Is Bob Jones University’s “Gay Chapel Week” A Farce?

Jeffrey Hoffman

Jeffrey Hoffman

November 12, 2013, Greenville, SC — last week, Bob Jones University released an internal memo announcing that it would spend a week of mandatory chapel messages discussing “same sex attraction” and “a biblical response,” beginning November 11. Yesterday, Dr. Stephen Jones, president of the school began his talk by reading a letter that a student allegedly received anonymously from another student. It read:

“You (expletive). You don’t belong here. This is a Christian school. Get out. God doesn’t love gays. You don’t belong or deserve to be here, so go burn.

From: Wouldn’t you like to know.

P.S. Do us a favor and just end it. No one likes you anyway.”

Dr. Stephen Jones, BJU President

Dr. Stephen Jones, BJU President announced a zero-tolerance policy for hate letters

Dr. Jones went on to say “Well that was last week, and we still don’t know who wrote it… And I am telling whoever wrote it even if it is the person himself looking for attention, you have 24 hours to talk to your supervisor about it and own up to it. If you don’t, … you won’t be part of this student body because that represents nothing of the spirit of Christ, and that will not be accepted here. And there’s 24 hours from now for whoever wrote that to come clean.”

In a statement to the press today, BJUnity’s founding executive director, Jeffrey Hoffman said “BJUnity is encouraged to hear that there is now an apparently ‘zero tolerance policy’ for this kind of homophobic hate speech by students to other students. But this kind of letter is not unexpected in a school whose Chancellor remains unrepentant for telling an AP reporter that ‘homosexuals should be stoned to death as the Bible commands’ and for more than thirty years of similar messages he has consistently preached from the chapel pulpit at BJU, complete with mocking diatribes many of us recall vividly years later. In typical fashion, there is a mixed message and double standard at play here. Nearly two years ago, the LGBT+ alumni of BJU who later launched BJUnity began an online petition drive demanding an apology from Bob Jones, III for exactly this same kind of hate speech. He has yet to acknowledge such a petition exists, let alone offer a sincere apology. But this student, if caught, gets to take the fall? I plead for my old friend Stephen to consider a more compassionate response to this alleged letter writer. If his father isn’t going to apologize, why should he expect any different behavior from a student? We at BJUnity would like this student to apologize to the student(s) he or she has harmed, but we would not call for their expulsion. We believe it is bad enough that students graduate with an unaccredited degree that is often a liability rather than an asset, but for Bob Jones University to expel students for sharing the exact same message they hear regularly from the pulpit is an astounding double standard.

“Today on BJUnity.org (http://bjunity.org/who-we-are/rachel-sherwin/), class of 2012 student Rachel Sherwin tells how she was ‘denied re-enrollment’ (expelled) for acknowledging her Same Sex Attractions to school administrators. Dr. Stephen Jones told students yesterday that he has gay friends and that they are among ‘the nicest people I know,’ but Rachel Sherwin’s story tells how gay students who are honest about their orientation remain unsafe on the campus, even while living celibate as the rules at BJU require. With its recent enrollments declining precipitously, perhaps BJU ought to reconsider its historical practice of quick expulsion for arbitrary ‘spiritual problems’  that don’t have anything to do with the school’s rule book. Creating a safe space and nurturing environment where students can grow in grace would be a new direction we could all celebrate.”

To date, BJUnity’s online petition has gained nearly 2,000 online signatures and hundreds more paper signatures at several LGBT Pride rallies in the Greenville area (http://www.change.org/petitions/chancellor-bob-jones-university-apologize-for-stating-that-homosexuals-should-be-stoned-to-death) demanding an apology from Bob Jones University for the inflammatory, violent rhetoric that has characterized the school’s messaging towards and treatment of its gay alumni and students for decades.

On the steps of the White House, the current chancellor of the school, Bob Jones III, notoriously proclaimed “I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted but it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.” He has never apologized nor disavowed that statement and the university continues a long-standing tradition of anti-gay rhetoric and policies, including expelling gay students and banning gay alumni from its campus. BJUnity (http://bjunity.org) is working for dialogue and substantive change on these and other issues at the university, while offering an affirming alternative to LGBT+ students and alumni.

