DEAR DR. BOB: an open letter to Bob Jones III and the Board of BJU

Matthew 18 requires a Christian who has been offended by a brother to go to that brother to see whether things can be made right without escalation of the issue to “two or three” and then “to the church.” This is not that. Rather, this might be something I would drop into the Suggestion Box were I in Greenville. It is a signed list of suggestions, along with the reasons for those suggestions from a longtime loyal alumna, former staff member at BJU Press, and author of 11 books, all still in print with Journeyforth, an imprint of BJU Press.

May 1, 2013
sharonhambrick@hotmail.com
Rancho Cordova, California

Dear Dr. Bob,

I recently wrote a post on my blog about things I’d like to see changed at BJU. Today, my husband encouraged me to send it to you personally. However, because I included bits of humor and irony in that post in order to spark conversation, I felt that the post as it is would not be appropriate to send to you. Because of that, I have taken out the humor, distilled some points, removed others, and added some, so that this letter will reflect my thoughts without the funny bits that, it must be admitted, were simply an attempt to mask my fear of speaking plainly.

To introduce myself to you, this is what might be in my file at BJU: In 1980 or 1981, I turned in my roommate for wearing pants off campus. In 1990, I contacted you for advice because I had been fired from a Christian school for telling students Santa Claus is a myth. In 1993, I came to you with the scary news that I had received a positive HIV test after attempting to give blood for a fellow BJUP employee. (The test was later found to be in error.) In 2009 or 2010, Beneth poured ice-water for me at the Perrys’ home here in my neighborhood. I have written 11 books (all still in print) for Journeyforth. You have always been kind to me.

Dr. Bob, there is a rumbling among some alumni, and it is a rumbling of fear. We are afraid that our friends who have 30 or more years of service invested in the University will be fired without a pension and without benefits, as Dr. McCauley was. If you and Stephen were powerless to help Dr. McCauley, you will be just as powerless to help our friends who are less visible than Dr. McCauley is.

We are afraid that the Board will, at any moment, decide that the purpose of the School can no longer be fulfilled and will shut the whole place down (as the Charter provides), distributing funds to a select few—including most importantly your immediate family—without regard for the thousands of students and faculty and staff who would be left high and dry.

We are afraid that, because of dwindling enrollment and a shrinking demographic and the availability in other places of more modern music, water parks, and what not, our Alma Mater will not be available to future students. Our own children and grandchildren will not even have the choice to experience the distinctives BJU offers because, due to Board action mentioned above, it will not exist.

Should the Board really have the power to sell to the highest bidder a Campus dedicated to Christ and purchased with the sacrificial giving and life’s work of thousands of loyal alumni, faculty, staff, and students simply because it doesn’t care for reasonable modernization?

Should not the Board, rather, repent of its collective heels-dug-in stance against, say, modernizing the music, in hopes of recruiting a new generation of Christian young people committed to Jesus Christ and His Gospel of saving grace? Indeed, does not a refusal to budge on non-creedal issues indicate a desire to see BJU close and the proceeds distributed among those the Board chooses? This frightens me.

Because of these and other concerns, I wrote a list of changes I would like to see implemented. Edited and changed for reasons mentioned above, here are those things:

1. Change the name of the school. As sad as it is to hear, “Bob Jones University” has unhappy connotations, nor do many people have any idea who your Grandfather was. I recommend “South Carolina Christian College” or something similarly generic.

2. Bring in a new President from outside who has an earned doctorate from a regionally-accredited University. Tie his salary to enrollment. We feel very sorry that Stephen has been so ill for so long, but at this point the School needs someone who can vigorously preach, vigorously promote, vigorously recruit, and vigorously move the School forward. Even a pro tempore President might work, if one had the magnetic personality and outgoing nature of, say, Mike Buiter.

3. There is a widespread feeling that the Board is a group of old racists. In a spirit of disarming this belief, require all members of the Board to sign and then read aloud in chapel to be permanently posted on sermonaudio.com the following statement:

“I have never aligned myself with, nor prayed for the success of the Ku Klux Klan. I regret my racist past, if any, and pledge myself to furthering the mission of South Carolina Christian College by actively seeking out African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-American faculty and students.

