Peter Carlson of The Washington Post has great fun with the legacy of the three Bob Joneses who served as consecutive presidents of Bob Jones University, and with the tradition-breaking appointment of Stephen Jones as the school’s new president.
He mentions some of the details that made Bob Jones II a three-dimensional character:
As a child traveling on his father’s evangelistic crusades, Bob Jones Jr. would hang bedsheets up like theater curtains in hotel rooms and perform plays of his own creation. As a student at his father’s college, he founded a campus Shakespeare company and played Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” a role he reprised throughout his life.
In the ’30s he traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon to study acting. For more than a decade, he barnstormed America with “Curtain Calls,” a one-man show of Shakespearean monologues. In 1937, Warner Bros. offered him a screen test.
He declined: The Lord was calling him to run Bob Jones University. He became vice president in 1932 and president in 1947.
He built up the drama department and the film department, which produced feature-length movies, including one based on his novel about the Inquisition, “Wine of Morning.” After World War II, Bob Jr. traveled Europe, buying paintings by Botticelli, Tintoretto, Rubens, Rembrandt, and building up BJU’s art museum.
He mines the humor in an unbroken Bob Jones education:
It’s possible to go from preschool to a PhD and never attend a school that isn’t named after Bob Jones. In fact, BJU’s next president, Stephen Jones, did exactly that.
Then, many paragraphs later, he returns to it:
He was born in the clinic at BJU and he never really left. He went to Bob Jones preschool, Bob Jones Elementary, Bob Jones Junior High, Bob Jones Academy. He has a bachelor’s degree in public speaking from BJU, a master of divinity from BJU, and on Saturday — the day he becomes president of BJU — he’ll receive his PhD in liberal arts studies from BJU. He met his wife at BJU and has worked as a teaching assistant, residence hall supervisor and vice president for administration at BJU.
Carlson’s story is hindered, though, by a gratuitous use of sneer quotes — the kind that not only wrench a two-word phrase from a full sentence, but also telegraph editorial disapproval.
First there’s the dreaded one-sentence summary of a complex history:
For eight decades, BJU has been led by three generations of Bob Joneses — preachers who pioneered a combative and highly political form of fundamentalism that gave rise to the “Christian Right.”
(Does this mean the Christian Right would never have existed without the Bob Jones dynasty? Please.)
Then there’s the refusal simply to quote people on their own terms:
The context [of campus rules] is BJU’s mission, which is to give students a “Christlike character.” That includes smoking, drinking, dancing, gambling, TVs in dorm rooms, uncensored Internet access and most modern music, including rock, rap, country, jazz — even Christian music if it has a “sensual” beat.
. . . The difference between Bob Jones and secular schools, Pait says, is that at BJU every teacher is a fundamentalist Christian and every subject is taught from a “Christian worldview.”
. . . A month later, Dr. Bob shocked the BJU community by ending the ban, declaring it merely a symbolic protest against “one-world government.”
Lest we miss the point, Carlson also gives us these atmospheric details in the office of Bob Jones III (pictured, center, in an otherwordly moment when Ian Paisley visited the campus for a building dedication):
He’s sitting in the dusky gloom of his office. The walls are dark wood, decorated with mementos of beasts he shot — a deer head, an elk head, moose antlers.
At 65, Dr. Bob is a thin man with a warm smile and a friendly manner — except when he’s denouncing the sins of his godless nation.
Yes, the man hunts animals! (No word on whether he actually eats them, too.) And for the sake of comparison, his office doesn’t look terribly dark in the photo accompanying this feature in The Greenville News.
Considering the three Bob Joneses’ far more provocative remarks — about racial segregation, Jerry Falwell, George H.W. Bush, Alexander Haig and the pope (any pope) — it’s not as though Carlson lacked volatile material.
With a bit of restraint, Carlson would have delivered a wry, detached profile of the Jones patriarchs. Instead, he’ll leave some conservative Christians baffled at why The Washington Post has such trouble mentioning the basic concept of a Christian worldview without a typographical qualifier.