Moody Bible head responds to Title IX claims, sex abuse mishandling: 'My heart aches'
Moody Bible Institute is implementing a multi-step plan in response to allegations that Title IX claims and other incidents of sexual abuse and harassment were mishandled within the school, the administration announced Tuesday.
During a Tuesday morning chapel service, MBI President Mark Jobe and Provost Dwight Perry addressed the students about the allegations that emerged over the weekend in a change.org petition, in which students and alumni detailed their experiences of being sexually assaulted and harassed and how their claims were not taken seriously.
Speaking soberly, Jobe stressed that the allegations troubled him deeply as a father of three kids, one of whom is an MBI graduate. The steps Moody will be taking will in no way undermine their commitment to the historic Christian witness on marriage and sexuality, he added, and their goal is to ensure the safety of every student.
"As I listen to these students my heart aches with their pain and the tears expressed through written ways as they explain their stories," he said.
As an urban pastor, he has ministered to and walked alongside many people who were victims of extreme violence and sexual abuse, he said.
"I am deeply saddened to hear that there are victims on our own campus who feel like their voices over the years were not heard or that proper safety measures were not taken to ensure their well-being," he said.
"As your president, I want you to know that I am fully committed to ensure that all of our campuses are not only safe for all of our students but also a place that takes seriously the voice of victims, and follows through in dealing with abuse of any kind. And if our community has failed to uphold that commitment in the present or in the past, I am as a father, as a pastor, as a follower of Jesus, I am profoundly sorry for the pain and the wounds this may have caused students and their loved ones."
The Moody president asked students to reserve judgment on Dean of Student Life Tim Arens and Title IX Coordinator Rachel Puente, the two Moody officials who were criticized at length in the change.org petition while the school conducts an independent investigation.
Perry then took to the stage to address the concerns outlined in the petition, specifically how the MBI Title IX office administers incidents of abuse. Over the weekend, Perry and MBI leadership devised a multi-step action plan that Jobe has approved after first learning of the allegations on Saturday morning.
In the coming months, Moody will engage a third-party firm that has specific Title IX expertise to review the office and processes as well as investigate the allegations listed in the online petition, he said. Potential firms will be interviewed this week and an investigation launched as soon as possible. The firm will be asked to determine if MBI's response to the situations in the petition was appropriate.
"This does not mean ... that Dr. Tim Arens or Mrs. Rachel Puente or anyone involved in these issues has done anything inappropriate. It is important as a Christian community that we believe the victim unless otherwise proved false and that we also verify the veracity of any allegation against anyone in our community so that we walk in both truth and love," Perry said.
Moody will also be meeting with mental health professionals within the next few days to discuss how they can provide immediate support to those who are hurting and how such professionals will be integrated into the Title IX process, the provost explained.
Arens, who was set to retire in June, will be stepping away from his responsibilities regarding the implementation of the application of discipline related to the student conduct code. Puente has been asked to step down from her part-time role as Title IX coordinator pending the conclusion of the investigation. An interim Title IX coordinator will be announced in one week, he said.
"Please know that the welfare of our students is paramount," Perry stressed.
"Our posture in this moment must be marked by a spirit of humility and action. We must be on our knees in prayer, and we must listen and learn in order to come through this experience as a stronger community," he concluded.
The chapel service concluded with several members of the administration, faculty, and student body offering repentance and prayers for God's direction and guidance.