Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance Part 2

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.
~ Frantz Fanon

What if we took the dry litany of facts as outlined in the last post and replaced each institution with other similar or more neutral ones - say, making it BYU hiring and then firing an ombudsman just before their report, or Penn State firing Louis Freeh weeks before he released his findings - would fundamentalists be able to accept the troubling facts? Would they then be able to see that the inconsistencies and motives for deception are all falling down on one side? Because after what has happened to this point, one would think that anyone paying any attention inside BJU circles would be able to see that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

But if one took that for granted, one would be wrong.

I have watched BJU supporters in multiple online conversations about the situation and find the conversations to be very disheartening. The same old spiritually abusive lines keep coming up over and over again. I feel that for the responses to be so very consistent, there has to be some unifying factor - and I believe that factor is a strongly held core belief that BJU simply cannot be the one at fault. Here are several illustrations:

  • The first group seems to be the "wait for the real story to come out" group - despite the fact that nearly every troubling fact I chronicled previously happened by the end of the first day or two and was all very very public:

(Many of these sorts of comments came from people who didn't seem to realize that the individuals first outraged and commenting on this issue were largely those who had either reported to GRACE or who were well informed as to what many abuse victims had suffered. You know, people who probably knew something pretty concrete about the issue at hand and had actual experience with both institutions. But never mind them, they're just haters.)

  • Then there's what I call the "Scripture silencers". You know, those people who drop a verse to shame everyone into silence. I even saw one person state plainly "not one person should be speaking up against BJU" with a verse attached. It's so consistent that they have to be thinking they're doing the right thing:

  • Don't forget the impressively vague "reasons" - not that anyone can back up their "reasons" with anything concrete. Abuse victims are crying out for justice for what they suffered to anyone who will listen, but don't blame BJU, because "reasons". 

(Just what clear or consistent reasons has Stephen given to this point? Anything?)


(Ah, so "reasons" wasn't good enough for you. So now, "legal reasons". Will you shut up if I say "legal"?)

  • And if it isn't the blissfully ignorant group with a drive-by dismissal of anything approaching criticism of the University:

(Because only unthankful people would say something against the school.
Though, apparently, it's really easy to find things to criticize for some odd reason...)

  • It also didn't take long before people started to dig up what they thought was dirt on GRACE as a justification for BJU's actions. Because that's one of the only conclusions one can come to if one is convinced BJU had a good reason for doing what they did. This came from a discussion about GRACE's report on New Tribes Mission (don't go reading that link unless you have time and stomach enough to read 68 pages of horrific and painfully well-documented abuse). When you don't believe there's really a problem, then someone thoroughly investigating and making strong recommendations for repentence and restitution can't be anything but vindictive, right?

(Seriously, why on earth would an investigation responsible for adequately documenting and making recommendations regarding a well-known abusive situation - already admitted to by some of the perpetrators as well as NTM who previously "investigated" it - would attempt to find out every detail possible? I mean really, what were they thinking?)

  • Finally, there's the people who say one thing and then completely contradict themselves...
(Same person commenting on the thread s/he started; said person continued to 
demonstrate that s/he has no idea about the issue and went on to 
make foolish assumptions/treat people badly/make ridiculous conclusions.)

Yes, indeed - how someone responds to this situation does give you a hint as to the kind of person they are. But in a wildly different way than this person seem to realize.

Which leads me to my final thoughts: why did I ultimately leave Fundamentalism?

There are now 70 published blog posts here describing different facets of the answer to that question. But really, why? Why should these individual occurrences, numerous though they are, drive me so utterly away?

Because nearly everybody I quoted up there is not "one of those" fundamentalists. They're largely normalish, reasonably rational people who try to love God and love their neighbor insofar as the rules let them, and who genuinely don't get what all the outrage is about. They don't want to be mean to anybody, and they're often willing to dialogue, but they keep operating on their core belief and say appallingly callous and hurtful things because of it.

When so many of the "normal" people in Fundamentalism come down on the side of the abuser rather than the abused, when the knee-jerk responses are so predictably spiritually abusive it would be comical if they weren't dead earnest - well, something evil lurks there. These otherwise relatively decent people perpetuate spiritual abuse not out of a mean spirit or on purpose, but because they honestly think that's the right thing to do. It's the pattern their core beliefs dictate.

My dear fundamentalist, when your festering wounds make even the world stagger away and retch while you fail to see a problem, there is little of God there. There is little of the Holy Spirit there. When even the best of fundamentalism acts in such an appalling manner, the best of Fundamentalism doesn't know who Jesus is.

