When doing right is punishable more than doing wrong.
I know I posted about Chris Peterman’s expulsion from BJU yesterday (the text of the post itself was copied/pasted verbatim from another source). But I’m going to talk about it again today, this time in my own words.
Those of you who are regular readers here are by now quite familiar with Bob Jones University, and even a little bit of the drama that’s been going on there the past year. For those unaware of the drama (and who don’t want to click the previous link and read about it) I’ll post a little synopsis here.
There was a nationally-covered case last year concerning a woman named Tina Anderson, who was raped at the age of 15 by a middle-aged married man in good standing at her church. His name was Ernest “Ernie” Willis. She became pregnant as a result of the rape. When she went to her pastor, Charles “Chuck” Phelps, he had her apologize in a church disciplinary meeting for “being in a compromising situation” that led to her pregnancy, while Ernie only said that he had been in an adulterous relationship – the two confessions were presented as separate, unrelated cases. After this confession, she was expelled from the church-run private school she attended and sent half a country away (from New Hampshire to Colorado) to live with another conservative family until she had the baby, which she was forced to give up for adoption. Her pastor never filed a report with the police (he called them a couple of times, but did not return their calls or follow up further). Her rapist was never outed to the church. The case didn’t come to light until last year, when Tina was contacted by NH police to confirm the story and ask if she wanted to press charges. Ernie was convicted not just for statutory rape but for two counts of forcible rape and sentenced accordingly.
It came to light this past fall that Chuck Phelps, Tina’s former pastor and a graduate of BJU, was on the board for the university despite his cover-up of her rape (in fact, he was a witness for the defense of Tina’s rapist during the trial).
Let me spell that out for you a little more clearly.
Chuck Phelps, the man who forced a 15-year-old girl to apologize to her entire church for being pregnant (without encouraging or allowing her to say that she had been raped nor to name the father), the man who served as a witness in the defense of this girl’s rapist when the case finally came to trial, the man who clearly aligned himself with the rapist and against his child victim – this man was appointed to the board of Bob Jones University. And subsequently defended by the school for his actions.
A student at the school, Christopher Peterman, learned about both the case and Chuck’s position as a board member, and organized a movement called Do Right, BJU (named after a famous saying from the founder of the school, “Do right until the stars fall!”). The movement was designed to pressure BJU to remove Chuck Phelps from his position on the board as well as to encourage the school to start reporting sexual abuse cases as required by law, since the school has a horrendous hidden history of both covering up abuse and victim-blaming. Part of this movement culminated in the first-ever student and alumni led protest held at BJU. The administration initially threatened Chris with expulsion for his “insubordination,” but when the media was alerted to the protest, a spokesman for the school stated that no one involved would suffer any administrative repercussions. Chuck Phelps resigned his position a few days before the protest (supposedly unrelated to the DR-BJU movement, protest, and a petition with over 1,000 signatures demanding his removal). This all happened towards the close of the fall semester of 2011.
As you can imagine, BJU didn’t appreciate Chris’s pressure on them nor the fact that they promised the media nothing would happen to punish him or other students. So, starting in the spring semester of 2012, they put an RA in Chris’s dorm room who frequently informed the dean of men of his activities. People started following him both on campus and off campus to try to catch him doing something that could earn him demerits or get him expelled. His Facebook page and Twitter account were watched constantly to catch him in some kind of wrong-doing. As to the extent of the following and monitoring, Chris says that in the multitudinous meetings he had with the dean of men, Jon Daulton, there were STACKS of printed papers of his Twitter feed and Facebook wall with things highlighted, circled, annotated. The dean of men would email, call, and text him at all hours, demanding to meet with him to discuss his spiritual status. I believe that he was technically on spiritual probation (meaning he had to meet regularly with an uncertified counselor for nouthetic counseling).
It takes 150 demerits to expel someone at BJU. He was recently given 50 demerits for watching an episode of Glee off campus. When he appealed that this was not against the rulebook, they conceded – but gave him the demerits anyway because they found the content of Glee morally reprehensible (the dancing, “immodesty,” and portrayal of homosexuality).
I want to touch on this point again briefly. There are people who keep saying, “But it is against the rules in the rulebook!” I agree that it seems to be, but I also argue that Chris took this before a committee comprised of representatives from the student body, the dean of men’s office, and the dean of women’s office and appealed using the handbook to demonstrate that it was not against the rules to watch the show. And the committee agreed with him. Let me repeat that again. The committee agreed that watching Glee off campus was not an infraction against the handbook. They then said, in essence, “But you should have known better, so you’re getting the demerits anyway.” He got demerits for an unwritten, unspoken rule that was admittedly created on the fly in order to justify giving him 1/3 of the demerits he would need to be expelled, mere weeks before graduation.
Then this past week, the dean of men called him into his office to tell him that he was going to receive 50 demerits for posting the lyrics to Matthew West’s “Only Grace” on his Facebook page (just the lyrics, not the song itself) and he would receive 25 demerits because that post occurred during class. Chris asked if he could appeal, and was given several hours between his initial meeting with the dean of men and the meeting he would have with the discipline committee.
During those hours, he prepared his appeal and also contacted the department of education and TRACS, the accrediting association BJU has its national accreditation with, to see if he had any recourse, believing himself to be already expelled. The conclusion of his meeting with the discipline committee was that he would not receive the 50 demerits for the song lyrics, but would still receive the 25 for posting during class. This left him at 145 demerits. Then he was informed that because he had contacted the DOE and TRACS, that he was being expelled because he was “intimidating” the school.
He was 9 days from graduating and will likely receive no refund.
This…this entire situation unsettles me. Angers me. Saddens me. I have lots of feelings about it all.
Basically, this week I have been reliving my own expulsion and reliving the conflicting feelings I have about it. For those who may not remember, I was expelled from BJU because it was discovered that I had sex with my then-boyfriend now-husband. I have written elsewhere about the shame I have about my sexual desire in general, along with the shame associated with my premarital sexual experiences. This shame, brought about by a lifetime of teaching and conditioning that I should feel shame about it, makes a large part of me feel that my expulsion was warranted. Fair. Just. While I now believe that there’s nothing morally wrong with consensual sex between two adults who love and are committed to one another, I understand the belief that this is a deep wrong. And so I am still hesitant at times to say that my expulsion was unjust. Despite the deeply personal questions asked, despite the assassination of my character by the dean of men to my father-in-law, despite the frightening cult-like process by which I was escorted off campus and not even allowed to use the bathroom without someone monitoring me. The shame is still there, and the deeply ingrained belief that I deserved (and still deserve) to be punished for my personal sex life at any given moment.
Yes, I have a lot of anger about my expulsion and about the way my husband and I were treated. I understand it from an experiential point of view in that my beliefs once aligned with that of the university in such matters. While my heart understands and is at times willing to concede, my mind recognizes that it was unjust, damaging, painful, and unChristlike.
What does this have to do with Chris’s story?
For me, I think it goes to show something. In the world of Bob Jones University – and fundamentalism in general – a man who stands up for the oppressed is every bit as damned as a woman who is not a virgin. A man who tries to respectfully (albeit publicly and strongly) hold “authority” of any kind accountable for their actions is every bit as damned as a whore.
When doing the right thing is punished more severely than doing the wrong thing, you’re doing Christianity wrong.