Getting Stoned at Bob Jones University

Is it now okay to be gay at fundamentalist Bob Jones University? Last week, former president and current chancellor Bob Jones III apologized for vicious anti-gay rhetoric from 1980. But this does not mean that homosexuality is now an accepted thing at BJU.

Time to celebrate?

Time to celebrate?

For those like me outside the orbit of fundamentalist colleges, the cultural politics of BJU can come as a shock. BJU has a long history of holding out against progressive social trends. Until the twenty-first century, for example, the South Carolina university proudly opposed interracial marriage.

As I’m finding as I research Bob Jones and other fundamentalist colleges, BJU has always been an outlier. The family leadership has a long tradition, when challenged, of doubling down on its own opinions as God’s Truth. Any criticism from within or without merely strengthened the leaders’ resolve. Again and again, this has led to purges of dissenting faculty, students, and administrators.

For those in the know, then, the recent apology for anti-homosexual rhetoric seems like another welcome change. In a press release, BJIII responded to a petition from a gay-rights group at BJU. In 1980, at a White House press conference, then-president BJIII suggested that the appropriate punishment for homosexuality was stoning. Here’s what he said back then:

I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted. But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.

In his recent apology, BJIII distanced himself from such shocking language. As he put it,

I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger—were my name not attached.

So can gay people at BJU now come out of their fundamentalist closets? Apparently not. As anti-fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga noted, BJIII’s apology still condemned homosexuality. The statement apologized for the threat of stoning, not for labeling homosexuality a sin. BJIII carefully noted that he did not believe stoning was the appropriate punishment for “sinners.” He never apologized for considering homosexuality itself a sin.

Nevertheless, as the response from the gay-rights group BJU Unity makes clear, homosexuals are part of the BJU community. As I’m finding in my current research, they always have been. BJIII’s apology is not nothing, but it does not welcome homosexuals openly into BJU’s fundamentalist family.

Creationism in the Land of the Bible

Quick: When I say “creationist,” whom do you picture? Ken Ham, the Australian-American creationist impresario of Kentucky? Or Arye Dary of Israel’s Shas Party?

Is THIS the face of creationism?

Is THIS the face of creationism?

As Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education pointed out recently, the question of Palestinian statehood received the lion’s share of attention after the last round of elections in Israel. But those elections could also have significant impact on the teaching of evolution in Israel’s schools.

In a nutshell, the new government will likely be dominated by conservative parties. In Israel, that means a significant political presence for the more conservative religious factions. Many of those groups oppose the teaching of evolution.

...or is THIS?

…or is THIS?

As Rosenau relates, the topic of evolution only recently became a required part of the middle-school curriculum in secular Israeli public schools. Arye Dary of the Shas Party, a likely government partner, made no bones about his opposition to evolution education. “As an ultra-orthodox party,” Dary explained,

that believes that our forefathers were Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that our holy matriarchs were Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, we refuse to teach our children that they originated from apes.

For those few who continue to believe that creationism is uniquely American, or peculiar to conservative Protestantism, this serves as a healthy reminder of the truth.  Creationism as a political and educational impulse is strong worldwide.  Conservatives of many backgrounds in many countries insist that there is more to “truth” than can be divined by human scrabblings.

Required Reading: Rich Parents Are Better

You remember the old joke:

Q: What’s the best way to have a million dollars by the time you’re thirty?

A: Inherit ten million dollars when you’re twenty.

A new book by sociologist Robert Putnam underlines the traditional wisdom: The best way to succeed in life is to pick the right parents. According to reviews in The Economist and New York Times, Putnam amasses solid evidence to demonstrate that the class gap between rich and poor parents is huge and increasing.

Graphic inequality

Graphic inequality

The relationship between parenting and poverty has been a culture-war flashpoint for fifty years. As historian Andrew Hartman relates in his new book, back in the 1960s sociologist and sometime-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised hackles with his study of the causes of African-American poverty.

