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In a few days, Pensacola Christian College administration is hosting an alumni dinner in Denver, which is my neck of the woods. Typical for PCC culture, the invitation does not specify a topic for the evening or a purpose for the dinner. A Denver alum contacted me recently wondering what to do with their invite. Do alumni have the moral responsibility to attend and express concerns with the college’s history and policies? 

Last Fall, I reported that, by invitation, PCC conducted its second advisory board panel of alumni. Attendees reported to me positive movement by the college, even as PCC is reluctant to apologize for past issues.

Since I, like most of you, have not been invited to these advisory panels and alumni dinners, I wanted to give us an opportunity to express what we would like to say at such an event. Supposing we could speak our minds with impunity–speak our minds with both grace AND truth–what would we recommend PCC implement to begin the healing process?

Welcome to the Virtual PCC Advisory Board, where ALL alumni are welcome!

My desire is not to bulldoze or demonize PCC, but through prayer and raising awareness to see PCC become a place for students to grow into fullness and a light of hope to the world.

Please pull up a chair. Thank you for joining us today as a valued voice in this group of alumni advisors. 

Let me say from the outset: My desire in gathering us here is not to bulldoze or demonize PCC, but through prayer and raising awareness to see PCC become a place for students to grow into fullness and a light of hope to the world.

But for PCC to change, they must first repent as an institution. Additionally, certain persons may need to offer their own public apologies without using the institution as cover. PCC must see where they made wrong turns so they may go back and make some right turns. I’ve filmed my story and written dozens of articles (along with other alumni) to indicate why and where PCC needs repentance. My voice is not alone as thousands have also shared their stories and concerns as well, publicly and privately, about our alma mater.

Secondly, for PCC to change, they must make broad policy changes to allow students/faculty/staff more freedom to think and live independently. They need to become invested in developing into adult-like disciples of Christ with adult community and responsibilities. That way, even if PCC is slow to change its attitudes and practices, students/faculty/staff have a better chance to find healthy authority and Biblical discipleship outside the college without fearing they will lose their credits/degree/job or be shamed into submission during their tenure.

I recognize positive change at PCC will take many years. Outward appearances can change overnight, as many have noted. But imagine the steps it would require to weed out the false beliefs and abusive practices built into the DNA of PCC’s way of life. For healthy change, I imagine many staff and faculty would need to retire/leave. New hires who have a healthy and Biblical view of God and humans would need to be found to fill their places. Clear thinking administrators with courage to stand up to dysfunctional but loud churches who will attack PCC for “compromise” will have a challenging job to lead thousands of churches and millions of legalistic Christians into a new understanding of the life of Christ.  

With the enormous amount of data and testimonials from alumni, I’ve found most issues can be alleviated through these four steps.

For our Virtual PCC Advisory Board I propose these steps to Pensacola Christian College.

With the enormous amount of data and testimonials from alumni, I’ve found most issues can be alleviated through these four steps. These steps will allow PCC to continue change their attitudes and behaviors at their own pace while safeguarding students/faculty/staff.

1. Follow the Same Model of Asking for Forgiveness that has been Taught at PCC for Years

Pastor Jim Schettler, the long-time campus pastor at PCC, taught us that a genuine Biblical apology is not merely an expression of remorse with an “I’m sorry,” which is similar to offering condolences. Rather a Biblical apology needs to include:

  1. Admission of guilt
  2. Request for forgiveness
  3. Change in behavior (“repentance”)

Pastor Schettler added that this would be similar in approach to “the Sinner’s Prayer.”

Simply admitting, “Mistakes were made,” as indicated in the last advisory meeting, is insufficient. Saying “We’ve made changes” in outward appearances, creating modern marketing campaigns, or holding a few meetings with hope to persuade alumni that “PCC knows best” is insufficient. Let the confession be with conviction, worthy of the God PCC claims to follow. Come clean. Be mature. Make it swift and thorough.

Anything short of an apology and request for forgiveness to former students/faculty/staff will deepen the problem of hypocrisy we and the world see at PCC.

Some PCC leadership (and many former leadership) know the skeletons in the closet. PCC has punished students/faculty/staff for mere suspicion, called curious students rebellious people, developed a discipline system that supported fear and control over love and growth, removed faculty/staff who knew too much and would not comply, and unjustly tarnished the reputation and careers of countless Christians through punishment, quarantine, and expulsion. These sins need to be confessed.

An example of a script:

I guarantee that such a statement would be the best public relations moment in the organization’s history, with ripple effects to help similar institutions have equal courage.

“At Pensacola Christian College, we realize that our history is tarnished. In trying to do right in the eyes of God, we often failed and misunderstood the will of God in how to train up young people to develop true Christian character. We often traded discipleship for legalism, inner transformation for hypocrisy, and seeking the truth in love for an attitude of suspicion toward the those we served. We mistook the fear of man as the fear of God. Today we ask for forgiveness for this checkered past, for the wounds we caused many individuals in our care, and hope for healing and reconciliation with those who suffered from our hands. We are now working to ensure such attitudes and practices are no longer sustained and supported at Pensacola Christian College. We will develop a network system for alumni so they may to speak into the attitudes and practices of their alma mater. We desire our change to be thorough, leaving no stone unturned and unexamined.”

