I had heard that this little artifact existed but never thought I’d see a picture of a copy [link]. It’s a 14-page collection of things Bob Jones Sr said from the pulpit at chapel at Bob Jones University over the years. A handful of quotes can be seen here [link]. It was published by Bob Jones University in 1976 but is apparently currently out of print. Instead the BJU Press offers a collection of posters with similar sayings [link].
This little document figures as Exhibit A in the case against Bob Jones University in Jeri Massi’s book Schizophrenic Christianity [link]. As I recall she took it to mean something unhealthy about Bob Jones (the man and the school) that such a book existed; her detractors thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill.
As a Liberty grad I feel I must confess that there is a relatively small, relatively mild cult of personality surrounding the late Jerry Falwell, but so far as I know people tend to speak kindly of one or two of the chapel sermons he gave essentially unchanged from year to year, but collections of his chapel sayings [link] are relatively rare and small.
Regardless, I’m thrilled to see that this little artifact exists, but not so thrilled I’d pay $3.50 plus $4 shipping and handling to read its 14 pages.
HAIRSPRAY delighted audiences by sweeping them away to 1960′s Baltimore, where the 50′s are out — and change is in the air. Loveable plus-size heroine, Tracy Turnblad, has a passion for dancing, and wins a spot on the local TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Overnight she finds herself transformed from outsider to teen celebrity. Can a larger-than-life adolescent manage to vanquish the program’s reigning princess, integrate the television show, and find true love
(singing and dancing all the while, of course!) without mussing her hair?
I’ve seen the movie but not the musical; I suppose it’s possible that the musical doesn’t deal with desegregation, which was a major theme of the movie.
The small handful of productions I saw at Liberty when I was there as a student they typically did by the book: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was done unedited, and was just as heavy-handed and overwrought as the original. As I recall the Red Scare themes of the play were implicit, so it was possible to watch the play and think it was entirely about religious hysteria in Massachusetts in the 1690s and not also about political hysteria in Eisenhower America.
The relationship between conservative Christianity and the arts generally is always complicated; the much-lamented Ektachrome Transparencies blog dealt with some of the issues of the film program at Bob Jones University and gave a better treatment than I can here. Suffice it to say that there’s always someone who will be offended by someone else’s artistic expression, and an arts program at a conservative school always walks a tightrope, mostly without a net. So far as I know there is still no life drawing class at Liberty, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one to happen.
Anyway, I don’t know what to think of the production of Hairspray at Liberty. This is one of those times where there may be a stage production that is based on a film that might or might not be shown on campus, and if so certainly wouldn’t be part of a John Waters film festival. This is one of the points where fundamentalists and evangelicals of some stripes part ways: fundamentalists wouldn’t put on a production of Hairspray because Waters is gay and made some other films with well-nigh unspeakable content; evangelicals are more likely to consider each work separately.
As fundamentalists becoming evangelicals we got involved in politics because of fear stories.
At its heart each story was about losing rights we thought we were guaranteed as Americans under the Constitution: freedom of religion, conscience, assembly, etc. The details varied by issue and story: tax exempt status, government oversight of church organizations and functions, school prayer, religious expression at public occasions, etc. They took place against a background of Cold War church persecution stories, particularly behind the Iron Curtain. We told ourselves these stories for several reasons, including to cultivate a feeling of kinship with the modern persecuted Church, but they tended to galvanize our sense of ourselves as American Christians (or “Eisenhower Christians”), blending our two identities and seeing an assault on one as an assault on the other. We had in a sense participated in the Cold War ideologically, taking our stand against godless Communism, and and somewhere along the line got our American identity mixed up with our sense of ourselves as Christians.
In retrospect a lot of our sense of kinship with the Cold-War-era persecuted Church was pretty shallow; it had a lot to do with reading books about real bravery in the face of persecution (Brother Andrew) and fictional portrayals of persecuted Christians. In my case in particular, Myrna Grant novels about young believers in the Ukrainian underground church helped reinforce the impression that the Cold War was primarily a struggle for religious freedom.
As a result, though, we chose our political affiliation because we were afraid of the ACLU, because they sued to stop school prayer, and certain elements of the federal government because of the ongoing case against Bob Jones University, not for preaching the Gospel, but for violations of civil rights. There were at least a handful of other cases as well, including the case against Lester Roloff, where we saw religious persecution but the legal question was more about government oversight of non-religious functions of religious institutions: health and safety, corporal punishment, fire codes, etc.
But I think I would argue that what had happened was that we had hyphenated our Christianity and our nationality, and we got involved in politics not because of doctrinal or moral issues, but because we believed our rights as Americans had been violated.