BJUnity provides a safe harbor—a network of people and resources—for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and straight affirming people affected by fundamentalist Christianity.

BJUnity affirms and empowers lgbt+ from Bob Jones University and other Independent Fundamental Baptist organizations.

BJUnity confronts homophobia in compassion, dignity and love, with the objective to promote dialogue and change.


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3 comments

  1. Another BJU alumni says:

    “Yesterday, Stephen Jones apparently began his talk by reading a letter that a student allegedly received anonymously from another student. It read:

    “You ____. You don’t belong here. This is a Christian school. Get out. God doesn’t love gays. You don’t belong or deserve to be here, so go burn.

    From: wouldn’t you like to know.

    P.S. Do us a favor and just end it. No one likes you anyway.””

    I have some thoughts on this.
    First of all, it seems unlikely to me that a student who received this letter would ever have risked turning it in to any BJU authority. Any student at BJU would know and understand that doing so would target him or her by the administration and would most certainly not end well for that student. Even if he or she denies any same sex attraction, that student would be labeled and targeted for his/her remaining years. Having attended the school myself, it would seem that no student would be likely to make that kind of mistake.

    IF this is truly a letter that was provided by the recipient, then I would like to know how that recipient is being protected by the school’s administration.
    My concern is not another student who supposedly wrote this letter. My concern would be what the administration would do to the recipient. The treatment from them would be far harsher than anything in this letter (though I personally see the letter as abhorrent).

    There are numerous testimonies about how the school treats those with any gender questions. From the simplest question of whether or not one wonders if it is wrong/right, biological, environmental, etc. to someone outright stating that they themselves are gay or lesbian, all are treated by the school with revulsion and disgust. There are many stories from students through the decades to firmly conclude that BJU takes a very harsh stance against any person thought to be homosexual or even one who has any gender question.

    Students have stated that when they reported being abused as a child by the same gender adult, they were accused of “being homosexual”. There are many students who report about having being expelled after voicing gender questions. Even the report of having been sexually abused is enough to lead to expulsion.

    I honestly struggle with all of this. The sermon yesterday spoke as if the past decades never happened. The speaker spoke against the supposed student who wrote this letter as if he or she was the enemy. How could this be? All students at BJU KNOW that they have to state the same beliefs as the admin. or they will be expelled. Is this not what this student was doing? When the former president/current chancellor stated that gay people should be stoned, where was the outcry?

    I have never once heard anyone from the school try to separate itself from this statement. So why the outcry now against a student who is merely mimicking his idol, the school’s idol? Could the school really, in good conscience punish a student who is repeating in a much milder form, what he or she has been taught by the school’s own leadership??

    Also, assuming the school would actually expel a student who is accused of writing this letter, wouldn’t that be at odds with all the students they routinely expel for any gender questions?

    Also, is it not strange to note that students who RAPE other students can graduate, but those who profess an attraction to the same gender will be expelled? The first is against the law – federally and in every state within our country. The second breaks no laws and has no victim.

    What is going on here?
    The school has faced three serious accusations in recent years.

    The first involved their strong prejudices against any non-white ethnicity. I witnessed this myself while attending the university. During my years of attending the school, dating outside of one’s race resulted in expulsion. This created an atmosphere full of distrust, fear, openly racist behavior, prejudice, etc. After intense pressure, they finally caved – to a degree. They never quite admitted how terribly they treated minorities. They gave a pseudo apology but also said that those rules where never really a big deal. Not true!

    Secondly, the school has faced the allegations of covering for sex offenders. This is currently being investigated formally by GRACE, however, there are many testimonies from students that show a consistent discrimination against students who had been sexually abused and protection for the perpetrators. There are also teachings that can be readily found online that support the school’s horrific views against survivors and for offenders. This is another issue that I personally witnessed.

    Thirdly, the school has been accused of it’s harsh treatment of those with same sex attractions. Bob Jones III’s own statements support that even without the many testimonies of lives destroyed by the harsh views promoted here on BJUnity’s web site.

    There are many other categories of students who have been destroyed by the university. Music preferences are enough to send someone to hell. Clothing styles as well.
    It is interesting to me to note that the requirement for missionaries/mission boards to represent their programs at BJU has NOTHING whatsoever to do with love for God, love for others, a gracious, kind, loving heart, a desire to share God’s love and the freedom that can be had in Christ. The things listed are things such as – what style of music do you listen to? Do you get any support from “liberal” churches? Etc.

