BJU and the Politics of Apology

there’s an interesting discussion brewing on Facebook among the more-disgruntled BJU alumni about whether the University should offer a formal apology for its interracial dating policy that held sway until 2000.

For those of you who don’t know the issue, in brief:
[to defend myself from the outset, let me state up front that EVERYTHING that follows comes either from my first-hand knowledge or from academic research into primary source documents & news reports that I personally conducted as the university’s reference librarian)

Most Southern colleges banned interracial dating, marriage, or other “mixing” until the early 70s. (For example, Clemson admitted its first black student in the late 60s.)   While BJU accepted blacks as students throughout its history (the few who wanted to enroll, anyway), it firmly held to a “no interracial dating” policy until only 8 years ago when a firestorm of bad publicity during Bush’s presidential campaign drew attention to the University’s rule.

The school’s administration defended the policy in various ways over the years, mostly falling back on a weak biblical argument from Genesis 11, that since God had separated the races at the Tower of Babel, we shouldn’t be all too keen on putting them back together. *coughs*  Like I said, I heard that with my own ears at a faculty meeting in 2000 … and many times earlier as a student.

In the late 70s, BJU’s interacial dating ban came under fire by the IRS who launched a lawsuit against the University, trying to force the school to change its policy in order to comply with government laws.  The IRS threatened to pull BJU’s tax exemption status.  BJU – specifically Dr Bob Jr – refused to budge.  The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1984, unfortunately grouped with another case about a Christian school in North Carolina that flat-out refused to accept black students at all.

Despite being asked by President Reagan to drop the case, the Department of Justice brought the case to a close with a ruling against BJU.

Rather than change its interracial dating policy, BJU chose to refuse all federal financial aid of any kind. That put it outside the government’s jurisdiction (since it wasn’t doing anything technically “illegal”).  From 1984 till just a few years ago, every one of us BJU students paid for our education out-of-pocket, pretty much.  Nearly every scholarship was now off-limits, as well as all federal financial aid.

Student resentment against the policy grew. Most of us thought the rule was just stupid.  If a biracial kid came to the University, he/she had to undergo an embarrassing appointment with the Dean of Men or Women … who would scrutinize the student to determine “how white” the kid was.  Really “white” kids could choose whether they wanted to date white kids or [insert other race, namely black or Asian].  If you were too dark to be mistaken for a Caucasian, you were pretty much screwed when it came to finding dates for campus events.

If the administration noticed a mixed-race couple suspiciously hanging out together a little too often, they would call them into the dean’s office for a chat.  Lest you think I’m lying, this happened to Jack Knipe (and if you know Jack, you know he pretty much lives for talking to internationals … so he found the whole thing pretty funny).

Despite the inane rule, I found BJU to be a school free of race conflict.  The administration enforced its rule, but the rest of us just shrugged and went on with life. Granted, Fundamentalism doesn’t exactly teem with minorities.  Only the Presbyterians are more “white” than BJU. 

But we BJU grads get really pissed off at being called “racist” when actually our college experience was much the opposite … from one perspective.
On the other hand, the school (until very recently) had only one black faculty member (in the radio/TV department).  To be fair, the new Dean of Education (I understand) is both black and female — pretty shocking for BJU, which doesn’t have much of a track record for women’s rights either. 

Anyway, when George W Bush gave a campaign address at BJU in February 2000 (I was there!), all hell broke loose.  He was criticized for weeks because he spoke at a school that “discriminated against blacks,” “hated Catholics,” and “maintained an archaic & outdated interracial dating ban.”

After initially digging in his heels to the point that we faculty/staff were groaning inwardly at the stupidity of trying to defend such a policy to the students, Dr Bob III had a change of heart in early March 2008.  I distinctly remember the moment when, as a total surprise to *everyone* except the university board of trustees, Dr Bob announced to the world on Larry King Live that he was dropping the interracial dating ban.
We were stunned. I was at an opera rehearsal (picture night … it dragged on for hours … in full costume & makeup … as ancient Egyptians … argh!) and we listened to the show during a break.  The entire stage (a cast of 200 plus crew) burst into spontaneous applause.