The problem with too many “Negro Families,” Moynihan argued, was that a destructive anti-family culture had set in. Kids were no longer being raised in stable two-parent households. Fathers were absent or abusive. Mothers were overworked and under stress. The result, Moynihan concluded, was that poor families—especially African American poor families—could not raise successful children.

Critics charged that Moynihan attacked poor people, not poverty. He was accused of a new crime: “blaming the victim.”

The numbers in Putnam’s new book offer some sobering suggestions that Moynihan’s warnings were correct, but not just for African American families. The real divide, Putnam says, is not between black and white parents, but between well-to-do college-educated parents and not-well-to-do parents with less education.

Some of these statistics are truly mind-blowing. Consider, for example, that a poor eighth-grade student who does very well in school still has a worse chance of completing college than a rich eighth-grade student who does very badly in school. The numbers of children living with two well-educated parents has stayed relatively stable. The number of children in single-parent households has shot up among parents with no more than a high-school education.

Traditionalists and conservatives, no doubt, will point to Putnam’s work as more evidence in favor of traditional families. The best way to fight poverty, they might say, will be to encourage stable two-parent households.

Progressives and liberals, meanwhile, will point to these numbers as proof of America’s un-level playing field. Children of parents with fewer educational advantages need extra assistance from government in order to stand any sort of chance.

The long-standing dream of American education has been that education can lead to success. Since the days of Horace Mann, education has been offered as the key to the American dream. Putnam’s study offers more evidence that education is part of the structure of inequality, not the sledgehammer to demolish that structure.

Watch a Conservative Lawmaker Abort a Progressive Ed Project

For a hundred years now, progressive educators have pleaded with teachers to help their students learn by doing. In New Hampshire recently, a bold teacher who tried to do so with a fourth-grade class got a brutal public smack-down from a conservative legislator. The vicious culture-war politics of abortion took over.

Teacher James Cutting had helped his fourth-grade class engage with real-world issues. The students, he told NH1, took the initiative and proposed a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They delivered their bill to the state house and watched as it moved through committee. When the bill had a hearing in the full legislature, the students were in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

What they saw there might have blown their minds.

One conservative legislator, Warren Groen of Rochester, took the podium to denounce the bill. The students’ choice for state raptor, Representative Groen intoned, was a vicious bird.

It grasps [its victims] with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.

This was not the first time that Representative Groen used his time in Concord to fight against abortion. In an earlier speech, Groen compared abortion to slavery.

GOP Race Kicks Off…at Fundamentalist U

…and they’re off! Senator Ted Cruz of Texas plans to announce his formal candidacy for president today, according to the Houston Chronicle. And he’s making the announcement at Liberty University.

Why Liberty? As the Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, I’m working on a history of fundamentalist higher education. These schools–places like Liberty, along with more liberal cousins such as Wheaton College and Biola University, and more conservative ones such as Bob Jones University—are central institutions of American conservatism.

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Not only do they represent conservative evangelical belief, but also a vaguer (and politically powerful) sense of cultural traditionalism. The campuses of Wheaton, Liberty, and Bob Jones are not just in-your-face religious environments, but also places where you wouldn’t see until recently a man with long hair or a woman with a short skirt.

Not only that, but college campuses also represent cutting-edge learning. Fundamentalist and evangelical colleges are not only religious, not only conservative, but also forward-looking places. By hosting scholarship and teaching, evangelical schools represent the future.

For all these reasons, at least since Reagan, GOP candidates have made it a point to campaign at these campuses. As CNN noted this morning, everyone from Romney to McCain, Rick Perry to Michele Bachmann has put in an appearance.

It makes sense. And it leads us to an interesting question: If you planned to run for president, where would YOU make your announcement? I have an idea of what I’d do.

Who Cares about Adam?

I don’t get it. Even after all these years studying conservative Christianity and creationism, I still don’t really get it. I mean, I understand the logic and history, but I have a hard time making sense of the ferocious emotion that goes into debates over the existence of an historical Adam & Eve. An author interview in Christianity Today outlines some of the tricky questions involved.

