Bob Jones University, Racism, Rhetoric of Atonement

>Making Amends on the Right

>I caught wind recently of a grass-roots alumni movement to appeal to Bob Jones University to apologize for past racist policies. You know BJU, right? My alma mater, my former employer of 15+ years, and that fundamentalist University that claimed its rule banning inter-racial dating was so important to its religious freedom that it appealed to keep its tax-exemption status all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1980s. They did drop the rule under pressure during Campaign 2000 with no admittance of wrongdoing. It was a distraction, Bob Jones III claimed on Larry King Live.

The whole thing has prompted me to research the rhetoric of atonement and the history of large institutions making amends for their past sins of racism. The Southern Baptists made a noble effort in 1995. Hey — George Wallace, who holds a 1964 honorary degree from my alma mater, even he apologized!!

The stock response that BJU gives when asked about making amends is that apologizing is a “liberal idea” with no Scriptural basis. It is? So I’m asking, oh Conservative Mafiosos, when did repentance become a left-leaning practice? Say it ain’t so! And what were all the sermons I heard all those years from the BJU chapel platform about turning from sin? Do para-church organizations get a free pass because Paul wasn’t explicit about their making amends?




20 thoughts on “>Making Amends on the Right

  1. >Nathan,In Southern California, many Evangelical churches are now in largely Hispanic areas, but still remain overwhelmingly white. The demographic makeup of the surrounding area has changed, but the churches have not.Now people commute from distant suburban neighborhoods to their churches. In many cases, churches simply pack up and move to the suburb in response to demographic shifts.

    Posted by David Cho | April 21, 2008, 5:07 pm
  2. >Nathan, I agree with your observation there. Simply labeling anything you don’t like “liberal” is the standard way of demonization as if the “liberal” moniker always and reliably finishes off the opposing argument.

    Posted by David Cho | April 21, 2008, 4:47 pm
  3. >Here is another talking point:That’s largely what I said earlier, David, but you’ve done well to give it legs. I think that such a culture-warrior identity might also be behind the designation of apology as a “liberal” characteristic–since it’s what they imagine the “liberals” want them to do, then the practice per se must be “liberal.”

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | April 21, 2008, 1:47 pm
  4. >Also, people tend to go to church that is near them. If you live in a wealthy area with a lot of white people there is a good chance that the local churches there will reflect that.In Georgia, that’s not the case. In fact, in my area, the biggest churches are almost uniformly out in the middle of nowhere, and almost all of them are sustained by congregations that drive an average of half an hour or more to get there. In an area as saturated with sanctuaries as North Georgia, churchgoing really is a consumer enterprise–people will drive further to associate with the people they want to.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | April 21, 2008, 1:44 pm
  5. >Here is another talking point:If we have to apologize for this, what’s next? Apologize for the dress code designed to promote sexual purity because it discriminates against whores? Then what? Our stance on homosexuality because it discriminates against the Sodomites? And then what? Inerrancy of Scripture because it discriminates against the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    Posted by David Cho | April 20, 2008, 4:27 pm
  6. >Also, people tend to go to church that is near them. If you live in a wealthy area with a lot of white people there is a good chance that the local churches there will reflect that. If an area is a poor area, or an area with a lot of moinorities, or however you want to break it down the church will usually reflect what’s going on locally. At least, that’s what I’ve observed.

    Posted by J.Wizzle | April 19, 2008, 4:33 pm
  7. >Beyond race there is also socio-economic class. When was the last time you saw a church that had fortune 500 CEO’s and homeless people?The sad truth is that people hang out with others who are “like” them. Maybe it’s a tribal instinct. I think the church should be breaking these barriers down, but we are fighting against some serious natural hard-wiring.

    Posted by Matt | April 19, 2008, 1:51 pm
  8. >I’ve heard the “racially segregated churches” trope before, and I wonder whether that applies only to congregations or to most “voluntary” organizations. My family and I are blessed to be part of a congregation that is both intercontinental (that is to say, folks with roots in Europe and Africa and Asia and the Americas) and dedicated to reaching out to folks of different backgrounds, but when I think of the Friends of the Bogart Library and the bowling league that my dad was part of and other organizations not assembled by a central managing body, they tended to be monochrome.For that matter, whenever I grab lunch around Athens, unless a group of grad students from this department or that are eating together, I tend to see groups of people that wouldn’t appear in college recruiting brochures. (Anyone who’s known someone in a college admissions department knows what I’m talking about.) One table will be full of Indians, another of Blacks, another of Whites, another of Chinese. I tend to see that sort of thing as something that happens when people get to “pick their tables” (as Hillary Clinton and Sean Hannity agree is the case with congregations–or perhaps they’re both out to get Obama–can’t quite tell).None of this is to excuse monochrome congregations, but I do get the impression that the more telling predictor of color mix might be intention rather than confession.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | April 19, 2008, 12:00 pm
  9. >No problem Queen.Thanks for the link to the blog. There is some unbelievable stuff there. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over Bob Jones’ response to William Banks’ letter. Still trying to pick up my jaw off the floor.What I cannot get my hand around is this. Why do Christians in this country lag behind in race relations when we are called to demolish the barriers? Here in Southern California, most churches are racially homogeneous. Perhaps expending our energies on fighting this kind of “homo” would do more to further the kingdom of God than the sex kind? Maybe we ought to try it.God Save the Queenknitter :).