To get back to my original point:
A group of BJU grads have begun an official petition to ask the University to make a formal, public apology.

See, that’s the problem.  The University dropped the policy — very good.
But it never admitted that it was wrong to maintain such a position which now seems patently unbiblical.
Many argue that racial healing will never come until the wrong is admitted and forgiveness requested.

It’s like that kid who goes over and rips his little brother’s toy out of his hands. When confronted by mom, the offender gives the toy back and walks away. No apology, no remorse, no repentance.

BJU alumni used to all sign a card that said if the University ever strayed from its biblical position, we were to come back in full force to confront the school … and shut it down if necessary. (I’m not making that up either! haha… I signed one of these cards myself … twice.)  Some alumni believe that we should invoke that promise now.   Many alumni are tired of being labeled “racist” before opening their mouths at job interviews or dinner parties.

Instead of leading the nation toward a more biblical view of race, social justice, and community, the Church (especially in the South) chose to hinder that work in the 1950s – 1970s. BJU is merely one [really big, really influential] example.

Are we Christians responsible to apologize for our past failures in the Civil Rights movement?

There.
I have stirred the pot.
Go to it. …  

[Originally published on my Xanga, where you can find the evidence of a lively discussion in the comments]

“Sweet, Sugary Goodness!”

I used to be bitter about apparently losing my original chocolate chess pie recipe, but I think the one I’m using now might be a little better.  Happiness in a pie shell for sure, and takes like 10 minutes to put together.    This is my “no fail” recipe when I suddenly need a dessert.

Give it a shot! 
Hershey’s cocoa gives your pie the distinct flavor of a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. The deeper, richer European cocoas make dark, sultry pies.

Lori’s Chocolate Chess Pie
1 ready made rolled pie crust (like Pillsbury), thawed and set into a pie plate

1 cup white sugar
3.5 Tb cocoa powder
1 5oz can evap milk
1/2 stick butter, melted and smooth
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tb (or more) of high-quality vanilla OR your favorite flavored liquor
(I’ve successfully used amaretto, kahlua, dark (espresso) kahlua, Frangelico, Godiva chocolate, etc)

Preheat oven to 400

Mix all ingredients one by one, in order, until smooth.

Pour into prepared pie crust.

Bake on bottom rack as follows:
400 for 10 minutes
325 for 20-25 minutes
(The high temperature at first will crisp your bottom crust, but the pie itself needs a lower temperature.)

It’s done when it’s got an even crust across the top … NOT when it’s solid! This is almost like a custard or fudge. It won’t turn solid like a cake.

Enjoy. 

The Curse as Grace

I’ve always thought of the Curse as … a curse. (duh)

Nothing is easy … everything worth doing takes so much agonizing work.

We were driving into Greenville the other night discussing life and its difficulties, and Coart commented that the Curse is actually Grace.  It holds us accountable for our sinfulness. It limits the amount of damage humans can do (even sinning takes work).  We are sanctified by this struggle against the groanings of creation.  Little else really is effective against our nature.

Apart from the violent Grace that is the Curse, we would not understand the depths of our ingrained sin.

Everything is hard because everything about me is screwed up.
Sin is a perversity — a twistedness that only God can un-twist.

Flannery O’Connor’s shocking moments of self-revelation for her characters are an artistic picture of the slaps-in-the-face we receive from Life in this broken world.  I often say with a bitter laugh that irony, not love, “makes the world go ’round.”  Flannery’s stories write that theme large. Apart from painful (and Gracious) self-revelation, I would never see myself for what I am — a sinner in great need of rescue.

“Hosanna!” = “Save now!”

In Darkness, Light: Literature & the Christian Imagination

Originally published in the NCC Connection, March 2008 issue

___________

“Works with obvious meanings cease to be art.”
Edgar Allan Poe

 

Production photo from the New Covenant School production of Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe, March 2008
Production photo from the New Covenant School production of Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe, March 2008

 

The Light of the Gospel often shines from unusual places.  Truth tumbles into our laps all around us, thanks to the work of Grace.

