Tag Archives: Prairie Bible College

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.

The Death and Life of Prairie Bible College

Jeremy Klazus has a great article on the trials and tribulations of Prairie Bible College.

Prairie Bible College Opinionated alumni and donors have long scolded PBI leaders for deviating even slightly from the status quo. Even L.E. got flak. After spending 19 years as a missionary in Japan, a Prairie grad named Marvin L. Fieldhouse returned to PBI, disliked what he saw and wrote a fiery undated pamphlet titled “Whither Bound” (described on its stark black cover as “a shocking analysis of current trends at Prairie Bible Institute”). Inside, he recalled seeing Ernest Manning, then Alberta’s premier, on the platform at PBI’s 40th anniversary in 1962, a scene that would have been incomprehensible in the institute’s early days. L.E. had warmed to politics over the years and especially liked Manning, admiring that he kept his radio broadcasts free from politics (“a wiser man than Aberhart,” he once wrote). Fieldhouse was nevertheless incensed. “I honestly wanted to vomit right where I sat in the tabernacle,” he wrote.

L.E. got sheaves of letters from similarly disgruntled American fundamentalists. A Minneapolis woman who’d heard that her niece was using hair rollers at Prairie wrote in 1966, “No wonder that in the picture which she sent home that she looked so worldly—much more so than when she left home. What is happening to your standards up there anyway??” Other letters carried a more menacing tone. After a PBI quartet visited his church in 1977, Pastor George C. Bergland of Le Roy, Minnesota wrote saying he was distressed by the singers’ appearance. “For example, last night, some of the young fellows badly needed a haircut. One of them had a moustache.” Bergland was further offended by “pictures of girls in slacks playing tennis” in a PBI publication. Then came his threat: “I am writing to say that if the trend towards worldly dress and haircuts continues I am sure that it won’t be long before our support will be discontinued. I am sure that the same will be true of many fundamental churches.”

L.E. responded generously even to the kooks. To Bergland, he wrote, “we appreciate folk who hold standards in this day—when the whole world has pretty well gone down the drain.” Yet he reminded his correspondent that “there are greater things that unite us” than moustaches and hairstyles. Still, change came slowly at PBI. L.E. himself resisted faculty efforts to relax rules forbidding male-female interaction, and TVs were forbidden in staff homes until the mid-’80s, after L.E. had died.