Sunday, December 14, 2014

The 3 - December 14, 2014

In this edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, a report has been released concerning abuse involving students at a notable Christian university.  Also, the state of Kentucky has reversed a multi-million dollar tax break afforded to a new Noah's Ark theme park under construction there.  And, a major newsmagazine has named its annual person of the year, acutally multiple persons, and there is a religious element to it.

3 - Report: Christian university responded poorly to abuse victims 

While sexual abuse on college campuses continues to be a significant topic, a famous Christian university has been taken to task for its response to students to claimed to suffer sexual abuse on campus or who found that their past experience with abuse was not handled properly by university staff.

Religion News Service reported this week on the release of a 300-page report conducted by the organization GRACE, which concluded that Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian school, responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Bob Jones commissioned GRACE, which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.The executive director of GRACE, is Boz Tchividjian, who is a grandson of Billy Graham, who had parted ways with the leadership of BJU due to the university's fundamentalism.  The famed evangelist had attended BJU briefly.

The school still sees itself as fundamentalist, though it describes itself in its promotional materials more broadly as nondenominationally Christian.

The school decided in 2011 to hire GRACE to investigate claims of mishandling of sexual abuse after national media reports surfaced. Earlier this year, the school fired, and then rehired, GRACE to investigate allegations. A representative for the university said both parties agreed not to discuss concerns during that time.

According to Religion News Service, Bob Jones highlighted findings from the report:
  • BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately.
  • Staff were seen by some victims as insensitive to their suffering.
  • Some victims reported that the school’s counseling was inadequate, insensitive and counterproductive.
  • Some felt staff tended to blame victims for the abuse or sexual assault.
  • Counseling sometimes overlapped with disciplinary actions.
  • Several victims reported that their abuse was not reported to legal authorities by campus counselors.
In a statement, university president Steve Pettit said, “On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault..."

He added: “I promise the victims who felt we failed them that the GRACE report is an extremely high priority that has our immediate and full attention.”

In a statement, Tchividjian said, “Though much in this report will understandably cause readers to grieve, GRACE is encouraged by the willingness of Bob Jones University to take the unprecedented step to voluntarily request this independent investigation and to make these difficult findings public” He stated, "Such institutional transparency is too rare and will hopefully set a positive precedent for Christendom and the watching world.”

Pettit will appoint a committee to review the report findings and recommendations during the next 90 days. He said the school has taken steps to respond to sex abuse. Every faculty and staff must promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse. School staff encourage adult victims of sexual assault to report their experience to the police.

2 - State of Kentucky reverses tax breaks for Noah's Ark theme park in KY

The theme park, which, according to its website, is centered around a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark, under construction by Answers in Genesis, has had approximately $18 million in tax incentives for the proposed park in Northern Kentucky retracted by a Kentucky state government official.  The Christian Post has a report.

The Post refers to a report by the The Courier-Journal saying that Answers in Genesis, headed by Ken Ham, is now considering a federal lawsuit challenging the decision.

Answers in Genesis had applied for and was granted preliminary approval to participate in a state tax-incentive program which would have allowed them to keep 25 percent of the sales tax collected at the theme park for 10 years, amounting to more than $18 million.

In a recent letter highlighted by the Journal, however, Kentucky's Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet said the Ark Encounter theme park had changed its hiring policy since it first filed for the incentives in 2010 and plans to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

It also noted that the theme park had shifted from being a tourist attraction to an extension of the Answers in Genesis ministry which teaches a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart noted that, in the letter, "State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion...The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible."

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority had granted preliminary approval for the incentives in July and requested written assurances that there would be no discrimination based on religion. Since Stewart does not recommend the project for the incentives, however, it will not get final approval from the authority.

James Parsons, an attorney for Answers in Genesis, said he sent a letter to the cabinet on Monday noting that the state's demands on hiring policies are in violation of both state and federal law.

"If you insist on the newly imposed condition ... it will amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and my client will have no choice but to seek redress in federal court."

1 - Ebola fighters named TIME's "Person of the Year"

For their “tireless acts of courage and mercy,” TIME magazine has named the Ebola fighters as its 2014 person of the year. reports that a number of people, including medical professionals like Dr. Kent Brantly of Samaritan's Purse and Nancy Writebol of SIM, stepped up to manage the disease when federal governments and international health organizations were dragging their feet, fighting “a war that is waged with bleach and a prayer," according to TIME managing editor Nancy Gibbs in her explanation.

Brantly actually was pictured on one of the covers of the magazine released to coincide with the announcement.  At the Samaritan's Purse website, Dr. Brantly is quoted as saying, “From the community health care volunteers in Liberia, to the dedicated staff of organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and MSF, to the doctors and nurses at Emory University Hospital, Ebola Fighters are mostly anonymous heroes whose diverse faces are largely unknown even to their patients as they wage this war in head-to-toe protective gear...It is these nameless champions that TIME has recognized today.”

The website points out that to date there have been more than 17,000 Ebola cases in this outbreak, leading to more than 6,000 deaths.

“It’s not simply an historic event that we’re looking back on,” Dr. Brantly said in a phone interview on NBC’s Today show. “It’s still happening … they’re still in the trenches fighting that war.”

As the Christianity Today piece highlights, the story of Ebola fighters has a strong religion angle, which TIME makes “abundantly clear” in highlighting the role of Samaritan’s Purse and other missionary doctors and even the Bible, Get Religion columnist Bobby Ross Jr. noted approvingly.

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