Who cares?

Who cares?

But first, a primer for those like me on the outside looking in: The debate over the historicity of Adam & Eve has a long history in conservative evangelical Protestantism. For us outsiders, making sense of this issue will go a long way toward helping us understand the theological underpinnings for young-earth creationist belief. Without making sense of this theology, it can be easy for mainstream scientists and observers to conclude mistakenly that young-earth creationism is nothing but some kind of cult of personality, a quirk of history.

At least since the 1960s (of course it is an ancient belief, but in 1960 it gained popularity among conservative American evangelicals as a vital theological notion central to orthodox belief), conservative evangelicals have insisted that the obvious meaning of Genesis is that God created two first humans in the Garden of Eden. These two, Adam & Eve, became the progenitors of the entire human race. Theologically, creationists have insisted, our belief in an historical Adam & Eve underpins our trust in the Bible. As Simon Turpin of young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis expressed it,

The debate over whether Adam was historical is ultimately a debate over whether we trust what the Scriptures clearly teach. If we cannot be certain of the beginning, then why would we be certain about what the Scriptures teach elsewhere? The uncertainty of truth is rampant in our culture partly due to the influence of post-modernism which is why many believe the issue over Adam’s historicity is unimportant.

For many creationists, believing the plain truth of the creation story in Genesis means believing in the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. As Andrew Snelling of the Institute for Creation Research explained,

It is impossible to reject the historicity of the book of Genesis without repudiating the authority of the entire Bible. If Genesis is not true, then neither are the testimonies of those prophets and apostles who believed it was true.

Of course, for mainstream scientists, the notion that human genetic diversity came from only two original humans does not fit the evidence. In order to have today’s genomic sequence, I’m told, humanity must have begun with thousands of original humans.

John Walton of Wheaton College explains to Christianity Today why evangelicals can accept this science while still remaining true to a conservative reading of Scripture. In his new book, The Lost World of Adam & Eve, Walton argues that Adam & Eve can be read as the “priests” of early humanity, not the only two first humans.

Again, for those of us outside of conservative evangelicalism, the controversial nature of such claims can be hard to figure. Recently, theologian Peter Enns was booted from Westminster Theological Seminary for advocating similar ideas. Walton explains in this interview why it is possible to respect the authority of the Bible while still reading Genesis in a way that is not contrary to modern science. Walton insists that

You can affirm a historical Adam, but that doesn’t have quite the implications for biological human origins that are often assumed.

The key, Walton argues, lies in reading Genesis as the original readers would have. To them, Walton says, creation would be more about how the world of Adam & Eve was “ordered,” not just how it was “manufactured.” We can understand Adam as both a real person, a real creation, and as an “archetype” for humanity. Though there may have been other early humans, Walton explains, Adam & Eve served as the ones in God’s sacred space.

Why do such ideas matter? Again, for folks like me trying to understand conservative Protestantism from the outside, it can be difficult to make sense of the ferociously controversial nature of such arguments.

Yet they are at the heart of conservative evangelical Protestantism. As I argued in my 1920s book, conservative evangelicals have never agreed on the proper relationship of Genesis to either modernist theology or science. From J. Gresham Machen in the 1920s to Harold Lindsell in the 1970s, conservative intellectuals battled to affirm the notion that any compromise is deadly to faith.

And as I’m finding in my current research, these battles have long sent shock waves through the world of conservative higher education. Recently, Bryan College has firmed up its insistence that faculty members affirm their belief in an historical Adam & Eve. In 1961, Wheaton College did the same thing.

And fundamentalists are not the only ones who will spring to repudiate theories like Walton’s. Leading atheist pundits, too, agree that Genesis requires an historical Adam & Eve. Jerry Coyne, for example, laments the apologism of folks like Walton. Of course, Coyne does not want people to reject mainstream science in favor of a belief in an historical Adam. Rather, he hopes people will simply accept the obvious conclusion that the Bible is a book of myths.

