Sexual Abuse, Promiscuity and Fundamentalism

With the Weinstein scandal in full bloom, and as the scandal settles into a phase where it is still in the news, and at the same time with a lack of new angles I anticipate that questions about Fundamentalism and the scandals surrounding my alma mater, Bob Jones University and other Fundamentalist icons. If that doesn’t happen, well I’m a Christian apologist and someone has to answer for the very real, but all too human messes that some fundamentalists have made. I say some, because one of the various serious problems scandals have is that all too often the innocent are tarred with the guilty, and when it comes to Fundamentalism, the most bellicose men get the most attention.


There have been a number of high profiled cases of sexual abuse or scandals about Fundamentalism lately. These issues are  Among them:

  • Jack Shoep, the successor of Jack Hyles, to many a Fundamentalist icon, pled guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. Jack Hyles daughter, Linda, afterwards referred to him as a cult leader, confirmed stories of adultery that had surrounded Hyles in the last few years before his death, the multiple adulteries of Hyles son, Jack Hyles Junior, and the number of sexual predators found at Hyles-Anderson college.
  • Bill Gothard, a noted teacher associated with Fundamentalism resigned in disgrace over accusations of sexual impropriety though the precise nature of the actions aren’t very clear. Bill Gothard’s brother had previously been accused of seducing women from Gothard’s ministry. I read about five pages of Gothard’s manual for basic use in college, and basically dismissed his as being rather ignorant, and I’ve never quite figured out how he built a ministry in the first place.
  • Accusations of physical abuse of children have been made in relationship to Lester Roloff’s ministry with children, Hephzibah house and other related ministries. I will be forced to say little of this scandal because, quite frankly I know very little about them. Most of what I know of Roloff are second and third hand anecdotes, most of which are unflattering. I knew a woman at BJU that was planning to work at Hebhzibah house, but never anyone who had actual experience at the place.
  • And of course, there are modern questions about my Alma Mater, BJU along with other schools for their handling of sexual abuse and counseling. This often very quickly gets tied to specific issues involving BJU’s other issues.


Fundamentalism in General

First, let’s deal with Fundamentalism as a whole, the term is a difficult one to define in any useful sense these days. Fundamentalism is a historic Christian movement is a reaction and rejection of theological liberalism, but often groups described in the press as “fundamentalists” have no connection to this movement. For example, primitive movements in the Mountains are occasionally described as being fundamentalists, but these movements actually predate the fundamentalist movement by fifty or sixty years. Similarly, some historians such as Martin Marty, who tend to use the term for groups that aren’t even Christian (one even sees it to describe “New Atheists”) but the problem with this approach is it ultimately can become a practice in cherry-picking groups that fit the conclusions you want to reach. Thus, in some senses, a number of pastors of Fundamentalist churches I have known may not actually fit the popular portrayal of a fundamentalist, but Operation rescue, a group not affiliated with historic fundamentalism does (at least according to a PBS special). The definition is also muddied by internal issues, when Jerry Fallwell founded Moral Majority, many fundamentalists (including Bob Jones Junior) claimed he wasn’t a fundamentalist (ironically perhaps to the generally held way that fundamentalism is viewed in public life). Secondarily, the what constitutes the fundamentals of the faith has also become an issue within historic fundamentalism, some groups, particularly among Independent Baptist groups tend to have created a relatively new tradition that they use to judge fundamentalism, leading to increasingly fractious fundamentalists and frankly many of the more moderate Fundamentalist parishioners and pastors moving into Southern Baptist Churches or the Presbyterians Churches of America, including myself. This means, in a sense, many of the pastors forty years ago who did not fit the stereotype of fundamentalists might not feel so comfortable in IFB circles today.


BJU and the Schools

Let’s start with the charges at BJU and other schools associated with the IFB movement. Whatever the hype might be from the news media, the BJU scandal is actually the least serious scandal, though one of the farthest reaching ones. It is the least serious because, to my knowledge at least, no credible accusation has been leveled against a senior member of BJU’s administration or a member of faculty of committing sexual harassment or sexual assault. That doesn’t mean issues have not existed, but if they do, very few people know about them. BJU is essentially accused, if you really understand the issue of two things, first, problems in the way they counsel past problems of sexual abuse, and in this they are dealing with issues related to nouthetic counseling, and second, of failing to properly report problems of sexual abuse.


