BJU board member resigns

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Alumni-circulated petition took issue with how Phelps handled abuse allegations

The Rev. Chuck Phelps has resigned from the Bob Jones University cooperating board after a group of alumni circulated a petition asking the university to remove  Phelps because of the way the minister handled allegations that a church member raped a 15-year-old girl in his congregation.

Bob Jones III, BJU chancellor and grandson of the founder, read Phelps' letter of resignation this morning at a regularly scheduled board meeting. A statement on the university's website said Phelps did not want to "distract distract BJU from its mission."

"We are grateful to Dr. Phelps for his many years of loyal service to his alma mater as a member of the Board of Trustees," the statement quoted  Jones as saying.

Phelps was the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, N.H., in 1997 when Tina Anderson accused Ernie Willis of raping her in the backseat of his car after he had given her a driving lesson. A month later Willis raped her again. When she found out she was pregnant, she and her mother went to Phelps.

"I was sure I would be blamed and I was," Anderson told 20/20 reporter Elizabeth Vargas in an hour-long episode that aired in April.

Anderson said Phelps made her stand before the church while he read a statement telling the congregation she was pregnant. At the same time, Willis was required to confess he had committed adultery but no mention was made of Anderson, according to 20/20.

Anderson said Phelps made her go to a private home in Colorado, where she gave up her baby for adoption. She also claimed Phelps told her not to contact the police.

phelpsIn an interview from his Indiana home today, Phelps said, "I didn't want anything in my personal life to be a disruption. People were bringing things to the doorstep of Bob Jones University that didn't need to be there."

He said had been aware of the petition for some time and believes the petitioners were making conclusions, not seeking facts.

He said he reported the incident to police and child protective services, but neither agency followed up. He also said her mother made the decision to send her to Colorado.

Phelps said he allowed Anderson to appear before the congregation as a way to get help not to shame her. But he said he would not allow that to happen today and he regrets that decision.

"I've been willing to say I'm sorry," he said.

Camille Lewis, a BJU graduate and former professor, said, "I am glad to see that Bob Jones University is listening to its concerned alumni. I hope this means that Chuck Phelps will also be resigning from the boards of the Bob Jones affiliated mission board, Gospel Fellowship Association, and youth camp, The WILDS, since both involve oversight of minors. And I hope that Chuck Phelps will no longer be an adjunct faculty member teaching pastoral ethics. A public apology to Tina Anderson, as well, would be only fitting."
Willis was arrested last year. Willis was convicted of two counts of rape in September and sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

Bob Jones spokesman Brian Scoles said Phelps, a 1980 graduate of Bob Jones, served on the board for a period of time and resigned when he took the presidency of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Wisconsin in 2007, where he served two years. BJU Board members asked Phelps to rejoin the board in December 2009. His first board meeting was in May 2010.

David Phillips, who graduated from Bob Jones in 1993, said the petition was started in November when the group found out Phelps was on the board.

"A lot of us might not have said something before now, but this is where you draw the line," Phillips said. "I can't in good conscience see someone like that on the board."

More than 1,100 people had signed the petition.

In addition, a Facebook page called Do Right Bob Jones University was calling for students to wear red on Dec. 12 to protest Phelps' position. The name of the page was taken from a chapel saying of Bob Jones Sr., the university founder.

The university has posted a message on its website about the incident, saying officials spoke to Phelps and had reviewed what had been alleged and what others had written about it.

"We have concluded that some of what is posted on the Internet about this incident is true, but the majority is a little bit of truth mixed with a lot of opinion and speculation," the statement said. "Did Dr. Phelps do everything perfectly? No - nor would anyone make perfect judgments in similar circumstances. He has openly admitted this on his website."

The university denounced bloggers who had judged Phelps.

"A biblical approach would be an attitude of forbearance toward a Christian brother - not recklessly making accusations of crime or cover up against a man of good reputation before gathering the facts. The biblical principle is to go to the person directly and get facts before reaching a judgment. Dr. Phelps has offered to talk to several of his critics and even shared his phone number, but not one has called to talk with him directly."

Phelps said since the university put that statement online, six people have called and he has talked with them. He also said his relationship with the university has not changed.

"I'm a loyal alumus," he said.