I guarantee that such a statement would be the best public relations moment in the organization’s history, with ripple effects to help similar institutions have equal courage.

2. Allow Students/Faculty/Staff Attend Other Churches.

Whether it qualifies as a “real church” or not, the Campus Church at PCC is a mandatory Sunday and Wednesday meeting house that reinforces the attitudes, practices, and disciplinary approach of PCC as “God’s will” and the “high standards” of the Christian life which lead to spiritual manipulation.

An option was mentioned at the last advisory meeting to allow students to attend other area churches. In that context, the leadership replied that if PCC considered allowing students to attend other churches, perhaps they could attend one of the 20+ local churches that PCC uses for ministerial internships.

This is a noteworthy consideration but insufficient. PCC only approves churches that reinforce PCC’s attitudes and practices.

This encourages them to learn to follow God’s Spirit in their weekly choices, not because they’re afraid of disobeying but because they love churches that follow God and teach Scripture.

A necessary change means allowing students/faculty/staff to attend churches of their choosing. Students/faculty/staff will develop the volition to choose what is best for them. This encourages them to learn to follow God’s Spirit in their weekly choices, not because they’re afraid of disobeying, but because they love churches that follow God and teach Scripture. While those that support PCC’s current attitudes and practices may believe students will choose “liberal” churches or skip church, this fear reveals the level of spiritual control the institution wishes to have. This control that needs to be broken. PCC may choose to continue to teach it’s own beliefs on campus, yet attending other churches allows students to build community elsewhere around the kind of people whose faith they want to emulate (Hebrews 13:7).

Since my report of the previous advisory board, I have received notes from pastors and evangelists within the PCC network, some of whom are in Pensacola, who tell me the issues are still very deep at PCC and that my report glossed over the gaping wounds of isolation that students and alumni experience. In addition, alumni who run conservative evangelical churches in the area and around the country are shunned by the college itself. Opening up options for students/faculty/staff to be seek their own spiritual and local community will help heal the divisiveness and intentional/ unintentional isolation over time.

3. Allow Students to Live Off-Campus.

Living off campus allow students to develop the adult-like responsibilities that living within PCC’s dormitories and housing regulations does not allow. This gives adult students opportunity to develop regular routines, mentors, and peer relationships outside the attitudes and practices of the college.  Off-campus students would abide by a looser code of conduct off campus than on. Currently, only students 25 years or older may live off campus, unless they live with their local family. Students should be trained to enjoy an affordable liberal arts experience at a Christian college without being separated from real local and diverse community. Having that choice, whether students exercise it or not, dignifies students, strengthens their wills to choose wisely and morally, encourages them to juggle work, school, and church life as they see best, allows them to experience natural consequences of poor choices, and minimizes PCC’s practice to oversee every moment of an adult student’s life.

4. Change the Approach of Discipline so the Tactics Accomplish the Objectives.

PCC’s attitudes and practices use a rigid, retributive fear-based approach to produce good behavior. The tactics created with this approach miss the objective PCC values: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This retributive approach places the institution as the spiritual authority for students/faculty/staff, beyond mere policy making and enforcement. This approach places barriers in the life of a developing Christian, causing fear rather than love to be the motivation for Christian living, while also deepening the potential for hypocritical behavior. This approach deeply influences the minds and hearts of many students/faculty/staff in such a way that it becomes a distorted blueprint for sanctification and the will of God for the rest of their lives.  This approach, I believe, is not the fruit PCC itself seeks in discipleship nor the example they wish to be as a frontrunner of Christian education.

This approach places barriers in the life of a developing Christian, causing fear rather than love to be the motivation for Christian living.

Quarantines–such as “campusing,” “socialing,”, room changes/removals, demotion from leadership and extracurricular participation–should be removed from policy. Once removed from policy, a public apology and reasons for changing it should be issued by the college to former students who endured these quarantines.

In addition, student leadership must be taken on the merits of leadership, peer respect, and wisdom. Choosing student leaders and rule-enforces on the merits of overactive consciences, legalistic reporting, and unquestioning obedience to authority damages the student community and misses the objective of a spiritually-sound learning environment.  

Concluding remark:

As PCC attempts to transition into a spiritually and emotionally safe institution, many other general policies I haven’t mentioned also need evaluation. The four steps above safeguard students from abuses while also giving PCC time and space to consider additional changes. These steps will aid PCC’s reconciliation with students/faculty/staff from its past, cultivate goodwill in the present, and protect current and future students.

Thank for listening to these proposals. And now I’d like to open up the floor to hear your voices.

 

If you agree with the proposals I’ve listed above, please share “I agree” or “Ditto” in the comments. Feel free to include how you would nuance them.

If you have privacy concerns using your name, post as a guest or click an “up” button under another’s comment.

If you have suggestions for PCC I have not mentioned, please share them.

While PCC may never admit they appreciate our voices, countless former students/faculty/staff find hope in hearing your voice.

Please share this post so others can participate. Thank you!