneasy detente between BJU and its community. BJU dominates the county government, including the solicitor’s office. They have their fingers in the public school system, and a citizen can’t even get a registered, return-receipt letter to two BJU administrators without it waylaid by the 29614 postal employees. One local Calvinista counselor disliked my list of infamous BJU alumni, so he has done his best to shame me into silence, urging me to embrace “radical grace” for a sex offender by not posting his national listing with other alumni arrests. The counselor even pesters distant friends and church leaders in order to silence me. He’s been unsuccessful.
I have a few friends left in BJU’s employ. I try to speak up with the information they pass along. I don’t speak for them. I am not even speaking with them yet. I’m speaking for myself, even sometimes to my 1992 self. I have a lot of regrets about choosing the life of a fundamentalist academic, not the least of which are proven with my pay stubs over my tenure. But when you know better, you do better. And so I do the best I can with this path I have taken and have before me.
In 1957, former BJU chemistry teacher Eldon Titus Hitchcock wrote L. Nelson Bell (Billy Graham’s father-in-law and public spokesman) to explain some of the controversy Bob Jones Sr. was drumming up over Graham’s NYC crusade.
As I see it, a [BJU] faculty member either comes to the point where he can no longer stand the severe mental and spiritual conflict of such a situation and leaves (voluntarily or by getting fired), or else his mind and conscience become so completely dominated by Dr. Jones that they can no longer be claimed as his own. In the first group are those who are just too weak to take a stand in opposition to the ‘boss’ or who, at the moment, can not bear the financial strain of being fired on the spot without notice. Salaries are so low that one rarely leaves the campus as well off financially as when he came. Sadly enough, there is sufficient number of the second group to act as spies on others (they have been trained in this during their student days). . . . A dissenting vote or question would have meant immediate dismissal for the person daring to speak up. . . . Because of the threat of dishonorable dismissal for any disagreement with Dr. Jones, most students hold their tongue and salve their conscience. After so much of this, many students no longer have a conscience of their own and have become pathetic puppets of Dr. Jones. They are not encouraged to think independently regarding issues but merely to acquaint themselves with the opinions of Dr. Jones. This is believed to be sufficient since Dr. Jones can not be wrong.
Certainly our prayers should be with the poor, confused students and faculty of Bob Jones University for they may bear scars on their consciences for the rest of their lives.
So that’s what life is like at Bob Jones, Inc. and what it’s always been like. Is there any wonder why Stephen Jones fired and then rehired G.R.A.C.E. only to attempt to rename the termination a “temporary suspension.” In the wake of Stephen’s spin-doctoring , BJU alumni are in the same place as the employees. They can no longer stand the severe mental and spiritual conflict of watching their alma mater “brand” the investigation uncovering the truth about the sexual abuse at Bob Jones University. We may not know the machinations behind the scenes, but what we do know is that we were not called to this darkness, but to light.