    I wonder sometimes what their Gospel is. The word “gospel” is supposed to mean “good news”. What is the good news that BJU shares? That God hates you if you listen to the wrong music? God hates you if you question your sexuality? If you were abused? If you wear the wrong clothing??

    So where is the good news? Where is the good news for those who are not white? Where is the good news to those who are gay? Where is the good news for those who have been sexually abused? Where is the good news for those children born with the physical characteristics of both male and female? These children often sit waiting on adoption agency waiting lists. Many will stand staunchly against abortion, but somehow children who are born with the physical characteristics of both male and female are worthless in the eyes of BJU and others that hold such harsh views. Don’t abort them before they are born, just stone them afterwards.

    After typing the above, I went back and reread Bob III’s statement from years back. He links murderers, rapists and homosexuals and mentions them all being stoned. That statement is incredible painful for me to read. The school has NOT stood against rapists, especially those who are highly esteemed in Christian circles. They have instead, stood against the victims of those rapists. To then compare someone who is gay or a lesbian to a rapist is incredibly repulsive to me.

    I would protect a child or someone who needed protection from someone who would cause great harm to them, such as a murderer or a rapist. BJU does not do that, at least not regarding rapists, yet they lump in those with varied gender differences? How can that be? I just don’t understand how someone who is gay is a danger to children, yet a rapist is protected? What kind of twisted thinking is that? In essence, I should feel comfortable with my children or the children of friends being in a church pastored by a rapist, but hide them from a family that has two dads or two moms??? Which poses a threat to my child???

    The Gospel, the “good news” can’t be found at BJU.

  2. Rich R says:

    I must say that all of the articles picking BJU apart are intriguing. However, the Word is clear and Stephen Jones is not his father or grandfather and has a clear vision to lead this university to glorify the Lord.
    Listen to his sermons for yourself: http://www.bju.edu/events/chapel/

    • Jeffrey Hoffman says:

      Dear Rich,

      We are glad to have you reading along. I’m sure you aren’t always so dismissive when people raise issues that prick your conscience, so I will just assume good intent and a busy schedule were the reasons for your oblique remarks.

      I have a couple of questions for you:

      1) when you say “the Word is clear,” what exactly do you mean? I find a lot of people get confused between “the Word” in John Chapter 1 — a passage the Church has long described as talking about the person of Jesus (Logos) — and the Bible, a library of books canonized in the sixteenth century Council of Trent and later partially canonized by a group of Protestant Reformers, who disputed the importance of certain Hebrew writings of the pre-Christian era and even argued about which books should be included in the New Testament. So were you talking about Jesus being clear, or this collection of ancient writings about God called the Bible?

      2) assuming you meant Jesus, what was Jesus’ summary of the Law? What was Jesus’ new commandment (the mandatum)?

      3) in case you were in fact speaking about the Bible, my question comes from one of the books whose canonicity is not disputed, the Book of Ezekiel. Would you please tell me what Ezekiel 16: 49 says about the sin of Sodom? (The NIV is the most succinct of translations I find here, but I think that all English translations are fairly clear here).

      Stephen Jones and I have known one another since we were both in kindergarten. I am well aware he isn’t his father. And I encourage him to demonstrate how unlike his father he is by calling his father to repentance and making it very clear (such a useful word) that his father’s hate speech is intolerable and an embarrassment to the school and offering a sincere apology for it: “we were wrong. We were sorry.” After all, there is an old saying that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and if students at BJU are not “demonstrating the spirit of Christ” in writing hate letters to one another, then neither is Bob Jones III demonstrating the spirit of Christ in the countless sermons on SermonAudio.com where he says hateful, vituperous things about gay people.

      And yes, we spend a lot of time listening to sermonaudio.com. For myself, I am grateful to have been called into ministry as a musician in the Episcopal Church and for the solid teaching and spiritual direction I receive under the apostolic authority of my bishop. Lazy theology is not only embarrassing, but when it is blatantly wrong, it does a lot of harm to people… and to the cause of Christ.

      Thanks again for following along. I look forward to your answers to my questions.