Raised in a conservative Mennonite home in rural Ohio, Katie Landry was a sheltered kid. She hadn’t even held hands with a boy when, at age 19, she says her supervisor at her summer job raped her. Two years later, and desperate for help, she reported the abuse to the dean of students at her college.
“He goes, ‘Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin,’” Landry remembers. “And he said, ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’ And I just ran.”
Landry ended up dropping out of college, and didn’t tell anyone else for five years.
Her college was Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., the flagship campus of American fundamentalism, which teaches a literal interpretation of the Bible and separation from the world. Last year, BJU hired a watchdog group to investigate how it may have failed victims of sexual abuse. The so-called “fortress of faith,” one of the most closed-off Christian colleges in America, was finally opening itself up.
In an America Tonight investigation, five former students detailed similar and scarring treatment at the hands of BJU faculty. They spoke of a larger culture that heaped on shame and pushed them to silence — one focused on purity and reputation, and insistent on unquestioning obedience. But most damaging was how, through the language of Scripture, victims say they were told that their sins had brought on their rapes, that their trauma meant they were fighting God and that healing came from forgiving their rapists.
The women interviewed for this article attended BJU during the course of three different decades – from the early 1990s to the 2010s – and none of them have fully recovered.
I. Root sin
In 2004, Landry worked over the summer for an ambulance company in Columbus, Ohio. One night, she was counting supplies in the back of an ambulance, when she says she felt the prick of a needle.
“I just couldn’t move and he came over and he took my clothes off,” she remembered. “I could still speak, so I was telling him, ‘No.’ And he raped me and my eyes filled with tears, but I couldn’t brush the tears away.”
Told that he “would do worse” to her 9-year-old sister if she didn’t come back, Landry said she had five more shifts, and was raped three more times, before she left for her freshman year at BJU.
Landry didn’t know the word rape; she only knew adultery, and liked the man’s wife, she said. Afraid of her attacker and deeply ashamed, she said she failed most her classes first semester, and kept her assaults a secret until her junior year.
“I just needed help,” she said. “I needed help really bad.”
Landry said she was referred to Jim Berg, then the dean of students. After she shared her story, she said Berg asked whether she’d been drinking or smoking pot and if she’d been “impure.” When he brought up her “root sin,” she said she raced out of the building.
“He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” Landry said. “It was something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”
BJU practices, preaches and instructs a version of Christian counseling that rejects “secular psychology.” In the school’s worldview, almost all mental problems – beyond the medical – are the result of sin. As explained in the 1996 book, “Becoming an Effective Christian Counselor,” “most people in mental hospitals are not sick; they are sinful.”
Written by Walter Fremont, who was the dean of education at BJU for 37 years, and his wife Trudy Fremont, a former BJU professor, the book specifically addresses incest and rape, advising counselors to emphasize that blame lies with the abuser. But the authors also make clear that being sexually assaulted is no excuse for the sinful feelings of discontentment, hate, fear, and especially, bitterness – unresolved anger that “in reality is rebellion and bitterness against God.”
In a 2009 BJU chapel service, former adjunct professorRand Hummel recounts how he instructed a young woman to ask her abuser – her stepdad – for forgiveness for her bitterness, and that afterwards, he received a letter from her saying, “Finally, for the first time in my teenage life, I can smile.”
[Editor’s note: The below video is edited, because the original could only be found in clips, courtesy of Darrell Dow. The two cuts are clearly marked, and you can listen to the full audio of the sermon here.]
SOURCE: Claire Gordon
Al Jazeera | America Tonight