This post, which started as a rather short little post, is atypically long for me — waaaaay long and heavily footnoted! But several unrelated and important news events, that actually seem related to me, hit my news feeds over the past couple of weeks — a synchronicity, if you will. As more events occurred, the post grew larger and larger. Finally, I just had to make myself stop. I want to share some of my thoughts and opinions about all of these news events, as well as show some of the relationships I see among them. Lot’s to share; so, let’s get started…
Even though I am not much of a history buff, I found reading Daniel Silliman’s interview with Timothy Gloege, author of Guaranteed Pure, of great interest1. The title of Silliman’s article, Christian Fundamentalism Is a Capitalist Construct: The Secret History of American Religion, piqued my interest. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety, but here are a few fascinating points from the interview with the author:
- Henry Parsons Crowell (1855 – 1944), the president and founder of Quaker Oats (1877), was one of the pioneers of the branding revolution. Ingeniously, through a combination of packaging, trademark and massive promotional campaigns he convinced Americans that the oats they scooped out of the large barrel at their local grocer were not as “pure” as his oats which were pre-packaged (for decades) with a picture of a Quaker holding a sign that said “Pure” on it. In a time when cows on highway billboards sell us chicken sandwiches, we think nothing of this type of marketing campaign; but, using a Quaker (a religious symbol) holding this “Pure” sign as a gimmick to sell a product was highly controversial in the 1800s. It was even more effective!
- At the turn of the century, Crowell began at Moody Bible Institute. He generously used his wealth and marketing expertise to greatly support that institution which was in a state of crisis2. Just as he had done with his oatmeal brand, Crowell began selling “trust” by packaging and marketing a new “trademark:” that pure, Old-Time Religion.
- The underlying shift in American society from a focus on organic community and unified society to individual people creating and defining themselves by the individual choices they make3 facilitated a transition in religion, as well. Faith practice moved from church serving community as a body of structured religious traditions and beliefs built on orthodox systems of thinking to a personal, individual relationship with Jesus crafted by one’s own personal understanding of their Messiah, unfettered by orthodox religious teachings.This is such a significant shift as to be profound! The old orthodox beliefs were now less important than how you, educated or not, even literate or not, individually interpreted the scriptures. Moody[, Jones, et. al.] capitalized on this — literally. Though unstated by Gloege in the interview, my hunch is that they were certainly a significant force driving this transition in religion.
- Just as with Crowell’s “pure” oatmeal, Moody Bible Institute could now sell “pure” religion — a religion you could trust, not that other impure religion. Liberal versus conservative. Black versus white (And yes, I’m speaking in the fullest sense, including race here, too.). Purity mattered, and these uneducated men (Bob Jones, Sr., probably closely affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan4, is certainly among them) were the ones you could trust to sell you a “Pure” product, that delicious Old-Time Religion5.
In my mind this was the springboard for vanquishing everything that disagreed with their new brand: broader social norms, scientific knowledge, accreditation, peer review, critical thinking, etc. Everything that disagreed with that Old-Time Religion was to be labeled impure. Only what these men, these marketeers (some might even be thought of as hucksters), defined as that Old-Time Religion brand was pure. Bob Jones, Jr., even produced a movie, Sheffey, based on a real person, glorifying an uneducated, itinerant preacher roaming the South winning souls to a personal relationship with Jesus.
Sadly, I note that the Old-Time Religion brand was hewn by some very uneducated men, including Dwight L. Moody himself, who initially served as a well-funded puppet for the industrialists of his time6. Who, among the leadership of the fundamentalist movement, even today, has done the hard work of rigorous scholarship contributing to the world’s knowledge through earning a doctorate from an institution of higher learning that is actually accredited? These are arrogant, uneducated men who simply play “Dr.” as they sell, of all things, education!7
Lack of genuine accreditation and fake (honorary, glad-handed) degrees have been the smoke and mirrors of this movement because this movement, with its own self-proclaimed, carefully (and ingeniously) branded and marketed Old-Time Religion, is often well beyond the bounds of acknowledged scholarship. Attacks on peer review and scientific inquiry were only the beginning. As this movement writes its own textbooks, trains its own teachers, and basically sanctions its own k-12 schools significant numbers of children are indoctrinated by a brand that makes it up as they go, generally distrusts medical care, vaccination, critical thinking, public education, historical facts, science, the law of the land, even general religious traditions that exist outside their often uniformed, personal, cherry-picked interpretation of the Bible.
You see, these marketeers really haven’t been selling “trust.” They have been selling distrust. If you buy into the Old-Time Religion brand, you are taught that you cannot trust anything else. This is sinister. Customers are taught to distrust everything outside the carefully packaged brand — everything, even well beyond religious ideology. The Old-Time Religion profits from fear and distrust. This fact alone should cause us serious pause.
