Friday, November 21, 2008

Well, yes and no.

According to the Chronicle, "Bob Jones U. Apologizes for Past Racist Policies." The university has issued this statement:

At Bob Jones University, Scripture is our final authority for faith and practice and it is our intent to have it govern all of our policies. It teaches that God created the human race as one race. History, reality and Scripture affirm that in that act of creation was the potential for great diversity, manifested today by the remarkable racial and cultural diversity of humanity. Scripture also teaches that this beautiful, God-caused and sustained diversity is divinely intended to incline mankind to seek the Lord and depend on Him for salvation from sin (Acts 17:24–28).

The true unity of humanity is found only through faith in Christ alone for salvation from sin—in contrast to the superficial unity found in humanistic philosophies or political points of view. For those made new in Christ, all sinful social, cultural and racial barriers are erased (Colossians 3:11), allowing the beauty of redeemed human unity in diversity to be demonstrated through the Church.

The Christian is set free by Christ’s redeeming grace to love God fully and to love his neighbor as himself, regardless of his neighbor’s race or culture. As believers, we demonstrate our love for others first by presenting Christ our Great Savior to every person, irrespective of race, culture, or national origin. This we do in obedience to Christ’s final command to proclaim the Gospel to all men (Matthew 28:19–20). As believers we are also committed to demonstrating the love of Christ daily in our relationships with others, disregarding the economic, cultural and racial divisions invented by sinful humanity (Luke 10:25–37; James 2:1–13).

Bob Jones University has existed since 1927 as a private Christian institution of higher learning for the purpose of helping young men and women cultivate a biblical worldview, represent Christ and His Gospel to others, and glorify God in every dimension of life.

BJU’s history has been chiefly characterized by striving to achieve those goals; but like any human institution, we have failures as well. For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.

On national television in March 2000, Bob Jones III, who was the university’s president until 2005, stated that BJU was wrong in not admitting African-American students before 1971, which sadly was a common practice of both public and private universities in the years prior to that time. On the same program, he announced the lifting of the University’s policy against interracial dating.

Emphasis added.

As statements of repentance go, this is... not the greatest.

Bob Jones University didn't admit blacks until 1971-- seven years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and a generation after Brown v. Board. For several years thereafter it admitted only married black students. Once unmarrarried blacks were admitted, it promulgated a strict ban on interracial dating as well as on the advocacy of interracial dating; these policies endured until 2000, 33 years after Loving v Virginia, which itself, after all, represented a forced incorporation of those southern outlier states that still forbade interracial marriage into a then-already-existing national consensus against such bans. In other words, the ban on interracial dating was put in place only after the surrounding culture had rejected such rules as racist. And the university famously fought all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1980s to preserve its tax exemption in the face of an IRS revocation due to its racist policies. It lost the legal fight, paid a million dollars in back taxes, and kept the policies. Now, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for educational institutions in the U.S. is mighty easy to come by. To have it stripped away-- whatever the constitutional merits-- is a pretty clear sign that you're way outside the boundaries of acceptable opinion or behavior in the American political culture.

In short, Bob Jones University did not passively float along on the tide of American racism, and it was not racist only in its "early stages." It was worse on racial questions, longer, than any other university in the country. And it was actively, determinedly, passionately worse. The University did not conform itself to a surrounding ethos. It fought to resist changes to that ethos; it fought hard, at serious institutional cost.

Now, resisting the surrounding culture is something one expects from religiously dissident institutions. Of course a fundamentalist Christian university views itself as being at odds with the surrounding world-- for better and for worse. Passive conformity is no great virtue, and fighting hard for one's beliefs is admirable. But if it turns out that your beliefs were grotesquely, abominably wrong, then it's cowardice to suddenly plead passive conformity. That's a vice of which Bob Jones University has never been guilty-- and the lie that it has been strips its supposed apology of any moral force.

I suspect that someone at BJU really thinks this was a good faith effort to come to terms with the past. It's not. It's a pretend-apology, unworthy of the name, one that deflects all blame to the outside world. Shame on the Chronicle for falling for the pretense.

1 comment:

PG said...

A good point, but I wonder if you're missing the geographic subtext to this: Bob Jones is southern Christian university. While I'm exasperated by facile claims that racism is some peculiarly southern phenomenon (Board of Topeka, Kansas), and especially a Confederate one (WV, DE, MD all banned miscegenation until Loving), I still have to admit that overt racism practiced by institutions including state governments was far more common in the South than elsewhere.

As you note with Brown and Loving, these were judicially-enforced impositions on the existing white culture, which remained quite resistant to them. To say that "the ban on interracial dating was put in place only after the surrounding culture had rejected such rules as racist" assumes that the relevant "surrounding culture" is the U.S. as a whole rather than the South. South Carolina -- where BJU is located -- kept its miscegenation ban on the books until 1998; Alabama until 2000.

There's also the political culture in which BJU existed. You point to the Supreme Court's taking away BJU's tax exempt status, but the Supreme Court doesn't have much respect from many conservatives. Moreover, Reagan attempted to have the IRS case against BJU dropped just before oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Given this sort of support, BJU might well believe that within its culture -- southern and conservative -- it was not out of the mainstream.