John Jensen’s post about the criticism he’s gotten from other Christians for swearing got me thinking again about about the skewed moral priorities that often prevail in evangelical churches. Growing up, we were led to believe that all sorts of personal choices disqualified someone from being a “real” Christian – swearing, listening to “ungodly” music, voting a certain way, wearing certain clothes. Before I went to college, I honestly thought it was impossible to be a Christian and a Democrat.
But I was never taught it was impossible to be a good Christian and a racial separatist.
To the contrary, my experience was that fellow conservative Christians, white ones in particular, were extremely reluctant to call BJU’s opposition to interracial marriage what it so obviously was: blatant racism. They had no trouble saying they disagreed with the ban, that they believed in racial unity in Christ. But few people would go so far as to actually call the ban racist, much less make a real issue of it.
Instead people stressed that Bob Jones and others at BJU were our “brothers in Christ” and that they loved Jesus, loved the Gospel, and were working hard for the kingdom. Yes, they said, Bob Jones is wrong to oppose interracial marriage, but no one is perfect; we’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. All of us are wrong about something. Making a public issue out of BJU’s sin would be self-righteous. It would be wrongly attacking a fellow Christian and creating division and conflict in the church, making the church look bad to the secular world.
Besides, Bob Jones wasn’t really racist – he didn’t hate black people, he just honestly believed the Bible required segregation. BJU never went quite so far as to say “We hate blacks,” so the churches I attended not only did and said nothing to oppose their racism, they also supported BJU and affiliated institutions by purchasing their books, and holding BJU up as a good Christian university that good Christian families could send their kids to.
There are days I think BJ III would have had to put on a hood and burn a cross on Jesse Jackson’s front lawn to spark any serious uproar in white conservative Christian circles. Even then I think it might have been dicey.
Evangelical responses justifying Mark Driscoll’s hate speech or C.J. Mahaney’s autocratic leadership of SGM illustrate the exact same kind of thinking that allowed BJU’s ban on interracial relationships to stand for so long. Put simply, there’s a pattern of making excuses for fellow evangelicals, as well as a culture where certain “sins” are arbitrarily and bizarrely prioritized over others.
Saying “shit” gets you flack for being a bad example, not being “holy,” and being a “stumbling block” to others. But engaging in hate speech or abusive behavior that actually traumatizes people is apparently not a sufficiently bad example or “unholy” or “stumbling” enough to warrant public criticism. Anyone who disagrees will be accused of “libel” and “slander.”
I mean really, this is the same crowd that just months ago pitched very public tantrums over a video of Rob Bell asking questions about hell, and over Ann Voskamp’s erotic spiritual imagery. These folks were quick to warn of the spiritual danger of Bell’s and Voskamp’s writings (without having read them) and to paint them as stealth pagans.
Now this same crowd is accusing critics of libel and slander for pointing to a clear, public record of Mark Driscoll’s bigoted, bullying behavior, and for simply discussing countless compelling stories that point to SGM being a ministry that perpetrates and enables all sorts of abuses against its members.
The hypocrisy, the moral relativism, and double standards are quite blatant.
It occurred to me that Bob Jones University, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney have a lot in common. The connection might not be immediately obvious, but bear with me.
Stuff Fundies Like posted a 1995 letter from fundamentalist leader Bob Jones III (BJ III. Yes, really!), defending his university’s now defunct ban on interracial dating. When a student challenged this policy by pointing out that in the Bible, Moses, a Jew, married an Ethiopian, which would seem to be an interracial marriage, BJ III responded:
Bob Jones III
November 15, 1995
As a young man, you would do yourself a favor to back off and listen to your family and others who know a lot more about the road of life than you do because we’ve been there.
No, I can’t see your point of view. I am sorry. I don’t suppose that surprises you.
You don’t have to agree with the school’s position on this matter to stay here, obviously; but you do have to keep your disagreement to yourself, because griping isn’t tolerated.
As I mentioned the other day in Chapel, 40-50 years ago in America, it was understood by believers, North and South, that interracial dating was not proper. There would have been a few radicals, of course, that would not have agreed, but it wasn’t even discussed in churches because it was just understood.
You and others of your generation who have allowed yourselves to be brainwashed by the media have been sold a bill of goods.
Yes, Moses married a non-Jew. That was what he was criticized for, and the issue for which Miriam his sister was judged by Godwas her criticism of the leader God appointed and the divisiveness that it brought. The race of Ethiopians has to do with what part of Ethiopia they come from. Haile Selassie, the former ruler of Ethiopia, and the ruling family are not black. To make a racial issue out of this is to argue a point beyond all reason.
I could spend my time dealing with this issue, but I am not inclined to because I don’t think you really wan tot know but that you want to argue. Forgive me if I have misjudged you, but that is how your note comes across.
Riiiight. It’s not even worth trying to take all that apart. I just love how he basically equated “white racist Christians” with “believers” and everyone else with “radicals.” Also “reading comprehension” and “sharing an opinion” are, apparently, griping and dissent, not to be tolerated at BJU circa 1995.
To be honest, I’m not particularly surprised that BJU’s leaders were, and in all likelihood still are, opposed to interracial dating. Many white conservative Christians still are. Nor am I surprised that it took the pressure of overwhelming negative publicity for BJU to finally drop the ban in 2000. That’s pretty much how it goes when it comes to injustice and oppression. People who know better have to raise a stink for things to change.
What I have always found remarkable about the longevity of BJU’s ban is precisely the fact that other conservative Christians in large part didn’t protest the policy, and instead dealt with it with silence and complicity. Most conservative Christian leaders and churches did and said nothing to challenge an institutionalized, blatantly obvious form of racism at a nationally known conservative Christian university.
Most such Christians would deny having any problem with interracial relationships per se. Most would claim to believe racism is a sin. All of them would claim to believe in the unity of the church and the equal humanity and worth of all people.
Yet the end of the ban at BJU had virtually nothing to do with the Christian church. It came largely thanks to the evil liberal secular media.
The scandal here isn’t that some Christians are prejudiced, or even blatant racists. That’s true of all kinds of people. The scandal is that the media did the job the church should have done in calling out, pressuring, and, yes, publicly shaming BJU for their racist policy.
Here’s the connection Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney: There’s a disturbing pattern of evangelicals tolerating and making excuses for egregious and oppressive behavior when the people engaging in it are their kind of Christians. This is frequently coupled with a tendency to turn on and ostracize anyone who dares to call out prejudiced or harmful behavior for what it is.
We can see this in the backlash against Rachel Held Evans’ posts calling on Christians to denounce Mark Driscoll’s bullying speech and misogynistic teachings. We can see it in the SGM board and SGM defenders accusing Brent Detwiler and ex-SGM bloggers of “slander” when we dare to openly discuss even established and admitted facts about the pastors.
Part 2 of this post here.