From my vantage point, after the Civil War, the isolated, uneducated, impoverished and broken South was the perfect demographic for this “purity” Old-Time Religion marketing campaign to succeed, and succeed it did — for the past century! There was no Internet. There was little or no TV in rural America. There were few if any theaters near the farmland. And people from all over the countryside flocked by the thousands into the tent meetings and the tabernacle revivals which also served as a source of community and family entertainment. The so-called Bible Belt was born.
Since the leadership of this movement has been marketing this brand for over a century now, today’s Old-Time Religion leadership is the product of generations of this limited, increasingly isolated way of thinking, this brand’s philosophy. The thinking has only grown more inbred. Ideation has only gotten smaller.
I believe this fact makes the leadership’s understanding of the realities of contemporary America all but impossible for them as they only see, hear, live, and experience their brand and its customers — a self amplified system. And when the sincere, trusting church-goer hears this brand repeat fear of the “godless other” week after week, service after service, as I did for decades, one should not be surprised in the least at how limited and genuinely fearful their perspective is.
In other words, I don’t think the people sitting in the pews are bad people. I think they are products of a limited and exclusion-based perspective8 that has no room for that which they do not know or understand. The other simply becomes the evil, godless other. As the “other,” the “different from me” continues to grow and change more and more rapidly, these folks probably genuinely feel assailed, as some of them claim, apart from the marketing hyperbole of the leadership itself.
(I’m curious how the Amish, and other small conservative groups who have chosen to maintain the old ways apart from modern society have come to understand their value and interconnectedness in the culture at large. To what extent do they feel under attack? Does the fact that they do not place emphasis on evangelism impact their sense of place in the culture? I simply don’t know, but I find it curious that their “quiet witness” is actually attracting a significant percentage of new followers while Christianity as a whole is markedly shrinking, but I get ahead of myself.)
But the winds of change are beginning to gust, not merely to blow.
Today, if I were a leader in the fundamentalist movement, I would be horrified by the data released last week by the Pew Research Center in America’s Changing Religious Landscape. The trends have been clear for decades, but the data from a variety of sources is suggesting that Americans are now literally fleeing Christianity by the millions — a sharp increase in just the last few years! The Old-Time Religion brand has been tainted and is losing a significant amount of market share.
According to the study, the primary reasons given by Americans for fleeing church: churches are filled with judgmental and hypocritical people. Now, certainly, people have always left the church for these reasons, but not in these staggering numbers. What has changed? What is different? Now, that Old-Time Religion, featuring the likes of Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, Bob Jones, III and a host of other religious talking heads who have carefully positioned themselves as the official spokespeople for Christianity, is just seen as despicably hateful, out of touch, and purveyors of Old-Time Hypocricy9.
This year an Old-Time Religion college, Tennessee Temple University, collapsed. And apparently the marketing machinery of Bob Jones University has been unable to keep pace as that family business has been hemorrhaging students. Old-Time Religion just isn’t selling the way it once did. The brand is tarnished by decades of uneducated, failed leadership making poor decisions. Regrettably, rather than fixing their product, these organizations are just amping up the marketing campaign for the brand. I suspect they have backed themselves into a corner and don’t know how to fix the brand itself fearing they will lose those in the brand who have grown very comfortable with harsh, purity-based conservatism. Some seem to be doubling down and even weaponizing Christianity, as I’ll briefly mention later.
As a child of the 60’s, I recall this movement rallying the membership through the fear of godless communism, godless hippies with their LSD, godless women’s liberation, and godless racial equality. Everything outside the brand was godless. While there were constant money-begs around each of these “attacks by the devil,” communism seemed to be the most frequently used fear tactic. I guess it brought in the most money.
But then, Ronald Reagan basically ended the threat of communism, and the brand had to find another whipping post to drum up fear of the impure and therefore sustain brand loyalty. While several tactics were tried, two seemed to become the glue that bound the Old-Time Religionists together: abortion, and a secret homosexual agenda. In fact, both of these “abominations” united Protestants and Catholics alike. This strategy seemed like heaven on earth to the brand marketeers because it also began to give them a political voice they didn’t have before. And a secret homosexual agenda seemed most fearful because, unlike the communists, the homosexuals were invisible, hidden among us somewhere. We didn’t know who they were, and no one has yet to see a copy of that terrifying agenda!
Many, even numerous gay students who have graduated from Bob Jones University, have been very quick to point out that people must not confuse the message of the Bible with the brand messengers who deliver it — that notion of: God save me from your followers. For example, when Mr. Bob Jones, III thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stone gay people in 1980,10 I would hear graduates say that not all Christians at Bob’s family business thought like that.
