Thinking Out Loud

May 1, 2012

Bob Jones University Expells Student Weeks Before Graduation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:05 am

He was due to graduate in mere weeks.  He was nowhere near the number of demerit points necessary for expulsion. 

But suddenly that all changed for Christopher Peterman.

Darrell at SFL fills in the details:

…It begins when a man named Ernie Willis raped a young girl named Tina Anderson. The pastor of Tina’s church at the time was Chuck Phelps, a man who by his own testimony not only failed to vigorously pursue justice for Tina but also required her to give a confession of her alleged sin before the church and then aided in removing her from the state and apparently out of the reach of local authorities. Yet with the fact of his actions revealed both on national television and in a court of law, Chuck Phelps remained a person in good standing with several fundamentalist organizations such as The Wilds and Bob Jones University. Bob Jones not only continued to call him a friend of the college but after the conviction of Ernie Willis then went on to proactively show their support for him by placing him back on one of their own boards…

Peterman was part of organizing “Do Right BJU” asking for Phelps to be removed the BJU Board of Directors.  This put the media spotlight on the university wherein it assured the public no students would be expelled for their participation.

But suddenly all that changed.

Dianna Anderson explains:

…[T]hings didn’t end there for Peterman. Even though BJU couldn’t really expel him for protesting – after all, that’s a first amendment right, and they’d had their hands tied by their own words to the media – they put him on watch.

You see, at BJU, students function on a system of demerits. You get a certain number of demerits based on infractions of the rules – 150 demerits, and you get expelled. These rules are detailed in the student handbook (PDF). The handbook itself is a piece of work, and well worth a gander – there are several sections reinforcing the idea that BJU students must submit to “God-given human authorities” (read: the BJU administration). You’re also expected to attend church twice a week in addition to Monday-Thursday chapel services (if you’re interested, you can check twitter for the hashtag #BJUHandbook, where I tweeted many of the rules).

BJU used this system of demerits to exact a punishment on Chris for protesting against Phelps. They monitored his FB and twitter feeds carefully, they placed an extra RA in his dorm to keep an eye on him. People started following him both on and off campus to look for him breaking the rules…

SFL continues the story:

…For those of us who have attended similar institutions this is hardly a new tale and hardly unexpected. The campus purges of “undesirables” who are considered unworthy to graduate are a commonly accepted fact. At my own alma mater we referred to this rash of sudden dismissals that would occur right after the spring deadline to withdraw as “spring cleaning.” First they take your money. Then they show you the door and tell you that you are no longer welcome here.

No doubt the headlines (such as they are) will be more concerned in the fact that a college student was punished for watching the television show Glee or not having a proper haircut. I find the focus on those details unfortunate, because beyond these imaginary infractions the real story here goes much deeper to a kind of institutional corruption that is so blatant and yet ignored by those who call themselves friends of the University. One wonders how many more rapes, how many more cover-ups, how many more countless wrongs must be inflicted by Bob Jones University before even the darkened souls of their fundamentalist supporters are too sickened to continue to be complicit in their commission…  [link added] 

While not playing to the Glee distraction, you have to ask yourself why that is an issue. The blogger at Galatians 4 puts this well:

Why on earth are these colleges run like insane English 19th century orphanages where they hand out demerits?

…Is it odd for me to think that punishing a TWENTY THREE YEAR old for watching a TV show is overkill? He watched the show off campus. I do not watch Glee, I would not suggest anyone else watch it, since it promotes many worldly things, but this is a GROWN MAN even if he is very young. Twenty-three year olds have been fathers and have died in wars…  

Some of the final demerits also concerned posting the lyrics for a Christian music song.  The song’s video is posted here at Chuckles Travel, a blog dedicated to continuing follow up in the Tina Anderson case.

FitsNews sums it up well:

As far as we’re concerned, this is yet another example of the rank hypocrisy that’s all too common among South Carolina’s social conservatives. Bob Jones should have never allowed someone like Phelps on its board – and the fact that it is strong-arming a young man who had the courage to call them out on it is despicable.

BeneDiction looks at options for Peterman:

I doubt the attention will help Peterman get his earned degree; other students who participated in Do Right BJU will probably be targeted and I doubt the US Department of Education and Peterman’s congressman can do anything. Perhaps another conservative religious university will step up and give Peterman an opportunity for a degree, perhaps BJU alumni can help him with any student debt. Perhaps the cast and crew of Glee will come up with a creative way to help out. The more attention Bob Jones University gets, the more they will cry persecution.  [emphasis added] 

In collecting all the various pieces of this story, my only addition to what’s already been said is a personal concern about what this says about the people who do graduate from BJU. Would a church necessarily want to hire someone from a cookie-cutter university? From an ultra, ultra-conservative school? From a school whose board has obviously been touched by allegations of corruption? 

I’m sure there are parts of the United States where that’s exactly the kind of graduates they want to hire.  But not where I live. 

And also, with the BJU brand so tainted, if I were the parent of a young child, I would think twice about using the home-school resources that bear their name.



  1. Reblogged this on GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website.

    Comment by goodolewoody — May 1, 2012 @ 6:09 am

  2. The first time I saw this story I largely ignored it. The article I read presented the case from the perspective he was kicked out for watching television. So first, thanks for presenting the whole story and making me look at it again.

    “They monitored his FB and twitter feeds carefully, they placed an extra RA in his dorm to keep an eye on him. People started following him both on and off campus to look for him breaking the rules…” This reminds me of Daniel, with spies lurking about to see if he would still pray toward Jerusalem. If you recall, Daniel was brought out of the lion’s den… and those behind the plot to kill him were thrown in.

    This same type of thing has probably gone on for decades, but that was before Twitter, Facebook and blogging. Look at Egypt and Libya for examples of how social networking can become social activism. The information age is bringing us more than lol cats. A decade ago Peterman might have disappeared like some Soviet defector in the middle of the night, but now social media gives a voice to the masses.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — May 2, 2012 @ 7:59 am

    • That was the point of this story at FBC Jax Watchdog, which wrote a post as a letter to Chris:

      …how sweet is the irony that they viewed you, Chris, as someone they could bully, someone with no power or voice – yet it is precisely their own actions that has helped give you the voice that you now have on these issues. This is one of the amazing aspects of social media. For so long the bullies just squished whoever they wanted. Consider what started this entire fiasco fifteen years ago. When Chuck Phelps at Trinity Baptist made Tina Anderson confess to her “sin” of being raped and then shipped her out of state, while the perpetrator was protected – the zealots got what they wanted: the pastor and the religious institution was spared the embarrassment of scandal and police involvement.

      And I especially liked this paragraph:

      Chris, I hope you have sought out legal advice, and that if you believe you have been wronged, or that your rights have been violated by these zealots, that you will fully consider your legal options and see it through. Oh, they won’t like it, and BJU supporters will say you are “lawyering up” and claim you are out to make money. But make no mistake, the pious and religious men you’re dealing with understand two things: money and power. BJU did what they did because they believed you were the little guy, someone with no power at all. And you were only the next in line of a long list of people who they have successfully bullied. They thought they could bring you harm with little or no ramifications, because they’ve done it before. You were a pest they thought they could just brush aside, a coward that if a little pressure were applied to, would cave in to their demands. But the beauty of our legal system is that the little guy like yourself, with little money and almost no power at all in their eyes, can stand toe-to-toe with the powerful and hold the powerful accountable if you have a lawyer standing with you who believes in you. .

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 2, 2012 @ 9:16 am

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