If all of these whirling debates make your head hurt, join the club. For those of us outside the circle of evangelical Protestantism, it can be very difficult to understand the ferocious feelings at play in the Adam debate. But that ferocity lies at the heart of evangelical belief. Historically, any attempt to rationalize our reading of the Bible, any attempt to explain away the most obvious interpretation of Scripture in favor of one that accords with modern science, any effort to bring our faith into harmony with science…all have been seen as the beginnings of apostasy.

For evangelical readers, Adam & Eve matter. For those of us trying to understand conservative Christianity, this complicated debate will be a good place to start. Why would professors lose jobs over it? Why would Christianity Today dedicate a major article to this interview with John Walton? Why will Walton’s position provoke such furious responses?

A Liberal Leader Pushes Religion in Public Schools

They say only Nixon could go to China. Maybe now they’ll say that only de Blasio could get religion back into New York’s public schools. According to the New York Times, Mayor de Blasio has been irking his liberal allies by his repeated efforts to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state. With greater success than many conservative activists, this liberal mayor has been able to push religion in the Big Apple.

Public religion: Texas style

Public-school religion: Texas style

No one doubts de Blasio’s left-of-center politics. The Washington Post called his leadership “a laboratory of sorts for modern progressivism.” Yet this progressive politician has done more to integrate religion and public schools than many of the conservative politicians we’ve studied in these pages.

For example, in his quest to expand pre-kindergarten classes to all of New York’s children, de Blasio has included religious schools. As the New York Times relates, the Mayor has welcomed the participation even of very conservative religious schools, as long as they agree to include children of all religious backgrounds. This plan, of course, would funnel tax dollars directly to religious organizations.

Similarly, Mayor de Blasio has added two Islamic holidays to the New York City public school calendar, precisely because they are religious holidays. Muslim leaders celebrated, but civil libertarians point out that this act violates a long-standing principle of church-state separation.

The Mayor has long supported the use of school buildings by religious groups for services, though conservatives accuse him of reversing himself. One case might soon end up before the Supreme Court. If SCOTUS bans this traditional practice, will de Blasio protest? Will the Mayor take the side of religious groups against a constitutional clarification of the required wall between religious groups and public education?

Public-school religion, New York style

Public school religion, New York-style

New York Times writers Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman call New York a “famously secular city.” But we need to be careful when we say such things. As Grynbaum and Otterman note, de Blasio’s success has come partly with support from conservative religious New Yorkers, “a substantial portion of the city.” As we’ve explored in these pages, New York, like many big cities, is not secular, but rather riotously religious.

Indeed, that ferociously diverse religiosity might be the key to Mayor de Blasio’s success. Conservative activists have tried time and again to push evangelical Protestantism in the public schools of places such as Kansas and Kountze, Texas. In New York City, on the other hand, the Mayor can make a good case that he is not pushing any one sort of religion. In his efforts to improve public schooling for all, he has the liberty to open the door to religious groups in ways a more conservative politician might not.

Fundamentalism and the Modern University

Are evangelical colleges modern? Or, with their insistence that knowledge has its roots in God’s Holy Word, are they somehow trapped in medieval ideas about knowledge and the purposes of higher education? The answer is more complicated than it might seem at first.

As the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are sick of hearing, I’m hard at work on my book about evangelical higher ed. In the twentieth century, Protestant fundamentalists opened or transformed a network of colleges dedicated to protecting fundamentalist faith. If students are led astray at mainstream secular colleges, the thinking went, fundamentalists needed their own schools to teach each new generation of Christians how to be educated and evangelical.

As part of my reading list, I’m deep in Roger Geiger’s new book, The History of American Higher Education (Princeton University Press, 2015). I’m writing a full review for Teachers College Record and I’ll be sure to post links to that review when it comes out.

Are fundamentalists colleges modern? Or are they trapped in the 1600s?

