JordonCooper Rotating Header Image

The end of the line for Prairie Bible Institute?

Canada’s oldest fundamentalist Bible College finds itself in the middle of a sex abuse scandal.  As Jeremy Klazus reports in the Calgary Herald, instead of looking outward for a third party, it is trying to handle things internally.

Callaway, who did his master’s research on sex abuse in churches and recently completed a doctoral thesis on Prairie’s history, says the school had a "high authoritarian" atmosphere in which L.E., who died in 1984, spoke for God.

"You just didn’t question him, at least publicly," he said.

After L.E.’s death, the school slowly started relaxing rules (staff, for example, were allowed to have TVs in their homes).

Callaway says he’s not surprised but saddened by the allegations of abuse at Prairie. He was also not surprised when he heard that the board appointed a member to handle the matter, given the school’s history.

"I thought, ‘This is a chapter out of that same book – going to keep it internal, going to try to solve it in-house,’ " said Callaway.

The school has suffered from plummeting enrolment and internal strife over the past decade, but this year the numbers levelled out.

Mark Maxwell, who took over as president last year, has repeatedly said the school is taking a new direction toward openness and transparency.

"There’s this idea that the board is going to protect the image or the reputation of the school," said Maxwell. "No, that’s the way you destroy the school, actually, by trying to artificially protect its reputation. I think we can leave the reputation of the school with God."

Prairie’s willingness to publicly acknowledge the allegations would have been unheard of in years past.

The school put a news release about the matter on its website before the Herald broke the story on Saturday, more or less inviting media scrutiny.

"The move could backfire," said Callaway.

"It’s one of those situations where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really."

I am not sure what to think.  I have several friends my age who were sexually and physically abused in churches across the country and the families and churches when they found out, kind of just ran the abuser out of town.  In rural areas there wasn’t the capacity to deal with a lot of the abuse.  When Wendy came out about her own sexual abuse, many women we know (and readers of this blog) reached out and said they went through the same thing.  You also have the residential school abuse.  Even noted lawyer and scholar Larry Lessig went through is own personal abuse.

If I was Prairie, I would bring in a third party, offer whatever help that they can offer, and cooperate in whatever way they can.  In many ways I would pay as little attention to my lawyers as possible and listen to some pastors and counsellors.  If victims want to sue, I doubt Prairie has the resources to survive and if you are going to go down, go down trying to do the right thing.  I feel for the victims.  Hopefully there is a process that can lead to peace and heading.

4 Comments

  1. Anne Stevenson says:

    What bothers me is the implied assumption in the media and in private conversations that the allegations are automatically the truth. Yes they may be, but it may be better not to jump into the conversational fray until there is more evidence for these accusations, or a court case…..something more tangible before we get all tangled up in discussions with little proven factual basis. Find out more about the original accuser and it may change the ideas currently in vogue for discussion.

  2. I am Linda Fossen and I am the “original accuser” that your previous reader mentions. I am more than willing to answer any and all questions regarding my abuse or the abuse of the 90+ survivors from Prairie Bible Institute who have contacted me.

  3. Angelyn says:

    What is the current status? Has it been successfully swept under the rug, amid declarations of “openness and transparency”? For whatever reasons the RCMP didn’t bring charges, is that the end of this story for PBI? What about the victims/survivors? I am one, not counted in the “90+ survivors” because when that count was made, I was unaware of the scandal. Has anything been done beyond selecting a biased (in favor of PBI) and untrained PBI alumni volunteer team to “reconcile” the victims? (Pastoral counseling training does not qualify, particularly when victims are abused in a religious setting.) Did we learn anything from Penn State? Is this “over” and everyone has moved on – business as usual, Onward Christian Soldiers – with the survivors left to fend for themselves? I’m looking for nothing for myself but there are others, younger… Does PBI consider the matter closed, just relieved that formal charges have not been brought? Does PBI consider their reconciliation team an adequate and viable answer to victims’ issues? When I was there, all students’ actions on campus became issues to be fully addressed and handled by the school administration, with no hesitation about punishing or expelling offenders. What about abuse perpetrated on campus by PBI staff and representatives? These are only a few of the questions unanswered as far as I can tell…

  4. S. Melissa Hausen says:

    In any organization or institution of man, there will always be those who have evil purposes. Whether these allegations are true or not, I think it is wrong to tar an entire institution with the same brush. One guilty person does not equal an entire group. I think Mark Maxwell is handling this properly, and I think we need to respect that.

Leave a Reply