Beliefs behind racism

bob jones signBob Jones University is probably best known at this point for the 2000 presidential campaign controversy involving its ban on interracial dating. After then-candidate George W. Bush spoke there, he was criticized, and the ban was lifted on CNN’s Larry King Live show by the university’s then-president Bob Jones III.

Eight years later the institution, which started admitting African Americans in 1971, issued a public apology for its “racially hurtful” policies.

Here is the coverage from the Associated Press:

The private fundamentalist Christian school that was founded in 1927 said its rules on race were shaped by culture instead of the Bible, according to a statement posted Thursday on the university’s Web site.

The university in northwestern South Carolina, with about 5,000 students, didn’t begin admitting black students until nearly 20 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling found public segregated schools were unconstitutional.

“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,” the statement said.

The AP story is unfortunately brief. The main issue I had hoped that the article would address is what it hinted about regarding its racial rules being “shaped by culture instead of the Bible.”

The admission is revealing in many ways. Unfortunately, the AP doesn’t provide any context for that statement. What needs to be explained is the fact that many Americans for generations have believed in various versions of racial superiority. This belief was at least in part based on their interpretation of the Bible. This belief justified evils from segregation to racism.

Here The State provides some of that context:

Vaughn CroweTipton, Furman University chaplain, said there has been a long debate about whether the Bible condones slavery or discrimination. Most communities, he said, have decided biblical references to slavery were a reflection of contemporary culture.

“We can say ‘No, that was for them and not for us,’” CroweTipton said. Scholars and the faithful, CroweTipton said, are having a similar debate about the role of women in society. “We struggle to understand which of the texts we read are culturally bound.”

The school had used the Bible to justify discrimination in the past, such as in a 1998 letter to a writer who questioned the school’s ban on interracial dating. Then, school officials noted that God had created oceans to keep men apart, as well as ethnic, cultural and language barriers.

The ideas and theologies that justified racial segregation are not pretty, but journalists should not let readers forget that many racial policies were based upon what they believed to be biblical teachings.

Robert Parham over at Ethics Daily.com provides some helpful context in his coverage of the apology. He notes that this apology represents a “new interpretation of the Bible” by the institution and marks “an about-face from a 1986 pamphlet, ‘Race Relations,’ written by a Bible department faculty member, Marshall Neal, who argued that racial segregation was based on the authority of the Bible.”

Perhaps this is too much detail for an AP story, but the religious justifications for racist policies should be covered.

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  • Jerry

    I think there’s a powerful lesson in this story about how scripture can be used to justify psychological and cultural patterns that stand the Jesus’ message on its head. So I’d go even further than Dan in asking for not only religious justification but also for a religious oriented story that explores ideas about how to prevent such things in the future.

  • http://WWW.Afrimerican.com AFRIMERICAN

    Using the Bible to justify racism is no excuse. For that matter, it can be said cannibalism is in the bible where two women appeal to a king as to should ones son be eaten after the other ones son had been agreed upon to be eaten, and the king expressed having cut himself to feed himself upon his own flesh.

    To try to use that to justify cannibalism would be viewed with great disdain.

    About any issue, the Bible is a study of right and wrong and wrong is wrong no matter the source or justification.

    In this instance one has to ask what kind of people could use a supposed sacred reference source to justify wrong.

  • George

    “He notes that this apology represents a “new interpretation of the Bible” by the institution and marks “an about-face from a 1986 pamphlet, ‘Race Relations,’ written by a Bible department faculty member, Marshall Neal, who argued that racial segregation was based on the authority of the Bible.””

    Missionaries affiliated with the Bob Jones University came to India and condemned the idolatory and paganism of the Hindus as well as the caste system. They came to preach at a local language South Indian (Tamil) church where most members were darker than most African Americans. Little did the poor souls know that Bob Jones University practised a form of idolatory and paganism (white skin worship and blood purity of white females) and practised their own form of caste system against their dark skinned fellow citizens. The key distinction between Hinduism and Christianity is the universality of the latter. The moment the distinction is blurred and the so-called Christians start practising their own idolatory and caste system, the very foundation of the religion is threatened and the teachings of Christ will have no credibility.

  • FW Ken

    I think it would be interesting to compare the white separatism of a Bob Jones and the black separatism of a Jeremiah Wright. Both represent a particular view of race and culture that posits in the former a meaningful impact on the latter.