Nouthetic Counseling

The issue of nouthetic counseling is a big one, and will probably be something I will write on in the future. I would agree that the counsel given at BJU was often bad, but I don’t think the problem is one of ill intent, but poorly worked out theology. Jay Adams book Competent to Counsel began the movement by noting that there were really two types of issues, physical problems and spiritual ones (pertaining thus to the body and the soul), so far, I agree with him, but the problem is while this is a sound basis to begin with, the development from this basis is faulty. The general assumption is that if some physical problem is not fully understood, it doesn’t exist, so therefore the problem must be sin. The problem with this is that it seems to conflict with some of Jesus’s teachings as found in Matthew 7. We know far less about the body than we think we do, when I was young, preachers told congregation members ulcers were a sign of worry, we now know that ulcers are also caused by bacteria. This of course is not the usual reason why BJU’s counseling is discussed, usually its discussed because BJU rejects the APA’s techniques, and it is a long-standing criticism of fundamentalism. People have criticized Fundamentalists for rejecting the assured results of psychology because the Fundamentalists criticized Freud in the twenties and thirties, as evidence that they were anti-intellectuals. Of course, since modern psychology as pretty much abandoned Freud as well, one wonders why Fundamentalists of that era are not being applauded for being ahead of their time; sometimes you just can’t win when it comes to an established stereotype.

Similarly, Adams book, Competent to Counsel was based on the failure of the secular techniques to relieve people’s problems, and this is a long-standing issue in Psychology. As Christians we should be skeptical of the claims of the American Psychological Association because they embrace Physicalism (a denial of the existence of the soul) and because this leads them to Determinism (the belief that human beings do not have freewill). These factors create significant problem in the way they interpret data.  Nouthentic counseling may have hits failures, but there are not, to my knowledge, any issues of nouthetic counselors engaging in the horrors of electroshock therapy or the engaging in ethically questionable research, the same cannot be said for the American Psychological association.


The second issue is sadly one so many forget about Fundamentalism, sadly is that we are affected by the culture outside of us, and we are men of our times. The thing people forget about pedophiles and many sexual abusers is that they are extremely good at manipulating circumstances and they learn how to assimilate into groups that given the access to victims, and they are often very good at manipulating people into believing in their innocence. We were fooled, so were many others. BJU should have notified the authorities in many cases, they appear to be making changes in this area. But in this sense, BJU is in the same rut not only with many other Christian groups, but many secular organizations as well. Christian leaders were often worried about false accusations, many people will immediately state false accusations don’t happen, or happen very rarely (only two percent of the time), but researching this article I found that this is certainly false, there are studies as low as 8% (meaning more than 1 in 20 rape accusations is false) to as high as 40% (meaning 2 out of 5 rape accusations are false), this is a rather broad range, which means we really don’t know). But while the fears of false accusations are justified, the response of BJU and others was not a rational response. After all, institutions reporting allegations of sexual abuse are doing just that, meaning they are reporting that an allegation has been made, college deans and university presents are not really in a position to investigate the truth or error of those allegations; that is a job for the police. For the person falsely accused, the best hope that man has is that the police will disprove the allegations (or at the least, prove a lack of evidence for the accusation). For the real victim of a crime, of course, prosecution of an abuser is a matter of justice.

These problems, however, are not unique to Christian schools or Fundamentalist ones. Public colleges have had their scandals as well, and in fact create other fears that fundamentalists might have. Currently there are a number of colleges that facing lawsuits by those who have been accused of sexual assault, and have faced disciplinary actions, but the authorities have found insufficient evidence for prosecution (or in some cases, have dismissed the charges completely). This is not to exonerate BJU or any other institution from a failure to report an alleged crime, rather as I said, fundamentalists are men of their times, this states nothing about the truth or error of the gospel. But schools in general are being awakened to what is happening on their campuses, and things are changing in our churches as they are in society in general.


Lester Roloff, Bill Gothard, Jack Hyles, and Jack Shoep

As to the rest, well, I can discuss defects in their theology, as I’ve noted in the past there is a game among some to claim that certain issues come down to theology, and it is often asserted that these issues are proof about things such as dispensationalism, premillenialism, etc. While there are, I believe, defects in the approaches many of these men take toward practical sanctification (namely that these fundamentalists believe sanctification is primarily human centered, largely coming from Finney although in places it resembles the latter Keswick movement), the claims on theology are vastly overstated. The truth is human beings are human, and men fail. Paul warned us that fierce wolves would arise amongst the sheep, this certainly describes Hyles and Gothard. The word for Gothard, Hyles, Schoep and Roloff is hypocrite, because their lives do not conform to the creeds they espoused. Some will immediately argue that Roloff clearly is consistent with Fundamentalist doctrine, but his view, and that ascribed to Hepzibah house, miss completely the centrality of the work of Christ in the life of the believer.  That is, their approach to issues of behavior was closer to the practice of Behaviorist psychologists than to the Biblical view of life.

This is not an apology for Fundamentalists; Fundmentalism was a rather diverse movement, and the moderate fundamentalists are being chased away from the movement by those the devotees of these men, but then, this is the truth of Church history, a group or movement is formed, God uses it until it gets to big for it’s britches and then God uses someone else. My concern isn’t defending any movement, but with God and His Word.  To argue this somehow disproves evangelicalism, one would need to assert their lives actually do conform to the principles of Evangelical theology.