Recently (via such posts as A Christianity to Make Satan Proud, Pastor Marc Monte: Satan Called. Loves Your Work, and The Fundamentally Toxic Christianity) we’ve been discussing Independent Fundamental Baptists (or, for short, the IFB). One of the questions raised in the comments to those posts is how or why anyone would attend an unaccredited IFB “college” such as Bob Jones University.
I recently received a letter about that very question from a woman who attended BJU (har!—but c’mon: grow up); she graduated, in fact, in the same class as Marc Monte, about whom she also had some thoughts. I thought that (with her permission, of course) I would here share her letter, because I think it sheds some light on an aspect of the IFB not often understood by people outside of that fear-based and dangerously isolated world.
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but lately, it’s become painful, as I am a graduate of BJU, though I don’t often admit to it. (In fact, I graduated in the class of 1989, along with “Dr.” Mark Monte and Bobby Jones IV.)
You and your readers may wonder, “Why on earth would anyone go to a school like BJU?” It’s a question I’ve been asked many times. Here’s how it works. BJU graduates hundreds of “preacher-boys” each year. These boys then become pastors at IFB churches. Many of those churches have, or are closely affiliated with, schools. Kids who go to these schools are brainwashed every day from the time they are very young with Fundy propaganda. (I will not go into detail, because I will throw up.)
By the time these kids get to be seniors in high school, they’ve already been talked to by college reps from BJU and other “lesser” fundy colleges like Pensacola Christian College. Kids who are really “liberals” at heart might get to go to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. (At our church Falwell was never considered to be anywhere near conservative enough. I used to think that was a matter of doctrine; now I know it was just competition.)
Personally, I had never heard of any other Christian colleges besides these Fundamentalist ones, and to go to a non-Christian school was just out of the question. When you grow up in a fundamentalist church, you are highly discouraged from associating with “the world,” so you don’t make friends outside of the church. We didn’t have a TV. In 1989 there was no Internet. So I had no way of knowing about other colleges. And you sure don’t “rebel” against the church or your parents unless you want to make your whole family miserable and probably go to hell—or worse, have to get up and confess your sin in front of the whole church.
So, I picked BJU. It was far away, it was big, and it had some majors and classes that looked interesting. It was held up to me as a beautiful utopia. I knew nothing about BJU’s history of racism. They told me that an unaccredited degree would not be a problem for me. And any sort of abuse going on at the college was then unheard of.
Well, of course it was all a pack of lies. I’ve had no end of trouble about that unaccredited degree. Although I was never physically abused and was never aware of any going on, I have no doubt that some people were, because the entire system is abusive. You’re constantly navigating mind games and power plays and invisible boundaries. You can get demerits for anything: your guilt is assumed the moment you’re accused. But far, far worse is the constant theological abuse: you are always sinning, you must always “get right with God”: you must always fear hell and the devil and the rapture in which you will be left behind. It is a toxic environment, full of unwritten codes, swift and bizarre judgments, shunning, chauvinism, legalism, denial—and all under the name of God, all a part of “God’s plan for your life.” God does not love, God judges. God does not forgive and restore, God punishes. They quote Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”), but never Romans 3:24 (“and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”)
Everyone who graduates from BJU has been abused in this way. And that’s why I think that instead of condemning and vilifying “Dr.” Monte, we should pity him and pray for him. He also was brainwashed and propagandized, he also was sucked helpless into the system and spewed out in the image of “Dr.” Bob. Yes, now he is a grown up, and old enough to know better. Except how can he know better? The only people he knows are just like him! His mentors applaud him! Even the Bible praises him for being persecuted for Jesus’ sake. And suppose Dr. Monte does come to his senses and reject Fundamentalism? What happens if he tries to leave? He loses his only livelihood. And he’s got a bum degree—so what on earth can he do to support his family? He probably lives in a parsonage, so he will lose his home, and since (in Christ’s name) he has been underpaid , it’s unlikely he has any savings. In addition, as the church shuns him, he, his wife and his children will lose all their friends.
I did get out, and came by degrees to know a God of unconditional love and grace. I received healing long ago. But how agonizing to read these stories of abuse! And to see some who were good friends from college days now preaching at BJU, or on its faculty or staff—or, worst of all, sending their own children to BJU … O Lord, they do not know what they are doing.
Thank you, John, for sharing your brand of sanity. It’s an antidote to those of us who were brought up in the clutches of the IFB.