“I regret the termination of aging faculty and pledge that this practice will no longer occur. I pledge to sell the art collection, back-campus housing, or other non-educational assets rather than to abandon those who have given their working lives to this school.

“I further pledge to speak out boldly against any past, present, or future corruption relating to the College—including sexual abuse or its cover-up—when I learn of it and without regard for my own or my colleagues’ personal interests.

“Furthermore, I will attempt to avoid speaking evil of the President of the United States during his or her term in office.

“So help me God.”

Retain no one on the Board who cannot enthusiastically sign this statement.

4. Enlist the help of Alumni volunteers of good-standing to check music submitted by students so that new songs that meet reasonable objective guidelines as to beat, lyric, general tone, and genre can be listened to and even purchased in the Bookstore.

5. Occasionally introduce in chapel a new worship song that meets the reasonable objective guidelines mentioned above. “New” may mean songs that are decades old, such as “We Will Glorify the King of Kings” (copyright 1982) by Twila Paris, which is now in hymnbooks. The fact is that students and their parents know that there are many authentically worshipful, Bible-based, and non-rock songs among what is called Christian Contemporary Music.

6. Allow other checked worship songs in hall meetings, society meetings and outings, and other non-worship-service settings.

7. Encourage chapel speakers to speak more of Jesus and less of homosexuality, remembering that we speak about what we think about.

8. Encourage students who may be engaged in sexual sin or struggling with homosexual or heterosexual cravings or who may be pregnant or otherwise in moral difficulty to seek confidential help. History tells us that the Dean of Men’s and Dean of Women’s offices have not been safe havens for students with moral issues, but merely pit-stops on the way to being shipped home. A confidential counseling center could be established to help students work through issues—rather than being shipped for them.

9. Drop the word “Fundamentalist” for the simple reason that it connotes jihadism. Purposefully distance yourselves from this word. Coin a new word if a label is necessary and no existing word accurately describes us.

10. Hire one Black faculty member immediately. Add one more every year. Add an African-American to the Board without delay. Add another in a couple of years.

11. Commit yourselves to accepting the G.R.A.C.E. report with dignity, with repentance, and with grace, making the changes that will be obviously necessary once the report comes out. If you have not already done so, exhort any faculty, Board member, affiliated preacher, and so forth, to come clean before the report comes out, resigning from his ministries, seeking forgiveness from and offering restitution to those he has wounded, and even turning himself into law enforcement if appropriate.

12. Do what needs to be done to implement the Promise, especially as to those older former faculty already dismissed and living on Social Security. It is wrong to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right, and it is wrong to fire loyal, hard-working faculty in order to save money for whatever “right” reason.

13. We beg you to reinstate Dr. McCauley in some capacity for the next two years so that he can retire with full benefits.

14. Give Mr. Peterman his diploma. Expelling anyone (no matter what the infraction, less than a serious felony, perhaps) within 9 days of graduation is unconscionable.

15. Create and publish an “exit strategy” that will calm fears, indicating that, in the sad event the School closes, all current faculty and staff and all retired faculty and staff will receive a portion of the proceeds of the School’s sale in some proportion relating to their years of service, before the remainder of the money is distributed to other Gospel endeavors, the M & G, or the Jones family.

16. Apologize for saying homosexuality would be stopped were all gays to be stoned. Although this statement was made decades ago, it continues to wound.

Sincerely, and in the hope that our School will continue to exist to glorify Jesus for the next eighty-six years,

Sharon Hambrick (MA, 1981)
Brian Hambrick (BSN, 1997)

P.S. From Brian: I fully support Sharon’s statement here and asked her to send it. Both Sharon and I continue to be thankful for our BJU educations, and for Journeyforth’s publishing of Sharon’s books. My nursing degree has allowed me to support my family well in the sixteen years since I graduated (at the ripe old age of 39!). Sadly, at this time, we feel it is impossible to look at BJU as a future place for our children’s education, but we hope that will change as appropriate changes come to BJU. We are committed to doing our part, if there is anything we can do to further reasonable, appropriate change.