I wanted Jesus.  So I left. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance Part 1

On January 10, 2013, Bob Jones University hired G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to be its independent ombudsman to investigate their alleged past failures to deal with sexual abuse/assault appropriately.  (According to BJU, they hired GRACE due to the Penn State scandal, not the growing rumble of alumni sharing their stories of abysmal treatment on the internet - and certainly not because of Chuck Phelps.  /shrug)

Here are some salient quotes (emphasis mine on this and all subsequent quotations) from the announcement, made at that time with much public fanfare:

...we sought out a third-party Christian organization with which we could partner in an effort to identify any past instances in which former students or others felt underserved by the University’s response. We are grateful to have found GRACE, a credible, compassionate, and experienced Christian organization which conducts independent investigations and solicits unfiltered input from those who have experienced sexual abuse within Christian organizations or who have otherwise felt underserved by the Christian organizations they trusted to help them deal with the wrongs they suffered previously.

It is our prayer that this partnership with GRACE—operated with complete autonomy from Bob Jones University—will create an atmosphere of trust and complete honesty...

In retaining GRACE to conduct this third party investigation, the leadership of Bob Jones University/Academy has pledged to honor the integrity and independence of the investigative process and to cooperate fully with the GRACE Investigative Team. 

An update to the process by GRACE was posted on that site in March 2013, May 2013, August 2013, and November 2013, which can be read from the original announcement page.  GRACE was planning on wrapping up interviews in February 2014 and was scheduled to release its final report in March 2014.

On January 24, 2014 University president Stephen Jones sent GRACE a letter of termination of the contract.

On January 27, 2014, GRACE received it.

On February 6, after days of trying to elicit reasons for the surprise termination from the University and being stymied, GRACE released a public announcement indicating they had been terminated, and posted Dr. Jones' letter as well.

From GRACE's announcement:

This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered.

Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated.

In Dr. Jones' letter, (marked "CONFIDENTIAL" at the top), he speaks of the University's Sexual Abuse Awareness Training they put in place, as well as new policies in the works.  He vaguely indicates the reason for the termination is the "ongoing challenges in leadership change" as he is stepping down as President soon.
Bob Jones University is prepared to meet with GRACE immediately.  We think that it is in the best public interest of both GRACE and BJU to meet and reach a new agreement that will enable us to accomplish our objectives as stated above.
(The objectives stated at the top of the letter were "appropriately responding to reports of sexual abuse and identifying opportunities to ask forgiveness of individuals we may have underserved when they reported to us they had been abused at some point in their life".)

We respectfully request that all documents, information, and interviews be kept confidential.

Alumni who have been watching the GRACE investigation with interest were stunned, and started to make their voices known.

The University hastily released a public statement regarding the termination.
Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. It is BJU’s intention to resolve its differences with GRACE, and we are disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public. 

Since the public firestorm continued to grow, on February 7 BJU held a brief meeting for faculty and students to explain why GRACE was terminated.  The video and an update were posted by the University.  A watchdog group posted a transcription of his comments as well prior to the University's release.

But over just the past months, the last several months, we grew concerned that in the process
GRACE had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because they had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE, so that we can sit down and get it back on track. And that was the entire intention of terminating the agreement and if you look on it, instead of on GRACE's web site or ours, that's clear in my letter of termination.

We have not shared the reasons for our termination at this point, from a distance.
We have not done them point by point with GRACE or with anybody else...

Dr. Jones reiterated that BJU was committed to finishing the process, whether with GRACE or with a third party.  He expressed that the University cares deeply for the people who had reported.

And I just want to reiterate that we are committed, remain committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

Several news outlets have picked up the story, now including the venerable New York Times.

**UPDATE** - BJU and GRACE have agreed to meet the third week of February.

Now.  Questions.
  1. Is "underserved" the best word choice to refer to those whom the University counseled not to report their abusers/rapists, who were told they had a part in their abuse or rape, who were told their PTSD flashbacks from the events was "indulging in lustful thoughts", or for whom the University did not call the police when underage or when the events occurred on campus?
  2. Is abruptly terminating a consultant without explanation honoring the University's pledge to give that consultant autonomy and independence?
  3. Does abruptly terminating a consultant without explanation engender an atmosphere of trust and honesty on the part of the University?
  4. Is it standard practice to terminate a much-publicized contractual agreement confidentially, with no warning?
  5. Is it an example of transparency and accountability to terminate a much-publicized contractual agreement confidentially, with no warning? 
  6. Is it standard practice to terminate an agreement with no prior negotiation, indicate a desire to immediately meet to discuss the issue, and then refuse to discuss the issue for over a week?
  7. Is it logical to terminate an agreement in order to continue an agreement?  Does it demonstrate a commitment to completion of an investigation?
  8. Was Dr. Jones' termination letter clear?
  9. Is the reason given in the termination letter the same as the reason given in BJU's public statement?  Is that statement then the same as the reason given by Dr. Jones at the meeting?
  10. Is the University going to get the names of all the people who reported to GRACE even if the investigation is not continued?  
  11. Is abruptly terminating an agreement with GRACE without warning, declining to be open with GRACE about why, and giving varying public answers as to why termination occured demonstrating commitment to or compassion for the "underserved"?
  12. UPDATE QUESTION - Is meeting "immediately" in a letter dated January 24 consistent with a meeting date of almost 1 month later?

Surely the apparent answers to these questions will not be nearly so troubling once the "full story comes out". Surely.