The other issues that became hot-button issues: the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, political correctness, gay rights, etc. were initially other people’s issues, and we adopted them as we got more involved politically. They were part of the process of becoming the Religious Right, and making common cause with people we suspected were going to Hell: Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants first, then later Jews and Mormons. Our political handlers sold us on the importance of these issues as they tried with mixed success to turn us into a coalition.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we came out of a background that was a mixture of native fundamentalism and Bob Jones fundamentalism, and I think party for this reason we were never 100% in any one camp and willing in principle to leave should conditions warrant. When I started at Liberty it was still nominally fundamentalist, as far as any university can be fundamentalist, anyway, and the ministry still published The Fundamentalist Journal, about which more later.
Jerry never really broke up with the fundamentalists; he just sort of changed gradually over a period of several years. For this reason I don’t think he ever announced that he was no longer a fundamentalist, and so as far as I can find there’s really nothing written from Liberty’s perspective with a title like “Why We’re No Longer Fundamentalist” or whatever. Instead all I can find is stuff like this
- Charles Woodbridge’s 1969 book The New Evangelicalism, published by Bob Jones University Press
- William Ashbrook’s pamphlet The New Neutralism, published in various editions over many years
- John Ashbrook’s revision The New Neutralism II, now probably in its final form and available on the Web
And while the younger Ashbrook at least mentions Jerry, his focus is Harold Ockenga, founder of Fuller Theological Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, etc. and who was responsible for the coining of the term “Neo-Evangelicalism.” Ashbrook’s criticism of Ockenga et al was pretty much this:
In the late 1940′s Harold Ockenga, the architect of the New Evangelicalism launched the movement that rejected the Biblical doctrine of separation from apostasy and from the world and replaced it one of acceptance and infiltration.
There’s a lot to unpack in his description of the Neo-Evangelical movement, and only some of it has anything to do with us at Liberty, since we weren’t really the children of Ockenga and Fuller but were sort of going our own way. But it’s as good a place to start as any: Ashbrook makes separation (doctrinal and cultural, more or less) his distinctive, and accuses evangelicals of trying to find a middle path between fundamentalism and modernism. Ashbrook makes the argument that there’s really no middle ground, and attempting to find some sort of common ground with the outside world inevitably leads fundamentalists to modernism, rather than leading people from the outside world to the truth, or whatever. And whether he’s right or wrong, this sharp distinction casts a shadow over the question of whether there can ever be such a thing as a “fundamentalist university,” or whether fundamentalists can only have teaching colleges while modernists have universities. In other words, it’s an open question whether fundamentalists can ever discover anything new, or whether they can only accept and teach received information and leave the modernists to pursue the novel, whether it turns out to be right or wrong.
I think it’s a fair criticism that modernism necessarily abandons the true for the novel or fashionable, and roughly equally fair to criticize fundamentalism for never asking an open question. And these tensions shaped a lot of what was going on at Liberty (and may still be going on) as the school looks to define itself as it grows.
I attended a Christian high school in the Lynchburg area, and during my time there the sponsoring church took a swing in a more Fundamentalist direction when our pastor left and the deacons hired a replacement who was a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. Where we had been more or less of the truly independent strain of fundamentalists (where our pastors tended to be self-taught) or had been of the Bob Jones family, we gradually became a Jack Hyles church. This meant among other things that where before we had no real bias toward one college or another, there was now a tendency for the church to encourage the top-flight students to at least consider Hyles-Anderson.
During roughly the same time Jerry Falwell added a focus to the ministry at Thomas Road Baptist Church; where Thomas Road had previously been one of the fastest-growing churches in America, or one of the fastest-growing Sunday Schools in America, Jerry added an emphasis that Liberty be the fastest-growing college in America. This shift in focus included a building boom on Chandler’s Mountain/Liberty Mountain and a substantial scholarship program. This caused some tension inside our church and school; Hyles was the school of choice, but Liberty was more attractively priced (especially if the first two years were nearly free) and doctrinally sound.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Liberty was already parting ways at multiple levels with its fundamentalist roots. While the Liberty faculty generally had credible fundamentalist credentials, with lots of graduates of Cedarville, Dallas Theological Seminary, Tennessee Temple, Pensacola, Bob Jones, etc. not to mention a fair number of unaccredited Bible college graduates and the occasional truly gray diploma mill graduate, Liberty itself was a peer to Bob Jones and Tennessee Temple; students often chose between these schools in pairs, so rumors traveled more or less freely between the two schools. We later heard from Bob Jones that Daryl Hall and John Oates had played a concert in the convocation center (not true) and that Liberty faculty returning to Bob Jones for alumni weekends with Liberty stickers on their cars were disfellowshipped by letter and told never to return (unconfirmed).