A THOUGHT ON BJU, HOPE, AND CHANGE

I’ve been a loyal alumna since 1981, done my bit of defending my school, stuck up for Dr. Bob (even Junior, in all his nonsense and rudeness: “So’s your little boy!”), and generally kept my head stuck as far down into the sand as was practical with a figure like mine. I’ve avoided the noise, excused the things I couldn’t avoid, blamed Mr. Peterman and thought bad thoughts about Dr. Lewis, even to composing a little song (you might know the tune if you’re carnal):

Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, Camille-eons
Let Bob alone, Let Bob alooooone.

I wore black on red-balloon day, even though I rarely leave my house and live all the way out in California and I actually know gay people personally and have twice attended birthday parties for children who have two daddies. I toed the line.

After all, a girl—even someone as socially inert as I am—has friends, and I have some at BJU. Good friends with whom I laugh and cry. We pray for each other and each other’s marriages and children. We talk. We struggle. We mourn each other’s losses and cheer each other’s successes. We encourage and preach at each other. We hug across the miles. Some of them have been at BJU for decades. As my heart has been.

But then Joseph Bartosch happened, and my personal struggles with BJU and BJUP (that I’d blamed on myself—my inability to cope, my inappropriate expectations—You want us to sell your books? Wassamattayou? Didn’t you know writing books is your HOBBY?) popped out into the open without so much as a howdy-do. After decades of I’m-a-nice-alumna, I was suddenly slightly disaffected, sorta disgruntled, and a little bit mad. As days passed, the slightly-sorta-little bit part grew, and here we are.

You can read all about Dr. Bartosch in other places. You can read all about Tina Anderson and Matt Olsen and Chuck Phelps in other places. You can read all about Mr. Peterman’s being shipped nine days before graduation in other places. You can see the nonsense about Dr. Senior and the KKK, Dr. Junior and the paintings procured from Naziland, Dr. Third and the charming idea of “consensual rape”, and Dr. Stephen’s “PhD in Liberal Studies”—in other places. In other places you can read about Dr. Wood’s scandalous idea that a woman’s body is like a disposable diaper—someone defiles it, who cares, it’s just the throw-away part, Mr. Miller’s obsession with young men’s masturbation habits, Dr. Berg’s family-friendly advice to molestation victims not to call the police because their mothers will be angry with them if daddy gets sent to prison, and Dr. Mazak’s characterization of PTSD as sin. Vertigo is probably a sin too—brought on by the unbalancing realization that your degree is wobbly and that a school in China won’t make anything all better even if they hang your picture next to Chairman Mao’s and bow to it every morning.

In other places you can read about Dr. McCauley’s firing. (Pause for moment of stunned silence.) About which Stephen (PhD) (Liberal Studies), the University President, feels “helpless.” I wonder what Dr. McCauley (earned doctorate), beloved voice teacher and sometime Bottom-the-Ass, feels?

Other people are taking care of those things. What I want to talk about, in all my anger about these things that has bubbled over onto the surface of my life, is what I’d like to see changed.

For the record, I’m nobody. I have no voice, no audience, and a tiny blog following. I am in leadership nowhere. I church hop as it pleases me. I am in law school, but I am not a lawyer and may never be one (There’s the little matter of the California Bar Exam and the Moral Character Investigation—what will they think when they see I graduated from the Hallowed Halls?).

Still, I have thought about this for a long time, so here are a few things I would like to see happen While There is Yet Time, because if what I’ve heard about Freshman enrollment is true, There Isn’t Much.

1. Change the name of the school immediately to South Carolina Christian College, unless you have at least ten substantial reasons to keep the word “University.” No one should go to a school named Bob.

2. Bring in a new President from outside. An earned doctorate from a well-known university or seminary is required. He or she must agree to take no salary unless and until enrollment begins to rise. At that time, the salary will kick in at an agreed-upon rate until reaching a reasonable level for a similarly-situated ministry. Naturally, health benefits and other perks will begin on Day One. (What is done with Stephen, I do not care. He can go on disability if he can’t work, which is what other people with PhDs in Liberal Studies probably do.)

3. Require the Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees to sign and then read aloud in chapel to be permanently posted on sermonaudio.com the following statement:

“I have never aligned myself with, nor prayed for the success of the Ku Klux Klan. I regret my racist past, if any, and pledge myself to furthering the mission of South Carolina Christian College by actively seeking out African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-American faculty and students.

