Amazing. First America elects an African American president, and now Bob Jones University releases a statement to apologize for its racist past. It’s cold here in Chicago. Are the temperatures dropping in Hades, too?
Okay. I’m just joking. I apologize for sounding cynical, because I’m not. My bumbling sense of humor often doesn’t translate well in the blogosphere. I’m actually thrilled to hear about this development, and I thank BJU alumnae Joy McCarnan and Camille Lewis for bringing it to my attention.
This is no small occurrence. Bob Jones University’s infamous history has long been viewed as emblematic of the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of Christian fundamentalism and, by extension, American evangelicalism as a whole. But now, BJU is repenting of its past. I was particularly struck by this portion of the statement:
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.
Recently, many of BJU’s students and alums have implored their school to issue this kind of public declaration, and I believe a major campaign was underway to publicly challenge the school to acknowledge its past sins and take a stand for racial reconciliation. (I’d welcome some folks more knowledgeable than I on this matter to chime in.) Camille Lewis, who was a part of this reconciliation effort, says she and others were thankful for, but genuinely stunned by, this development.
A few of you have asked my opinion of the statement, particularly whether it seems a little too strategic and convenient. Is it genuine or just a stunt to counteract the unwanted controversy of that alumni campaign? I have no idea, though I would hope this gesture is just the beginning of a greater, ongoing effort by the school to pursue racial and cultural diversity and model the kind of Christian unity mentioned in the statement. I think the school has now obliged itself to become a leader in this regard.
Though some call me naïve, I’ve generally tried to take a “give them the benefit of the doubt” approach to things like this. I want to assume the best from BJU’s leadership. I have no right to judge their motives. Instead, I want to rejoice in the potential for reconciliation that’s happening here. I hope that this noteworthy act will cause an outbreak of grace and unity throughout the church, which still struggles with sins of segregation and intolerance that extend way beyond Bob Jones University.