Are fundamentalist colleges modern? Or are they trapped in the 1600s?

In the meantime, though, Professor Geiger’s survey of the first colleges raises some tricky questions for fundamentalist higher education. As with so many early American institutions, colleges such as Harvard and Yale represented the tail end of medieval traditions, just as they were changing into recognizably modern ways of thinking.

Conservative evangelicals like to point out that America’s leading colleges were often founded as religious schools. It’s true. Harvard and Yale were both intended, first and foremost, to defend orthodox Puritanism. Not only were they ferociously religious, but they envisioned their role in a radically non-modern way. Instead of serving as an institution that encouraged new thinking, Harvard and Yale in the 1600s and early 1700s both saw their role as passing along established truth. As Prof. Geiger puts it, in the early decades, “The corpus of knowledge transmitted at Harvard College was considered fixed, and inquiry after new knowledge was beyond imagining.”

Orthodoxy at these early schools was defended with a rigor that would make twentieth-century fundamentalists proud. Harvard’s first president, for example, was ousted for theological reasons. President Henry Dunster came to believe that infant baptism was not a scriptural practice. As a result, the General Court summarily got rid of him. In their words, no one could lead a college if they “manifested themselves unsound in the faith.”

Both Harvard and Yale made explicit their goals. In early years, Yale explained its primary religious mission:

Every student shall consider the main end of his study to wit to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a Godly sober life.

It was not much different at Harvard:

the main end of [a student’s] life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, Joh. 17.3

In all these aspects, life at Harvard and Yale between the 1630s and 1720s seems remarkably similar to life at fundamentalist colleges in the early twentieth century. For schools such as Wheaton College, Bob Jones College, Bible Institute of Los Angeles, or Gordon College, these Puritan echoes resounded loudly. At all these fundamentalist schools, leaders insisted that the first goal was to help students understand themselves as Christians. The first intellectual challenge was to study seemingly distinct bodies of knowledge to see the hidden connections put in place by God.

In this way, then, it seems as if fundamentalist colleges—even those more liberal schools that eventually abandoned the “fundamentalist” label—hearken back to a pre-modern vision of higher education.

We have to be careful, though, before we assume too much. In other important ways, twentieth century dissenting religious colleges participated fully in the central intellectual tradition of modern higher education.

According to Professor Geiger, colonial higher education went through a revolutionary change in the 1720s-1740s. During that period, endowed professorships at Harvard gave some faculty members the independence to pursue new forms of knowledge. These professors began to incorporate the ideas of new thinkers such as Isaac Newton and John Locke.

The radical change came not only from the newness of the ideas, but from the notion that the college or university should be the place to explore such new ideas. As Professor Geiger puts it,

The significance and prestige of Newtonian science altered college teaching by introducing the experimental lecture employing apparatus, creating a demand for specialized professors and establishing the expectation that the curriculum should incorporate new knowledge.

A fundamental characteristic of the modern university emerged in the decades before the American Revolution. College, more than any other institution, came to be seen as the province of cutting-edge thinking. As Professor Geiger points out, even before Ben Franklin made his famous experiments with lightning, John Winthrop at Harvard used his endowed Hollis Chair funding to purchase equipment that would allow him to demonstrate the properties of electricity.

Just as the fundamentalist colleges of the twentieth century clung to the pre-modern notion that universities ought to pass along established truths, those same fundamentalist schools fully participated in the modern notion that universities ought to explore new truths.

An evangelical scientist, for example, such as Russell Mixter at Wheaton College in the 1950s, believed that no amount of human investigating could overturn the truths of Scripture. But Mixter (and others like him) also saw himself as an intellectual specialist, a scientist exploring the outer boundaries of biology to discover new things about God’s creation.

Are fundamentalist and evangelical colleges modern? In this sense, they certainly are. The faculty at twentieth- and twenty-first century conservative colleges are divided into academic disciplines. Each of them is expected to carry out research in his or her field. The definition of those fields may be different from the ones at secular institutions, but the fundamentally modern notion of research remains central.