But increasingly I am hearing both gay and straight believers asking if the Bible just got some things wrong: condoning slavery, defining women as the property of men, commanding the stoning of gay people, et. al. American society has evolved to a higher moral standard moving well beyond slavery or King Solomon being married to hundreds of wives and having countless concubines. Today, in the eyes of the American law, marriage is a bond of equals, not a man owning hundreds of wives like heads of cattle. The definition of marriage has changed time and time again through the centuries, even in the United States.
I’m personally meeting more and more people who are throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water, who want nothing to do with that Old-Time Religion. I see more and more articles in my news feeds extolling atheism as an empowering, honest alternative to hateful Christianity.11 According to the Pew survey, this is an acutely real phenomenon that is increasing nationwide — more than doubling in size. Atheism is now at a whopping 7%, because of a failed religious marketing campaign by narrow-minded, uneducated people! Unbelievable: The very people who should be promoting the message of God’s love are the ones driving millions of people away from God because of their judgmental, hateful, hypocrisy.
Charles Stanley famously had armed guards on horseback “protecting” his church while his members shook hate-filled signs as the Atlanta Gay Pride parade marched along the parade route in front of his church. Stanley’s protest was in stark contrast to St. Mark United Methodist Church, directly across the street from Stanley’s church, whose members had signs welcoming the gay community to their church and who gave cups of water (no small blessing in the searing Atlanta summer heat and humidity) to the same people Charles was condemning to an eternity in hell.
The media busied itself contrasting the two church communities’ outreach in this dramatic scene. Rather than doing the hard work of Christ and ministering to the needs of the people right there in the First Baptist Church community, Charles sold that midtown Atlanta property and moved his congregation out to the “safer” suburbs. I guess ministry was easier in a place unspoiled by the prominence of gay people or littered by the homeless sleeping on the church steps, at least less complicated by the expectations of Jesus that His followers should love their neighbors, neighbors whom the First Baptist Church of Atlanta simply did not want to love and chose not to love, as themselves. Talk about lifestyle choices…
Andy Stanley, Charles’ son and pastor of North Point Community Church,12 is beginning to distance himself from the hate speech of the fouled Old-Time Religion brand of his father. He made some very interesting (some would say shocking) comments last week at the Catalyst West event.13 Note this from the article:
“During his remarks, Stanley also introduced a plan for churches to ‘take a break’ from the culture wars for a year and change the nation through internal example.
‘If all the Christians for just one year … would quit looking at porn … would quit smoking weed, would quit having premarital sex, would quit committing adultery, would pay their taxes and every church just foster one kid; in one year our nation would feel different,’ said Stanley.
‘Because there are so many Christians. So basically, if we would just be better Christians, everything we would like to see changed for the most part would change.’ …
‘Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity,’ he said. ‘Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business — literally. But leave Jesus out of it.’”
Source: Andy Stanley: Churches Should Be ‘Safest Place on the Planet’ for Gay Youth, by Michael Gryboski
And, yes, he also said that the church should be the safest place in the world for gay young people?! Needless to say, even these very carefully hedged remarks have drawn some sharp criticism from the “purity” marketeers. But whether or not you or I agree with the specifics of what he said, this is what I find most interesting: He is calling for an end to the hypocrisy in the church community and the judgmental hatefulness that, according to the Pew Survey last week, are driving people away literally by the tens of millions. He is promoting an elegant and powerful message the Old-Time Religionists simply do not want to hear: Clean up your own life before demanding other people live by the purity code you have chosen but are not actually willing to live by yourself. Do it yourself. Stop hiding behind your hypocrisy and actually live it. First!
Maybe Andy gets it? Maybe he is willing to navigate the treacherous path to a loving, inclusive, affirming church? If he is, he is a brave man. Or, perhaps, he knows that as the trends continue, the church in the United States will otherwise fade into complete oblivion. Andy is suggesting, as I understand him, that the church become the silent witness modeled by the Amish. Live a life of love so authentically that your example alone compels others to want that life without ever having to preach at them. Live peaceably and kindly and lovingly with them. Maybe this is the ultimate evangelism: Living what you believe rather than “getting in people’s faces” about it?
This change from standard purity marketing practice and from politics driving religion and religion driving politics and weaponizing Christianity was not well received by many of the Old-Time Religion profiteers.
I don’t think Old-Time Religion owns morality. I don’t think it owns social justice. In fact, the Old-Time Religionists seem to abhor the latter as liberal and not part of the purity marketing campaign ad.14 Jesus, however, was all about social justice.
