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Moody Bible Institute ‘ill-equipped’ to investigate sexual misconduct, independent probe finds

In light of the findings, Moody leaders apologized to those who “experienced a lack of empathy and follow-through” after filing abuse claims.

A woman walks by the Moody Bible Institute located at 820 N. LaSalle Dr.
Moody Bible Institute at 820 N. LaSalle Dr. has roots in Chicago that date back to the 19th century. It refers to itself as “the world’s most influential bible school” with high moral standards.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A months-long investigation into allegations Moody Bible Institute mishandled claims of sexual misconduct revealed the school had an “unsuccessful” reporting system that created a culture of distrust in the North Side school’s leadership.

After interviewing at least 35 Moody community members and reviewing the school’s policies and training procedures, Grand River Solutions found the underlying lack of trust and confidence in Moody was the result of staff being “ill-equipped” to handle complaints and that its practices for reporting were “insufficient.”

Grand River Solutions also said Moody administrators fostered a culture that stigmatized the reporting of sexual misconduct.

“Students fear the stigma of initiating a process and faculty and staff reject a responsibility to report because reporting is part of a set of regulations they see as infringing on their deserved autonomy. This means that before anyone can seek support and care from Moody, they must overcome or navigate through additional and unnecessary obstacles,” the review said.

In light of the firm’s findings, Moody leaders apologized to those who “experienced a lack of empathy and follow-through” after filing of Title IX reports as well as to those “whose reports were not processed as rapidly and efficiently as they could have been.”

“It is the sincere desire of the leadership at Moody to provide a healthy, God-honoring culture that allows our students to grow and mature in a safe and wholesome environment,” Moody President Mark Jobe and Provost Dwight Perry said in a joint letter to the school’s community sent earlier this month. “We commit to doing everything we can moving forward to create a safe environment for all of our students, staff, and faculty.”

But Anna Heyward, a sexual abuse survivor who helped organize the online petition that led to the investigation, questioned the sincerity of the school’s apology.

“It would have been a lot more genuine if they reached out personally instead of just putting out a blanket statement,” Heyward said.

This comes after at least 11 former and current Moody students, including Heyward, said in an open letter to Jobe last October they were victims of sexual misconduct or emotional abuse. Some also said longtime Dean of Students Timothy Arens and Title IX coordinator and Assistant Dean of Student Life Rachel Puente did not inform victims of their rights and in some cases discouraged them from filing complaints under Title IX, the federal civil rights law, which could trigger investigations of the allegations.

Arens abruptly retired Nov. 1, and Puente was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. Puente’s status with Moody wasn’t clear last week.

In a 31-page document made public earlier in May, Grand River Solutions outlined several recommendations and included proposed changes to Moody’s reporting system and overall culture.

Grand River Solutions said the school should address its overall organizational structure, so there is a proper institutional response to all reports of sexual harassment, and sexual and interpersonal violence. This includes developing “clear and comprehensive policies and procedures” with an established timeline, and properly training and educating administrators who are responsible for any part of the report-handling process.

Anna Heyward graduated in 2017 from Moody Bible Institute.
Anna Heyward graduated in 2017 from Moody Bible Institute.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times, Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Grand River Solutions recommended Moody create an amnesty policy that would prohibit the discipline of students who report sexual harassment or sexual and interpersonal violence for breaking school rules that forbid students from drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs and engaging in premarital sexual activities, among other prohibited activities.

Heyward was put on probation by the school in 2017 after she told Moody’s she was pressured by another student into drinking alcohol and then subjected to non-consensual sexual activities.

Moody officials said it’s committed to fixing its previous shortcomings when it comes to reporting sexual misconduct. The school announced 11 commitments — including enhanced training, a quarterly review of Title IX policies and protocols and increased resources for the Title IX Office — that it plans to implement by the fall term.

Those steps “do not mark an end, but rather are part of an ongoing process to ensuring our community better serves all of our students, faculty, and staff in the prevention of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment,” Moody said.

Heyward applauded Moody for making Grand River Solutions’ recommendations public. She also said she was grateful for the opportunity to share her story and create a platform for others to do the same at the school, which has roots in Chicago that date back to the 19th century and refers to itself as “the world’s most influential bible school.”

“This was a long time coming for Moody, and I think we achieved the goal that we had with shedding light on a really big problem,” Heyward said. “Did Moody meet us with empathy in what we wanted? I think they failed to do so. But I’m thankful that this conversation is being had and that hopefully, they will follow through on what they’re saying ... [by] putting survivors and victims first rather than the institution.”