At the same time, though, by envisioning themselves as the guardians of students’ faiths, fundamentalist colleges hearken back to the pre-modern roots of the Ivy League. As Professor Geiger argues about 17th century Puritan higher education, “the deeper purpose of the college course and the overriding preoccupation of the institutions were to demonstrate the truth of Christianity.”

Today’s evangelical colleges would agree.

Racists Welcome

Is even the vilest speech protected? The expulsions of racist chanters at the University of Oklahoma has riled up conservative commentators. No matter how hateful the speech, some say, colleges have no right to expel students for exercising their rights to say it. I can’t help but think that the real target of conservative ire is the current vibe on college campuses.

In this case, the speech in question was undeniably horrifying. Frat members sang along that Sigma Alpha Epsilon would never welcome an African American member. Of course, they used a much more offensive term than “African American.” They cheerfully shouted that they could lynch any offender. Horrible stuff.

But is it protected?

Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy thinks so. There is no exception to free-speech rights for racist language, even language that creates “hostile environments.” Unless one is issuing specific threats, one may even use language that suggests violence.

Voices of protest?  Or drunken howl?

Voices of protest? Or drunken howl?

At National Review, David French agrees. In its rush to justice, French says, the university failed to observe basic constitutional principles. It was entirely right and just for the national officers of the fraternity to punish the Oklahoma chapter. And it seems fair that the Sooner football team will now lose a prize recruit—to Alabama, no less. But such private-party sanctions are different than official university sanctions.

As have many other conservative commentators, French identifies the broader problem as one of higher-education ideology careening out of control. “Our public universities,” French writes,

are becoming national leaders in trampling the Constitution to legislate their brand of “inclusive” morality.

I understand the argument. And generally, in these pages, I try to refrain from injecting my own opinions. I can’t help but wonder, though, if these conservative intellectuals have over-stepped in their constitutional rationalizations. It seems some conservatives are too quick to protest any action by the leaders of today’s universities.

As I argue in my new book, this anti-university tradition among conservative intellectuals has a long history. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, conservative thinkers bemoaned the changes taking place at leading schools. Instead of passing along time-tested truths, universities made it their job to subvert and question those ideas.

These days, many conservatives lament, universities have become special homes for welcoming certain sorts of offensive speech. For instance, as Professor Volokh points out, many kinds of hateful speech—even violent speech—have long been recognized as protected on campus. No student would be sanctioned for displaying pictures of African American militants wielding shotguns and intoning, “By Any Means Necessary.”

There seems to be an important difference, though, between speech meant to protest against existing conditions and the SAE’s brand of exuberantly hateful race-baiting. The students in this case were not engaged in thoughtful commentary on unfair conditions. They did not hope to attract attention to their cause by using intentionally inflammatory language.

Instead, this looks like a drunken outburst of knee-jerk segregationism, a case in which vino exposed a terrible veritas. When exposed, the expelled students did not defend their actions on the grounds of free speech. Rather, they humbly acknowledged the shamefulness of their actions.

Indeed, it might have been more compelling as a free-speech case if the students had defended their outburst. If, that is, students had been even more painfully racist; if they had been intentionally offensive and if they had knowingly provoked this sort of reaction, then they would have a better claim to constitutional protection. It seems to me, though, that these students are merely petty campus despots, shouting in secret language that they abjure in public.

Does it count as an exercise of free speech when even the speakers find it offensive?

What Should We Tell Our Kids about Terrorism?

Your humble editor will be participating today (3/12/15) at noon (EST) in a live chat on HuffPost Live about exactly that question.

Sparked by a controversy from a Scottish school, host Nancy Redd will lead a talk about our struggles to determine how to discuss touchy subjects with young people.

Hope all the sophisticated and good-looking readers of ILYBYGTH out there (SAGLROILYBYGTH) can tune in.  Looks like the format welcomes guest comments, too, so be sure to get your two cents in.

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