Hyles, oddly, was in a different orbit within fundamentalism; students who were true believers in the Hyles point of view rarely ended up at Liberty, even if attracted by the price. Those who did rarely stayed. Bob Jones people often left Liberty for Bob Jones after a year or two; rarely did people do a year or two at BJU and then transfer to Liberty, despite the fact that this was an effective way to launder credits from an unaccredited institution and get an accredited degree.
This was something of a touchy subject in the fundamentalist-evangelical nexus; many programs at Bob Jones were top-flight, but graduates sometimes faced difficulties landing jobs or getting admitted to graduate school, while Liberty graduates supposedly had less trouble. Lack of accreditation was a badge of honor for BJU, and at least at some administrative level they considered themselves more distinctively Christian for not having being accredited by a secular accrediting body.
I got to Liberty through a maze of fundamentalist Baptist churches; after my parents married we attended Thomas Road briefly, then a church pastored by Elbert Yeatts, who went to no college at all, then one pastored by a Tennessee Temple graduate, then one pastored by a Hyles-Anderson graduate. Along the way I ducked in and out of Bob Jones churches when visiting relatives. In our neck of the woods Bob Jones graduates more or less set the tone for fundamentalist Baptist churches, but graduates tended to preach sermons that varied only by flavor and not by kind.
The preachers we heard tended to preach mostly topical sermons, and the topics were chiefly the following:
- The literal truth (meaning historicity) of the Bible
- The importance of being born again
- Hierarchical social order; particularly, the obedience of the church to the pastor, the family to the father, and in some typically indirect sense, of everyone to God.
- Expectations of the Rapture, and to a lesser degree, interpretation of current events in a Hal Lindsey framework
- Adherence to a behavior and demeanor code, including short hair for men, longish skirts for women, and avoidance of anything worldly; this typically meant no drinking, but we sort of finessed questions surrounding smoking.
As a latter-day “mere Christian” I tend to react badly when I find myself in a church where the pastor camps out on a distinctive (autonomy of the local church, predestination and election, musical instruments, what-have-you), but that’s a story for a later post.
I have to admit that even in the early Seventies Jerry Falwell was already breaking ranks with the fundamentalists somewhat. Where the fundamentalists tended to rest their sermons on their interpretation of the Bible and their own authority, Jerry had already started adding figures from Gallup and George Barna into his sermons, thereby blurring the line between the things we believed because they were directly stated in Scripture or were part of our interpretation of Scripture (“special revelation”) and things we believed because they came from some other authority or could be observed directly (“general revelation“).
Also, Jerry deviated from our fundamentalist preachers in one other important way: where fundamentalist preachers read the small size of their churches as evidence they were preaching difficult truth, and therefore were doing God’s will, Jerry took the fact that his ministry was growing quickly as evidence that he was doing God’s will. Jerry, strictly speaking, was outside the main stream of the Church Growth Movement, because he had his own in-house church growth expert (Elmer Towns) and navigated some of the challenges of building a megachurch in an idiosyncratic way.
One of the great mysteries of the history of modern fundamentalist Christianity is the gap between roughly 1925 (the Scopes Monkey Trial) and 1976 (the election of Jimmy Carter). Most histories of the Religious Right mention these two events and say nothing about the fifty years in between; some mention the rise of Billy Graham and the 1957 New York Crusade, but that’s about it.
It was during this time that my family became Baptists of a particularly fundamentalist stripe.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, but that also came to a head about 1925. As near as I can tell, many churches in our area in rural central Virginia ended up with little to nothing to say, and gradually became places people went to out of habit, but where virtually nothing was said from the pulpit. Or so I understand from our perspective. It’s not like there are any tapes of sermons from these churches from the period. But after the Great Depression and World War II came and went, a cluster of fundamentalists developed around an unschooled former circuit-riding preacher named Elbert Yeatts in the Bedford/Franklin/Botetourt County areas of central Virginia. I don’t have all the names of these preachers, but some of them became active in existing Southern Baptist (SBC) churches in the area and either took the churches in a fundamentalist direction or split off and formed independent Baptist churches.
Around this time as well there were preachers coming into the area who were graduates of Bob Jones University, which had recently moved to South Carolina. It’s a common misconception that BJU is Southern because the school itself is in the South; the school was not historically Southern per se, and the preachers who came into the area from BJU were a mix of men from the South and Midwest.
But that’s more or less how we became Baptists (and by implication fundamentalists), at least from our perspective: churches that had become glorified social clubs were either taken over or split by men who stood in the pulpit and read and interpreted the Bible.
When I pick this up again I’ll try to explain how we turned the corner again and got involved in politics. Hint: it wasn’t as simple as Roe v. Wade.