Accreditation, Bigotry, and Paranoia
This is a wonderful piece written by Bob Vincent Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Louisiana. I think this is a powerful piece dealing with some profound spiritual issues. It is personally interesting to me because of my research on the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery and because of how these issues relate to the current happenings at Louisiana College. I should point out that I have friends who are alumni and faculty at BJU. The institution has come a long way since the sixties. There are still issues there but they have attained national accreditation and are preparing to apply for the all important regional accreditation.
What happens when a college chooses not to be accredited? I know a little bit about this because I chose to withdraw from a non-accredited institution midway through my junior year and enroll in another college. Counting the hours lost in the semester when I withdrew, I lost 42 semester hours.
Forty-two semester hours down the drain! Wow!
I have friends who are graduates of another institution that chose not to be accredited. They are brilliant, gifted people, but we cannot hire teachers to teach our regular classes unless they have degrees from accredited colleges or universities — that is, if we want to maintain state approval. If Grace Christian School were to lose state approval, there is no guarantee that our courses would transfer to another high school, and that can be very serious when somebody’s parents have to move.
If the loss of state approval creates problems for students, the loss of accreditation is a complete disaster.
Why was I willing to lose 42 hours?
The president of the institution from which I chose to withdraw had expressed great pride in his school not being accredited.
Bob Jones University was an odd place: they refused to fly the American flag at half-mast for more than a few days when John F. Kennedy was killed, and this stunt made the South Carolina papers.
From its inception, Bob Jones University was committed to segregationist politics, and they had no African-American students there at all throughout the sixties — of course, segregation was still very much a way of life in South Carolina throughout the sixties.
Back in 1966, Bob Jones Junior spoke about race in chapel. With my own ears I heard him say the following:
“Blacks have never had a successful civilization.”
“Blacks were designed by God to be servants.”
“Blacks are only happy when they are in the role of a servant.”
I really think that’s what Robert Reynolds Jones and Mary Gaston Stollenwerck — Mrs. Jones Senior was from my mother’s hometown of Uniontown, Alabama — taught their precocious and mischievous little boy to believe about how African-Americans felt regarding their condition in the old South.
Perhaps all of that is one reason why within months of leaving Bob Jones, I attended the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta. It was a pilgrimage, more so even than when I went to Jerusalem decades later.
The president of Bob Jones University was at least mildly paranoid about any movement that could result in large scale defections of young people away from the views of the churches that supported the university. That pretty much explains their squelching of things such as speaking in tongues and Calvinism — the one appealing to the heart, the other to the head, of vulnerable young adults.
The school kept a lid on these things by a network of informers that were present everywhere. Each dormitory room of four persons had an assistant prayer captain. Three rooms were under a prayer captain. Each floor had two monitors, and each dorm had a graduate student serving as a resident. These folk had been carefully chosen because they had exhibited loyalty to the university.
Back in the winter of 1966, a grad student friend of mine turned me in to the Director of Religious Activities because I had shared some Calvinistic thoughts with him. I think that the man meant well — he went on to become a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I believe he is a true Christian. But as a result, I got a pink slip, which meant I had to report to Dr. Marvin Lewis. (Just six weeks before I had gone with Dr. Lewis as he held revival services at a Baptist church in North Carolina. I had been the singer.)
When I walked in, Dr. Lewis asked me: “Bob, what’s this I hear about you and Calvinism?”
Well, dumb me, I blurted out: “Dr. Lewis, I think that Calvinism is the gospel, and the gospel is Calvinism.”
“Whaaat?!” he said and punched his intercom for Dr. Liverman, the Dean of Men. “Dr. Liverman, you need to come over here right now. We have a real problem on our hands.” Then he turned to me and said, “Bob, I thought of you like my own son.” I hung my head in shame.
Moments later, Dr. Liverman arrived, and Dr. Lewis explained what I had said. Dr. Liverman mused in my presence, “Maybe he meant that Calvinism is the gospel truth.”
Dr. Lewis then opined, “Why, that’s like saying immersion is the gospel.”
Which led Dr. Liverman to retort, “Well, Dr. Lewis, immersion does paint a beautiful picture of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.”
As they went back and forth, I began to cry — I couldn’t help it. I really loved BJU and had no idea that I had dabbled with something so evil and deadly. In my tears, I asked them for help. “I love the school, and I don’t want to do anything bad, but what can I do? As I’ve read the Bible, it seems to be saying this. Please help me.”
And they did. Both recommended the same book, John R. Rice’s _Predestined for Hell? No!_ (Got to watch how you punctuate that one) “Bob, you go get that book and read it. Dr. Rice will answer your questions. After you’ve read his book, you come back and talk if you have any more questions about Calvinism.” I dried my tears, went to the book store, bought the book and went back to my room. I finished it in a few hours, but I didn’t go back to talk.
Some months later, I ordered some copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith and quietly began to sell them to fellow students at my cost. Everything was going well — I even met this beautiful girl one Sunday night — she has been my wife for almost forty-five years. Nobody was mad; nobody was coming down on any of us. All was Quiet on the Western Front.
Then in the fall of 1967, Bob Jones Junior preached for a friend of his out in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Heart to Heart Hour Chapel. Trouble was brewing between the pastor and an assistant over Calvinism, and a church split was in progress. Dr. Bob Junior was livid and returned ready to kick keister. I’ll never forget his chapel message back in early November of 1967: “We don’t want any flower children here: no pansies and no tulip boys.”
Within a couple of days, fifty to a hundred of us were rounded up, and the law was laid down by the administration. That night, seeing the handwriting on the wall, I called Dr. Nelson Bell, and he encouraged me to leave — it’s what his son-in-law, Billy Graham, had done decades before — “That institution rivals anything outside of Mao’s China,” he warned me.
Since I was not yet twenty-one, I could not withdraw myself, so the next day I called my parents. They were overjoyed, dropped everything, drove to Greenville and withdrew me. (My Dad was friends with the registrar at a nearby accredited college, and they enrolled me there prior to their arriving at Bob Jones.)
Beyond the students, some of the faculty left that same year, too, one of whom was Robert L. Reymond — I had been Dr. Reymond’s youth minister at a Baptist church he was serving part time in rural Georgia. I probably learned more about the Bible in the eight or so hours we would spend on those round trips, traveling in his car on a weekend, than at any other short period of time in my life.
The whole Bob Jones episode was a part of God’s gracious plan for my life. They indoctrinated the student body, but so do many universities — just a whole lot more subtly. In spite of many things, I believe I got the beginning of a good college education there, one that was rounded off nicely with a degree in philosophy from an accredited college before the end of the sixties. And those 42 hours were only lost on paper; I still use information that I learned in those classes.
In so many ways, my experiences helped shape how I believe I should treat others. I came away with a profound commitment to academic freedom.
What do we have to fear from helping people think for themselves? Schools should provide people with the tools to help them think for themselves — not demand they spout the party line.
Only people who suspect that they are wrong and that their ideas are indefensible stifle free expression.
Billy Graham’s father-in-law was right, and there is a connection between Maoist Marxism and intolerant “Christianity” — I put that in quotation marks because real Christianity is always open to the free exchange of ideas and exhibits grace when it finds itself challenged.
As I look back over my experiences from almost a half century ago, I believe that there are demonic influences that eagerly wait to commandeer our good intentions and drive us over the edge with a paranoid intolerance that reminds people more of Satan than of Christ.