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  • Brian Fuller

Lessons Learned from the BJU/Pettit Contract Renewal



I received a call from a friend late on Thursday night, August 25th. On that call, I understood clearly where things were with Dr. Steve Pettit and the BJU Board of Trustees. We ended the call with a mutual commitment to contact all the members of the Board of Trustees to communicate our support for President Pettit and how encouraged we were with the present trajectory of BJU. We also promised one another to ask other grads and friends of the University to do the same. Today, nearly three months later, having become part of a group of 5000+ graduates and friends of BJU who sent nearly 9000 letters to the Board of Trustees, the BJU Chancellor, and to President Pettit, and having seen the renewal of Dr. Pettit’s contract, I have learned some lessons.

Christian Colleges and Universities are different than Churches. This may be a no brainer for some. It proved a matter of category confusion for others. But BJU is not a church. That’s not a terrible thing. It’s a true thing. Churches make promises to one another primarily through church covenants. Churches are led by a plurality of elders and served by gifted deacons who must meet character qualifications from the Scriptures. And, Baptistic churches, which many of us are familiar, are ultimately governed by their congregation. None of those are true for Bob Jones University. BJU, like many institutions, is governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees. The Board is presently made up of seventeen members, (including the President of BJU) of which seven make up the Executive Committee. The Board Chairman sits at the peak of the institutional flowchart. Understanding this distinction is vital. Some of us approached (or advocated) the Board of Trustees like we were appealing to our pastoral team, our elders or our deacons. It didn’t take long for us to realize that BJU is not our local church. Albeit a Christian institution, the Bob Jones University Board of Trustees, is nearly identical to a corporate board and it should be approached accordingly.


Churches make promises to one another primarily through church covenants. Churches are led by a plurality of elders and served by gifted deacons who must meet character qualifications from the Scriptures. And, Baptistic churches, which many of us are familiar, are ultimately governed by their congregation. None of those are true for Bob Jones University.

BJU alumni are loyal and, for the most part, love their alma mater. On Sunday, October 30th, at 9pm, I had the idea of starting a Facebook Group, to be a sort-of “rallying of the BJU faithful” in order to collectively address the Board about renewing Dr. Steve Pettit’s contract. When I woke up on Monday morning, the page was north of 500 followers. Today, (Sunday, November 20, 2022) three weeks later, there are over 5000 members of the group. That’s nothing to throw a party about by secular standards, but when you are talking about the alumni of a Christian University, that has approximately 40,000 living graduates living across the globe, having nearly 13% of them reunite on a social media group is significant. But it wasn’t just the numbers. It was the letters. (A lot of letters!) It was the stories as well. Amazing stories. Some, like me, recounted wonderful memories of their days at BJU. There were other stories shared that weren’t as heart-warming. And, it was the inclusion of graduates who had either been pained by the University, disenfranchised, or blacklisted who showed-up not to spew out angry words, but to rally around the necessary culture changes that have happened at BJU in the past decade. It may sound corny, but the page has functioned like a happy alumni reunion pavilion in many ways. The lesson is clear. The BJU alumni are loyal, perhaps even despite the University not always being loyal to them.

Relational issues are dealt with one way, political ones another. As believers, when we have relational tiffs, or grievances with one another, we have a plethora of Bible passages that guide us towards reconciliation. When there are sinful attitudes, actions and words displayed, we also have clear protocols for dealing with them Biblically (Matthew 18, Galatians 6:1). Even when our spiritual leaders sin, the ever-sufficient Scriptures layout rules for accountability. (I Timothy 5) But a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees that governs an institution is an entirely different animal. I’m not suggesting that they don’t have the same Scriptures to guide them as believers. But as with corporate boards, a Christian University board of trustees is lobbied, influenced and often swayed by special interest groups. They are political by nature. That’s not said pejoratively. It’s just true. What must be ensured, however, is that the Board of Trustees is not unduly influenced. In addition, the Board members must be up-front and exercise recusal for any conflicts of interests that may arise. When these principles for good Board governance are ignored or violated, they must be exposed to safe guard the institution's stability. This lesson clears the fog, in my opinion, from the suggestion that Christians should “just pray” for the BJU Board of Trustees rather than leveraging influence and exposing inappropriate activity. Understandably, and perhaps appropriately, some Christians will feel squeamish with open letters, public discussion, and shining a light on undue influence and conflicts of interest. (As in the case of the FBFI) If we were looking for a Biblical example, this is more of an Esther moment than a Euodia and Syntyche one.


"...the Board of Trustees is not unduly influenced. In addition, the Board members must be up-front and exercise recusal for any conflicts of interests that may arise."

There is a hunger for a strong, confessional center of fellowship. The five concerns listed in the FBFI letter could accurately be described as cultural issues, Christian liberty concerns, and tertiary disputes. In contrast, BJU repeats the University Creed at each chapel reminding all the faculty, staff and students that what brings us together in unity is our shared beliefs, and not a list of agreed-upon standards of Christian living. The list from the FBFI letter, appears to have eventually become the blueprint of concerns that some on the Board of Trustees insisted Dr. Pettit and the Administration address.


"The list from the FBFI letter, appears to have eventually become the blueprint of concerns that some on the Board of Trustees insisted Dr. Pettit and the Administration address."

The list of concerns ranged from items like the Church Attendance Policy to women’s dress on campus. The University Creed, on the other hand, ranges from declaring belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures to faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. An open letter was written to the Board of Trustees affirming unwavering commitment to the fundamentals and was signed by over 400 ministry leaders. (Mostly BJU Graduates) There is a clear desire for coming together and standing strong for the things that matter, for things of “first importance.” It feels like a Reformation is afoot. Praise be to God!

Character is shown under pressure. I tuned in to most of the chapels that Dr. Pettit spoke over the past two months. It was intentional on my part as I don’t generally have time to listen. Those chapel messages included his special message on the University Creed, multiple sermons from Galatians 5, a clarification announcement following the petition, and his most recent talk after his contract was renewed. I was mostly impressed by what Dr. Pettit didn’t say, even over what he did. Steve didn’t criticize the Board of Trustees or the Chancellor. Instead, he kept pointing the faculty, staff and students to pray and to trust in the Lord completely. He consistently exemplified grace and humility. His sermons on putting away the flesh's works and walking in the Spirit were great. The living out of his sermons before us all was eloquent and impactful.

We came together during a crisis, but we will continue, committed to BJU’s flourishing into its hundredth year and beyond. Three days after beginning the BJUnited Facebook Page, I spoke on the phone with Rick Altizer. From our first brief chat I understood swiftly that the concerns I and other friends had been sharing privately together for a month were also shared by many others. In fact, Rick had already assembled a team who would, two weeks later, become the founders/administrators of Positive BJU Grads & Friends. The first goal for our group was crystal clear: leverage all of our assets to encourage the Board to renew Dr. Pettit’s contract. As we united around this singular target, we realized that in order to prevent the return to a similar impasse in three years, we could address the systemic issues that led to the crisis in the first place. Those can be summarized in in a few belief statements: We believe BJU alumni must be engaged and involved in order to perpetuate this excellent, Christ-centered academic environment for present and future students. We believe alumni must contribute to BJU financially in order to provide and maintain a modern, adequately equipped campus. We believe BJU alumni must be dedicated and supportive to our amazing BJU Faculty and Staff ensuring that they be fairly and competitively remunerated. In addition, we believe BJU alumni must insist upon and enable fundamental Board reform for the BJU Board of Trustees. Please join us at www.positivebju.com

We believe in the inspiration of the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments);

the creation of man by the direct act of God;

the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

His identification as the Son of God;

His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb;

His power to save men from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.

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