“Furthermore, I regret the termination of aging faculty and pledge that this practice will no longer occur. I pledge to sell the art collection, back-campus housing, or other non-educational assets rather than to abandon those who have given their working lives to this school.

“I further pledge to speak out boldly against any past, present, or future corruption relating to the College—including sexual abuse or its cover-up—when I learn of it and without regard for my own or my colleagues’ personal interests.

“Furthermore, as much as it lies in me, I will attempt to avoid speaking evil of the President of the United States during his or her term in office, even if he or she is a Democrat, so help me God.”

Anyone who cannot sign and read aloud this statement into the record shall not be retained on the Board. No leeway shall be given to veterinarians whose sons work at the Statehouse.

4. Vespers shall be held twice a semester on Thursday evenings. Attendance at either of these will fulfill a student’s vespers requirement (if any) for the semester.

5. Non-mandatory praise-and-worship services, led by a “Northland Style” worship band will be available for students to attend in the Amphitorium one night per semester. Attendance will not be taken. Hands may be raised in praise to Jesus. Tears of joy permitted. Speaking in tongues remains an expulsion offense, so students fearing the moving of the Spirit should sit out of earshot of others. Overflow seating in Rodeheaver with video link. Chaperones to be brought in from North Hills if there are insufficient faculty willing to attend.

6. Speaking of Jesus, it will be mandatory for Chapel Speakers to use His Name at least as often as the words homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia are used. A chart will be compiled by visiting Alumni Overseers.

7. Rants against homosexual students will end. Charts will be kept by the Alumni Overseers.

8. The Alumni Overseers will be a rotating body of volunteer alumni not currently employed by South Carolina Christian College. They will be conspicuous by their attire or an identifying badge. In addition to their keeping charts on chapel messages, they will accept signed and anonymous messages from students on any topic whatever. They will not report to anyone. Students do take the risk, when passing messages to the AOs that memes might be made about them. However, all memes will be kept in good humor and without names. Urgent messages will be passed to appropriate law enforcement. Confidential messages regarding the following (and related) will be kept confidential and students will be steered to appropriate, loving resources:

a. “I might be gay.”
b. “I might be pregnant.”

8. In the interest of academic and political freedom, a Young Democrats club will be formed for those who need an outlet for their rebellion as well as for the poli-curious and incoming minority students (see Board oath, above). No one will be penalized, snubbed, or shunned for joining or attending this club, which will meet on the First Tuesday after the First Monday of every month (because it just makes sense) in an easily-accessible campus room. (That is, not the Rupp Room.) Republican students who “crash” the meeting may not “report” anyone for making fun of Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. (On other Tuesdays, the campus “Birther” club will meet in Lecture A. Kenyan coffee served by genuine Timothy-student Kikuyu.)

9. The following nonsense will end: characterization of Reformed thought as “unbiblical.” If possible, lure Dr. Michael P.V. Barrett back from parts unknown so that people will enjoy Bible class again and Sandra can be near her grandchildren. Ignore Dr. Barrett’s characterization of students as “idiots” in the interest of fascinating Reformed, if premillennial, teaching.

10. A serious effort to recruit black faculty will begin immediately. There are a number of doctorally-prepared black Reformed pastors around. Start with Dr. Reddit Andrews and move on from there.

11. Bring back dessert.

12. Acknowledge that pants are not a privilege, and front campus is not a place for figure-flattering hosiery choices.

12. Bring back Dr. McCauley. Apologize to Dr. McCauley. Promote Dr. McCauley to Chief Brand Officer, although it must be admitted that his wife is a bit young for him too.

13. Shut down the impractical and non-profitable extra “ministries.” Stop with the China School. Our enrollment is dwindling. Our demographic is shrinking. We need to expand our ministry by opening up the music and shutting down the hateful nonsense that mental illness is fake and rape victims who talk about it are psycho.

Sharon Hambrick
MA, Church History, 1981 (this degree is no longer offered, somewhat like a PhD in Liberal Studies)
BJUP, 1992-1997, Elementary Authors: Math, Heritage Studies, Bible.
Author of 11 children’s books with Journeyforth, including the Arby Jenkins series, The Year of Abi Crim, Adoniram Judson: God’s Man in Burma (also available in Korean), The Fig Street Kids Series (the Tommy Books), and Brain Games (a novel, not a puzzle book).