    Posted by David Cho | April 19, 2008, 6:56 am
  10. >Doh! Sorry, Dave. You know what this really shows? How much you were hitting the nail right on the head!

    Posted by QueenKnitter | April 19, 2008, 3:39 am
  11. >David,I don’t know whether MLK applied to DTS (seems unlikely), whether he was rejected based on race, or whether they apologized to him, but I do know that DTS has formally acknowledged that they acted inappropriately in racial relations in the past. I heard Dr. Bailey make remarks in chapel to this end on several occasions.

    Posted by Matt | April 19, 2008, 3:26 am
  12. >David, Don’t feel bad…I picked up on it. Plus, it helped a little that I already knew your feelings on things like this from past conversation that we’ve had.Anyways, how have you been?

    Posted by J.Wizzle | April 19, 2008, 1:40 am
  13. >Queen, My attempts at sarcasm utterly failed. My apologies.

    Posted by David Cho | April 18, 2008, 11:54 pm
  14. >David,With all due respect, who cares if the so-called “left” apologizes or not? I’m not responsible for them. That’s nothing but a red herring. And more political obsfucation when this is a Body issue plain and simple.You are obviously unfamiliar with the “theological” arguments used to defend BJU’s institutional racism and the tactics used to enforce it. It is a terrible blotch on the name of Christ. Graduates are still feeling the consequences.And effectiveness is not our goal. I can’t speak for the whole group, of course, but I know that our plea for reconciliation is not going to work. That’s not the reason for doing it. I think in our doing the right thing, God will be honored.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | April 18, 2008, 10:38 pm
  15. >Question for Matt:I heard that Martin Luther King applied to DTS and got rejected because of his race. Is that true? Has DTS apologized for the racial ban (if it did exist).

    Posted by David Cho | April 18, 2008, 8:35 pm
  16. >As unborn babies get slaughtered right in this country to the tune of 3 millions a year, don’t expect to hear an apology from the Left.Islamic fundamentalists are on a rampage to kill thousands of people in the name of Allah, and while conservatives do what they can to battle radical Islam, liberals expect an “apology” from what? Banning interracial dating?ARE YOU KIDDING ME?The AIDS epidemic has killed millions, and we have liberal “tolerance” of homosexuality to thank for. Don’t expect an apology from liberals on that.The ban on interracial dating didn’t kill unborn babies. The ban on interracial dating did not breed thousands of Islamic suicide bombers. The ban on interracial dating did not create the AIDS epidemic.(Anyway, this is how I would have responded to this blog entry back in the day when I cut my teeth in the culture war. So good luck arguing with Culture Warriors. They will always bring the “big picture” which only shows the myriad of transgressions tolerated by the Left. Good luck extracting an apology from BJU.)

    Posted by David Cho | April 18, 2008, 8:30 pm
  17. >”more politics than theology”You got that right!How did they respond? Mostly, “FINALLY!! What took you all so long??” I heard that the administrators did the same. “Whew!” But relief over the official policy’s demise is kind of a distraction. It’s like being thankful that the leper finally took a bath (never mind that his fingers are all missing). Shame that it’s politics and culture wars. Sigh. . . . I thought we Christians were to live differently.A lawyer friend of mine reminded me that it took 500 years for the Vatican to apologize. Maybe we were being too impatient? I just don’t see the room for the inflated ego of a political “side” in this case. But I tend to be the little kid who says, “Clothes? What clothes? He’s naked!”

    Posted by QueenKnitter | April 18, 2008, 4:24 pm
  18. >How did the alumni and (more importantly) major donors respond to the rule change in 2000? Did they see it as a “concession” to the liberals?I there is more politics than theology at play here.

    Posted by Matt | April 18, 2008, 3:51 pm
  19. >I agree. The policy was shameful and the reluctance to apologize for it is even more so.

    Posted by Jeff Bailey | April 18, 2008, 3:23 pm
  20. >I think the refusal to apologize has to be tied up with the vicissitudes of the Culture Wars. Among the Culture Warriors I know I’ve noted a tendency away from apologizing and from repenting of anything but “personal” sins (i.e. smokin’, drinkin’, chewin’, and screwin’), I think spurred on by the fear that any admittance of wrongdoing on “our” part might appear an admission that “they” were right about something.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | April 18, 2008, 12:15 pm

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