(Photo: Flickr / Jason Dickert)
Bob Jones University will meet in person next week with the sex abuse ombudsman group that it fired last month.
Both BJU and Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) confirmed the meeting and reaffirmed that they were both committed to figuring out how to move forward.
"Bob Jones University and GRACE remain hopeful this project can be completed with GRACE and in so doing raise sexual abuse awareness and minister to victims whose lives have been ravaged by abuse," BJU stated in a press release.
A GRACE statement said that the meeting would give both parties a chance to "articulate expressed concerns, as well as to dialogue about the possibility of GRACE completing the independent investigation process started last year."
Led by Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham's grandson, GRACE was charged with providing oversight and accountability to BJU in its efforts to "identify any cases in which we need to exercise authentic repentance and demonstrate biblical love to those we have always desired to serve to the best of our ability for the Lord's sake."
BJU spokesperson Randy Page told The Christian Post last week that the partnership between BJU and GRACE was initiated "because of [the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse allegations at] Penn State. We wanted to be on the cutting edge of processes and procedures to make sure we were responding appropriately."
Page also said the partnership, which was announced in January 2013, was not related to a series of student claims of sexual abuse in 2011.
That year, a CNN IReport article stated that the university had reported "nine cases of forcible sex offenses." It also quoted television channel WSPA as claiming that the university's number was "significantly higher than any other institution in the area," pointing to Clemson University, which had three cases, by comparison. BJU, a private Christian college out of Greenville, S.C., has 2,500 students, while the nearby state school has 20,000.
However, a New York Times story from Tuesday suggested that the school had opened up the investigation after the Rev. Chuck Phelps, a BJU board member, "an alumnus and the pastor of a large church, had been accused of covering up a rape within his congregation and publicly shaming the victim."
Subsequently, an alumni group created a petition asking BJU to dismiss Phelps because he had given "comfort to the rapist…; made the young girl apologize for her part in getting raped; sent her away with her mother's help. ... And allowed the rapist to remain in the church." Although Phelps ultimately stepped down, a student who had voiced criticism over how the school had handled the affair claimed that the university retaliated by expelling him, ostensibly for watching "Glee," just several days before his graduation.
According to a statement from GRACE last week, BJU's termination announcement came without warning and at a critical time in its investigation.
"There had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered," it stated. "Furthermore, this termination occurred days before GRACE was to conduct the last interviews of this 13-month investigation and begin drafting the final report scheduled for publication in March."
In its Jan. 24 termination letter, signed by President Stephen Jones and Larry B Jackson, chairman of the board, BJU failed to disclose their reasoning, except for hinting that it could be related to the president's resignation. Citing his ongoing health concerns, Jones, 43, announced in November he would be stepping down.
"While undertaking these efforts, there has been a great deal of change here at the university," stated the letter. "As you know, I recently announced my resignation as president of the university effective early May. As you can imagine, this has redirected a significant amount of our focus and energy."
According to a statement released last week from the university, BJU stated that it had grown "concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives" and said that it was "disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public."