I have a new investigative story up at The Prospect, profiling the pioneering work of the evangelical organization GRACE:
…The idea that Bob Jones would reach outside itself for help was stunning—especially considering to whom it was reaching out. GRACE was founded by a member of evangelical royalty: Boz Tchividjian (“rhymes with religion,” he likes to say), a former prosecutor who teaches law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry Falwell’s legacy school, and who is the grandson of “America’s pastor,” Billy Graham. Before he came to fame, Graham was a Bob Jones University dropout who Bob Jones Sr. said would never amount to more than a “poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks.” Though the two later became friends, they split again in 1957 over Graham’s revival crusades—in particular, a crusade at Madison Square Garden that Jones, who’d warned Graham to avoid cities and politicians, condemned as too ecumenical and accommodating to modern society. The quarrel between the two men led to a rift between fundamentalists and evangelicals that persists today, as evangelicals seek to win souls by engaging mainstream culture and fundamentalists retreat from it. When Jones’s great-grandson Stephen Jones, now president of the university, appealed to Graham’s heir, it seemed like a transformative moment. Perhaps the fortress was raising its gates at last.
It was momentous for Tchividjian and GRACE as well. Tchividjian had become convinced that the Protestant world is teetering on the edge of a sex-abuse scandal similar to the one that had rocked the Catholic Church. He is careful to say that there’s not enough data to compare the prevalence of child sex abuse in Protestant and Catholic institutions, but he’s convinced the problem has reached a crisis point. He’s not alone in that belief. In 2012, Christian radio host Janet Mefferd declared, “This is an epidemic going on in churches. … When are evangelicals going to wake up and say we have a massive problem in our own churches?”
For years, Protestants have assumed they were immune to the abuses perpetrated by celibate Catholic priests. But Tchividjian believes that Protestant churches, groups, and schools have been worse than Catholics in their response. Mission fields, he says, are “magnets” for would-be molesters; ministries and schools do not understand the dynamics of abuse; and “good ol’ boy” networks routinely cover up victims’ stories to protect their reputations. He fears it is only a matter of time before it all blows up in their faces and threatens the survival of powerful Protestant institutions.