Prairie Bible Institute under investigation for sexual abuse

The Prairie Bible Institute, the oldest Bible school in the country, is under investigation by the RCMP after a former student came forward claiming she and dozens of other children were abused by staff as far back as the 1950s and as recently as five years ago.


Photograph by: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald

Here’s a letter by Mark Maxwell, President of Prairie Bible Instituted, who first informed the RCMP.

This is a sad and tragic story—one that we’ve heard within the halls of Christian faith all too often. Of course abuse happens in other institutions; but as one who tries to still follow the faith, the question this specific allegation raises for me is this: Is there anything in the way the Bible is interpreted within conservative, fundamentalist, neo-Calvinist institutions that enables and harbours sexual predators? Beyond this, is there something about the way a literal interpretation of Scriptures fosters the injustice of patriarchy and so supports the ongoing “soft” abuse of gender inequality?

My wife Deb attended Prairie for one year. She says, "I can certainly agree about the unhealthy, unbiblical male dominance teaching that was taught. At the time when I was young it was harder to ‘think’ against it but even then I knew within me that something was not only unhealthy but wrong about their teaching."


  1. I’m troubled that you immediately assume her allegations are true. Guilty before trial. How quickly we like to jump on the bandwagon to condemn those who are different than we are. The current administration at Prairie turned over the information to the RCMP and are “seeking truth and transparency”, cooperating fully with the investigation.

    I will grant that some who claim to follow scripture are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Evil masquerading as light. Those who would twist anything, including scripture to maintain authority over others. However, abusers are found in every walk of life. They are often gregarious and pleasant and become very shrewd in living double lives (e.g. Col. Russell Williams of CFB Trenton and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State).

    I am the same age as the woman leveling charges. I also am “a survivor of childhood sexual abuse”, but more than that, I am moving beyond recovery and emerging into healing. Unfortunately, what I read in this article and others published in the Calgary Herald is of a deeply pained woman who by her own vitriolic words appears to seeking vengeance for something her late father did to her. She needs care, healing and therapy, not publicity.

    How often have we seen historically that the abused becomes the abuser? She is imitating the behavior of her father. She is adamant that the institution must do what she says, by the time she specifies, using the method she prescribes or she will punish them with a lawsuit.

    The unfortunate situation with a sexual abuse allegation is this: once it is uttered, even if it is completely false, the reputation of the one accused is irreparably sullied. Even if the person or institution is completely exonerated, the whispers and prejudice remain because something about human nature wants to revile others. Part of our fallen condition?

    “She says…”
    “She claims…”
    “She alleges…”

    That the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal have “reported” this (with the not-so-subtle Christian-bashing innuendo which is so gleefully prevalent in modern press) is sad, at best, and the epitome of gonzo journalism. Another story in the Herald even poked fun at how Three Hills was named and used a 1949 photo of the campus to support their out-of-context quote by L.E. Maxwell regarding a ‘military’ approach to education.

    I have no reason to doubt Ms. Fossen suffered at the hands of her father. She apparently confronted him and he admitted his guilt. It obviously didn’t bring closure. Neither will a court case against current administrators who had nothing to do with her father’s offence. As for the “80 others”, this is an assertion. We should all wait for the facts to come out before we assume an institution is guilty before trial. Tell me what kind of justice comes from destroying an institution with allegations or suggesting that they inappropriately interpret scripture?

    While no child should ever be left alone, in pain, crying in the dark, each of us must find healing for our own wounds. Have we not learned at all from history that destroying others can only create more pain, it can never bring us healing?

  2. Thank you very much for commenting and sharing Joyce. I appreciate and honour and am sensitive to your personal experience in relation to this story.

    I have no idea as to the motives of Ms. Fosson. But I suspect she is responding and acting through a combination of life-long hurt. As it is, I believe the wounds of sexual abuse take a lifetime to heal, and any healing in cases like this only happens in the open.

    I also know some who have been devastated by sexual abuse and the forced silence that almost always surrounds the abuse adds immeasurably to the tragedy. As well, I personally know of women who attended this school and while they were not sexually abused there, they were abused by the teaching of unquestioned adherence to patriarchy and male dominance which later resulted in vulnerability to sexual interference and abuse.

    Certainly asking an institution to examine the doctrines upon which they base rules, written and unwritten, open and subtle, concerning submission of women, is not only fair but necessary.

    As to the allegations, I appreciate the way Mr. Maxwell is handling this. And in this I can entertain hope for the school and college. What would prevent the institute from a thorough inner assessment of its history, its short-comings, its positives, and so reemerging and renewing itself? It is after all an institute supported by well-meaning Christians. I know that the school, for a number of reasons, has been in financial difficulty for more than a decade. Perhaps one of the reasons may tangentially be connected to these systemic and shadowy issues. This could be the time and opportunity–and sorry for the crass descriptor here–to “rebrand” Prairie.

  3. Joyce, I too was a little concerned about the ‘ultimatum’. I would hope that Ms. Fossen would be willing to talk to the leaders of Prairie to work out what would be the most appropriate form of healing for all involved rather than force one solution on the College. Maybe she has experienced a type of resistance from institutions to take matters seriously and address an individual’s concerns but this is only surmise based on my own personal experiences. At the same time I tend to take reporting with a grain of salt since some of my stories have been misrepresented by the media and therefore I have had others form opinions based on a third parties interpretation rather than my own words – so I realize we need to allow the two parties involved do what they need to do and our thoughts will just be wonderings.