    BTW, in 1990, I was picketed twice in one week by the local Bob Jones type of congregation. It was a proud moment in my life. :-)

  • bcc

    Ethics Daily.com provided a better explanation for the change in policy at Bob Jones than The State.

    Ethics Daily.com notes that the change at Bob Jones was due to a change in its interpretation of Scripture. The State’s quote from Furman chaplain CroweTipton implies that the change occurred due to the rejection of certain texts as culturally bound.

    The two explanations are theologically different, and as a graduate of BJU I know that constituents of Bob Jones would accept the former explanation (change in interpretation) and reject the second (dismissal of culturally bound texts).

    The former explanation acknowledges human fallibility in interpreting Scripture, but the second explanation implies that the Scripture itself succumbed to the errors of its surrounding culture. This strikes at the doctrine of inerrancy held by Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals.

    This is not to say that Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals believe that all Scripture is equally practiceable today. For instance, they don’t sacrifice animals as part of their worship. The reason for this is not, however, due to cultural irrelevance. This is a point often missed in the coverage of the homosexuality and the church. News organizations often appear baffled by Evangelical disregard for OT dietary laws and acceptance of Biblical condemnations of homosexual affections and practice.

    The bafflement on the part of media organizations is due to a lack of theological understanding. In general, evangelicals and fundamentalists believe the church is not under the Mosaic Covenant that bound Israel. As a result many of that covenant’s provisions no longer apply while moral standards rooted in the character of God remain constant even as the operative covenants change.

  • Brian L

    I’d like to see a story or two further investigating the biblical interpretations that led to these kinds of policies and the actual reasons for changing them (cf. bcc @ comment 5) as a starting point for comparing this issue with biblical interpretations that lead to the opposition of same-sex marriage.

    More information would allow news readers to see if the two issues are the same or really are different.

  • George

    “The former explanation acknowledges human fallibility in interpreting Scripture, but the second explanation implies that the Scripture itself succumbed to the errors of its surrounding culture. This strikes at the doctrine of inerrancy held by Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals.”

    The cultural bounds and the inerrancy of the Tower of the Baber events held by fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals became irrelevant once America was created. The argument was that God confused the tongues by creating several languages..whites in early America including the ancestors of Bob Jones violated this basic principle when they intermarried with other language groups during the 1600s. There was and there is not cultural compatability between the Lithuanians and the English other than skin color. The language is very clearly different and one is catholic and the other mostly protestant. More recently, there is no cultural compatability between the Lebanese and the Cajuns. However, around the time Bob Jones was established they had no problems with Lebanese marrying Cajuns as long as the Lebanese looked white..which most of the Lebanese still do. I even heard that some young Lebanese women fresh off boats attended lynching parties and cheered on alohg with other whites. So if one wants the cultural bounds argument, we can clearly argue that the existence of white American including most whites who attend Bob Jones, who are a mixture of various languages is an abomination in front of God (violation of the boundaries set at the Tower of Babel). One can further argue that the existence of the English people (and creation of English as a language) is a violation of the tenets of the Tower of Babel because they are a mixture of French, German and Danish speaking populations mixed in with Norwegians and Swedes. Further, one can argue that existence of Afrikaners in South Africa is the violation of the tenets of the Tower of Babel because the mixed..a mixture of French, Dutch and German. Hence, Bob Jone’s ancestors violated the tenets of the Tower of Babel and then tried to draw an artificial line based on skin color and facial features. Based on the strict constructionist (to use the legal analogy) argument of the Old Testament it cannot hide the fact that the existence of white America including Bob Jones and its white students, by breaking down language barriers and the creation of the so-called white race is an abomination in front of God. Establishing a new artificial line based on race does not undo this violation of the Old Testament principles..and then defending it is not the teachings of Christ but idolatorous white skin worshipping paganism far worse than the one many of these groups accuse the Hindus in India of…true they dont practice animal or human sacrifice and that is definitely a change. However, let to their own whims some of these groups may end up sacrificing a fair maiden (white girl or a young white woman) because they did something similar in the Old Testament..there are white cults similar to Koresh who believe that they should have this option.

    Of course, it all changed with the Advent of Christ our Lord, and the tenets of the Old Testament teachings were overruled. Of course, like the Federalist judges of today, Jewish judges opposed Christ’s teachings and in the end had Him crucified. I am pretty certain that had Christ lived in the Jim Crow age, he would have been lynched by these federalist judges who believe in the sanctity of the constitution just as the Jewish judges of the first century believed in the sanctity of the Old Testament.

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