“Dualistic thinking” sees the world split into two realms: the sacred and the common. Reformed theologians have generally rejected this worldview as unbiblical. Sin has warped our thinking, our families, our institutions, our governments, our creative endeavors. The Gospel message is that God is redeeming all things to Himself by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If the Fall affected all of human activity (and it did), then the power of redemption must extend to more than just individual hearts.  We cling to this hope that the Gospel redeems institutions, families, governments, and movements in addition to individuals.  That truth forms the basis for Christians’ attempts to redeem culture.

Rejecting dualism means that we also refuse to divide the world into the “sacred” and the “profane.” All ground is holy ground.  To say it another way, no human endeavor remains untainted by sin because sin is a matter of human nature. It does not reside within cultural artifacts. Christians create works of art, write books, and run organizations which are marred by the Fall and its consequences because we are sinners.  On the other hand, unbelievers – thanks to common grace – are able to reflect biblical truth without realizing its source.  All truth is God’s truth, regardless of where it’s found.

Many Christians dualistically avoid “darkly” themed literature. “Think on what is good, pure, lovely, and of good report,” says Paul the Apostle.  Yet Scripture itself takes significant time to explore the brokenness of the Fall.  Can we truly understand the depth of our sin and the power of the Gospel apart from crushing illustrations of our depravity?

Would we understand the cost of betrayal if Judas Iscariot had not hanged himself in the potter’s field? 

Would we grasp the utter failure of “the people of God” if the writer of Judges had not accurately described Israel’s descent into idolatry, violence, and immorality?

In modern literature, men like Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, or Edgar Allan Poe bring the brokenness of humanity and its twisted thinking into our very living rooms for us to consider.

This spring, the New Covenant School high school drama students are performing a script based on tales by America’s master storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe is the father of the short story – he defined the genre’s boundaries – and developed two major short story forms, the detective story and the psychological thriller.  The NCS play Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe brings to life four of his famous tales of grief, sorrow, and insanity. 

Our purpose is to entertain the audience with a fun evening of suspense. But we ought to ask whether Poe is someone who meets Paul’s standard of ‘thinking on that which is lovely.”

Sometimes redemptive themes in literature lie far under the surface, at the philosophical level.  Usually any particular story will illustrate only one or two themes, not the entire canon of biblical truth.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote from a cultural context drenched in genteel hypocrisy.  Abandoned by his real father and later estranged from his foster family, he struggled to find his place in a nation not yet ready for a man attempting to support himself by writing alone. The decay and insanity prevalent in his stories serve as symbols of the society which painted a rosy picture over the top of deep social problems.

For the Christian, Poe’s stories illustrate the reality of the effects of sin on a human soul.  Guilt can drive a murderer to reveal his wrongdoing (“The Tell-tale Heart”). Sorrow over a lost loved one (mirroring Poe’s loss of his beloved wife to tuberculosis) can detach a person from reality (“The Raven”).  And a well-meaning friend cannot rescue a man from the consequences of his unconfessed sin (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Humans were created to love stories.  Our God is the ultimate Hero from which all authors draw their inspiration. He masterfully weaves together our own multiple plotlines into a perfect climax of Redemption in the face of utter doom. Even “scary” stories serve as a reminder that we are in fact safe from the terrors of this world, wrapped in the arms of a loving Heavenly Father.  Indeed, any well-written work of literature reflects the creative nature of our God who delights in mystery and imagination.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lori Ramey teaches English and drama at New Covenant School.  She holds a MEd in Integrated Curriculum and Instruction from Covenant College and has been teaching for six years.  She invites you to see Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe next week at New Covenant School to decide for yourself how Poe’s tales insightfully portray humanity and grace.

 

.paradox.

One of the most counter-intuitive truths of Christianity, I think, is this:

You can avoid everything “wrong” and still fail to be righteous. 

True righteousness is not measured by the absence of evil. It is not enough to merely avoid that which is bad. Real goodness is pervasive, invasive, and ever-active.

If I do not harm my neighbor, yet never actively do good to him/for him, have I treated him righteously?
No.

If I muster enough patience to treat people around me nicely, yet my life leaves others unchanged, am I truly righteous?
No.

*shakes head*
That’s just crazy.