    At the same time discussion surrounding the ‘dominant story’ that forms a group of people or society should be wondered about, questioned and challenged. Otherwise we act without deeper thought to what those stories do to ourselves and others. Prairie, from what I have observed from afar, has chosen to challenge some of those old stories as they’ve continued to form and grow. Yet old stories have long consequences. The dominant story that I experienced while attending Prairie was not one I would want to continue as I watched it not only harm women but deeply harm men as well. I do not think that Christ’s story of love, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding was the core of that story. Instead the story was based on Old Testament laws and interpretations that affected how the New Testament was interpreted rather than the other way around (see Matt. 5 when Christ says over and over “…but I say…”).

    My desire is for healing for all. This will mean pain, loss and grieving on all sides as healing cannot happen without them. Anger will show up as a natural part of the grieving process. I can only hope that each ‘side’ will be able to “sit with” their anger long enough to allow it its transformative work rather than to use it as a ‘mudsling’.

    I have no desire to cast a stone at the College or at Ms. Fossen. I have a desire to be curious about life, relationships and outcomes.

  4. I am very grateful for both of you – for your measured and considerate comments which help give more perspective to the issues being raised. I slept and prayed over my comments before I posted, as I would not want to inflict any further wounding on anyone who may already have been a victim in this situation. I was raised in a somewhat patriarchal conservative, fundamental church & family structure which gave rise to some headship-submission problems and have been witness to some of what can happen. I have long wrestled with finding the proper application in our current culture and in my life, when I tend to have strong giftings toward leadership and would prefer to exercise them in a ministry context.

    I want to affirm that I find the posts and comments on Grow Mercy consistently fit the description of Hebrews 10:24: “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” They challenge my thinking, stretch my horizons, even change my perspective, and while I don’t always agree, I deeply appreciate the opportunity for dialogue.


  5. The answer to the question posed above—whether there is anything in a literal interpretation of the Bible that fosters patriarchy and gender inequality and potentially even protects sexual predators—is of course an unequivocal yes. Patriarchy has worked well for those on the right side of the system, and the words of submission in that ancient book are clear, over and over again. Women were to submit; rebellious women and children were to be punished, grievances kept quiet and handled internally. When understood to be directive, words to that effect work well to keep the attitudes and injustice going. The environment becomes one in which it becomes a reflex to assume that what feels wrong must be faulty thinking (or behaving) on our part, and even when we know this not to be true, we are often inclined to remain silent.

  6. Thank you Connie. You outlined this so very well: that in the osmosis of patriarchy, in fact in any system of domination; mistrust of self, suspicion of basic feelings and sensibilities, can lead to a loss of soul. Thank you again.

  7. I just wanted to respond to the comment about gender inequality and the “feeling that we (women) were second class citizens”. I was at Prairie as a staff kid for 9 years (’72 -’81) and I did NOT feel like a second class citizen – ever! There were rules, yes, and I obeyed them – but not once did I feel like I was second class. Maybe my parents were better at dealing with that than some, maybe I was insulated against that – but I never felt that!

  8. Katrina, your dad was my favorite teacher and I highly respect(ed) him. I remember visiting in your home once and experiencing a wonderfully warm atmosphere. It’s amazing how my memory doesn’t include the details of your home but it holds onto the love and beautiful spirit that your parents created. I also remember the pride your father had in his children. There are a number of individuals that I highly respected at Prairie. My struggle was/is with the ‘dominant’ story that became part of the institution. To me those can be two separate things due to a number of factors.

    I have to admit that I have come to see where I’ve been an unwitting supporter and teacher in institutions with unhealthy dominant stories. I’ve had to come face to face with the harm I have helped do to individuals. It has not been an easy journey.

    So I truly do not cast stones since I recognize my own ‘stuff’. I truly desire a process that includes growth, understanding and forgiveness between the individuals and a healthy re-storying of the institution.

  9. There has been some discussion on Prairie Bible Institute asking G.R.A.C.E. Ministries to come in and do an independent investigation to get to the truth about all of the stories of abuse. The last count I read on Linda Fossen’s site was over 90 people have now come forward. My wife, Faith, and I are the founders of “Speaking Truth in Love Ministries” which deals with sexual abuse. We met Boz Tchividjian, who is the founder of GRACE, last year to discuss our ministries working together to help motivate and train the church to deal with the issue of abuse. Boz is one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, he is a former prosecutor and is currently a law professor at Liberty University. His credentials are perfect for the task of investigating PBI. He would come at the invitation of PBI and would conduct an independent investigation. PBI would have to agree to some ground rules and to implement his recommendations when he is done. The GRACE investigation would be separate from any legal investigation that the authorities would be doing. Boz was asked by New Tribes Missions to investigate abuse that had occurred at one of their boarding schools and he is currently working at ABWE’s request on reports of abuse by one of their members. The more an organization tries to resist getting at the truth the more damage they do to themselves. For more information about stopping abuse go to our web site at
    Dale Ingraham

  10. I am the abuse survivor who was quoted in the article. This has never been about me or my abuse but about the 90+ abuse survivors from Prairie who have contacted me in the past five years and my attempt to get them some acknowledgement and closure from the school. As the defacto advocate, I have taken the brunt of the backlash from the school and it’s supporters. For more on the story, see my website at and click on the tab “Abuse at PBI”

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