Oh how much we need the Gospel of Grace which reminds us that we are indeed failures — but totally and completely loved by a God who promises to do what we absolutely cannot do by our own efforts: Remove this sinful heart and replace it with one that longs for active righteousness.

My only political comment until July ’08

I sometimes find interesting rifts between my theology and my actual practice.  To be brutally honest, I should call them “inconsistencies” or even “hypocrisy.”

I’ve declared the election off-limits in my mind until next summer… this year-away campaigning is just ridiculous. My last political comment before next July is this:

Like every other area of life, politics must be claimed for the glory of God and His kingdom. The Gospel redeems nations, not just individuals. Christians (especially in democracies) bear a distinct responsibility to effect change within our political system. We must work for peace, healing, justice, righteousness — all of the morality of God’s kingdom (imperfect though it will be in a broken, sinful world).

I like that theory very much.

However, like many Americans, I find myself ridiculously apathetic when it comes to political involvement. I can’t even tell you the name of Anderson’s mayor, nor do I really care. Most local issues seem saturated with good-ol-boy networking and endless arguments about funding for things that don’t directly affect me.

On the state level, South Carolina is so conservative that I wonder if it’s worth it. Sure, the “big cities” of Charleston, Greenville and Columbia wrestle more with urban issues and thus a more liberal voting block … but other than thinking that Mark Sanford seems to have been a responsible governor who basically kept his campaign promises, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to state issues either.  My friend Paul works for the state’s probation & parole system … if anything I wish someone would put him in charge of something because he seems to recognize the cause of problems in his agency and offers workable solutions to them.  But hey, he’s a Yankee. Not even a snowball’s chance that he’d get appointed. 

We all get hung up on national politics, especially in years divisible by 4.  Here again, my theology fails to correct my attitude.  Yup, Christians should be involved in politics and elections matter.  Weighty issues of justice and mercy emerge from the cluttered discussions of the uninsured/under-insured, illegal immigrants (and how we mistreat them), or the war in Iraq.

But the candidates’ chatter is just so much noise.   Nobody’s even talking about AIDS in Africa or Darfur… guess those problems don’t play well to the American TV audience … we’re too busy thinking about our wallets, tax breaks, mortgage interest rates, and other America-centric problems.  Genocide?, I ask.  “Ehhh….we’re not the world’s policeman…. America first….”  *coughs*

I’m old enough to barely remember Carter, reminisce about Reagan’s glory days, and realize that (contrary to conservative warcries) Clinton did not destroy America during his two terms.  In fact, 200 years of political wrangling haven’t destroyed us yet. Blissful stability.

I’m also old enough to be fed up with partisan politics, vacuous campaign stumping, and one- or two-issue voters.  Abortion is murder and homosexuality is wrong, but immigration and health care and education affect a whole lot more people in more significant ways than any of the hot-button morality issues that conservatives waste countless hours debating.

Someone, probably Hillary, will win in 2008.  Other than appointing judges to the court system who would rather make law than interpret it, she’ll probably be a decent President.  I’ll agree with her on some things and disagree with others.  Maybe she won’t strip my civil rights or spend trillions of dollars we don’t have like a certain Texan who descended from the Evangelical Shekina 8 years ago.

Four years will pass.
The government will progress in some areas and screw up others.
Fingers will be pointed; the chorus of opinions will begin again, and I will yawn.

… unless, of course, the Holy Spirit kicks me in the tail between now and then to let my theology affect my practice.

White Choc-Cranberry 7 Layer Bars

Came up with this over the weekend for the NCS staff Xmas party.  They were good, so here’s the recipe — a fantastic and FAST recipe for Xmas baking!

White Cranberry 7-Layer Bars

1 box graham cracker crumbs
2 sticks butter, melted

2 bags white choc chips
1 bag Heath toffee bits
1 cup slivered almonds or chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup (or more) craisins

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 375
Grease well a jelly roll pan or two smaller pans.
Mix together the graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press firmly into the bottom of the pan.
Layer on top the chips, toffee, nuts, and craisins.
Puncture the can of milk (in 2 places) and drizzle the milk over the layers, covering evenly.

Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes — the edges will be kinda toasty.

Score and cut into bars BEFORE they cool.  But let them cool in the pan before stacking.

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