Treating all people with dignity is right, is moral, is fair, and Americans are fair-minded people. Celebrating love is what people do, is right, is joyous and simply human. And what makes it even better? Celebrating love costs nothing and can be a source of joy and happiness in everyone’s lives. Marriage Equality is all about this simple call to the dignity and respect of social justice for everyone.
The astonishing shift in Americans’ attitudes about gay people and marriage equality is rather closely related to the astonishing percentage of people fleeing religion today. Church leaders, do you not see this? Church does not exist in a vacuum but is a community of people who share common values within a broader culture. When people no longer agree with hateful positions, they simply leave church (or school) and take their donation (or tuition) dollars with them. While the Old-Time Religionists’ pulpits rage on with hateful rhetoric about gay people, membership is walking out the door. Fair-minded people just aren’t buying it any more.
Old-Time Religion has chosen to isolate itself into irrelevance rather than wholeheartedly and unconditionally welcome everyone to community. Rather than welcoming everyone to God, the purity marketeers have “moved out to the ‘burbs,” like Charles Stanley, in search of people just like them! This is called exclusion, isolation, condescension, separation, and ultimately leads to irrelevance, not purity.
The Old-Time Religion brand has exceeded its expiration date and makes an increasing number of Americans sick if they try to ingest it. It’s simply not healthy for anyone. Rather, it is a source of anger, hate, narrow-mindedness, divisiveness, arrogance, high blood pressure, argument, obstinance, broken families, teen pregnancy, even death — just nothing good. The so-called Bible belt, which has been dominated by the Old-Time Religion for a century, is the sickest area of the nation — literally.
According to the Pew survey, about 75% of LGBT people find Christian churches to be unwelcoming. Even though almost half of all LGBT people self label as Christian15, a significant percentage of them have given up on the church entirely, believing that the church repels gays and wants nothing to do with the gay community other than for LGBT people to change — read: stop being gay16.
Let me be clear, this is not a problem for gay people. God, and a burgeoning number of Americans, loves them just as God created them whether those who claim to follow God do or not. LGBT+ people simply, and often sadly by their own accounts, have left the church without ever looking back. Their friends and family members are increasingly leaving the church, too — by the millions. This is the church’s problem! The brand is just poisonous; it literally kills gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans* youths, and it destroys families. This has nothing to do with God. This has nothing to do with Jesus. This has nothing to do with Love. This is about a tainted brand of hypocritical, purity religion.
In my opinion, LGBT+ people have done an astonishing thing for this country: by coming out (publicly self-identifying) over the past decade and demanding the dignity and respect all people deserve, they have brought people closer together and facilitated the acceptance of all of God’s children. This is authenticity itself! People have realized that the secret, terrifying gay person is their own son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, cousin, dear friends — people we all know and love. It’s not some fearful invisible “other” leering at the children — that’s all been the marketing lies of the failed brand. We care about these people because they are just like everyone else! They are us — not some unknown, godless “other!”
Oh, certainly the extremists have come unhinged, but, actually, they have always been unhinged — just able to hide it more effectively. The Southern Poverty Law Center has added Pastor Donnie Romero’s Stedfast Baptist Church to their list of hate groups along with Probe Ministries of Plano, TX. Churches should never function as hate groups, but a growing number have abandoned God’s message of love in exchange for weaponizing Christianity — some even espousing murder from the pulpit! These people really believe this stuff.
In my opinion, Bob Jones, III, recklessly began weaponizing Christianity against gay people back in 1980 when he advocated stoning gay people the way the Bible commands. (Even Old-Time Religionist Jerry Falwell had the common decency not to advocate killing gay people in his hate-filled rhetoric.) Mr. Jones’ recent apology was far more a public relations stunt than an apology as he carefully omitted the group he wronged and made no effort to make amends. I believe he should be ashamed of himself and the hateful legacy of a weaponized faith he is leaving. Ashamed!
Gay people have become the catalyst for positive change. They are working to expand justice for all. And, very importantly, I meet very few gay people who do not long for affirming church community that fully accepts them and their families without conditions. These gay men and women have not given up on God, just the narrow-minded people in God’s hate-filled, judgmental, hypocritical churches.
I would find no small irony in God’s using gay people to save the church from itself, to save the church from a century-old marketing campaign that has bred distrust, created a false sense of value through exclusion as if “that oatmeal” is more tainted somehow than “my oatmeal” (because mine has a purity stamp on it), and failed miserably to empower others to reach their highest potential17. [You need to read that footnote if you didn’t.]
The path forward is simple: the church must change and not just change quickly but change at a blistering speed uncharacteristic of institutional change in this country. Churches must find their own ways to fully welcome and embrace love or face having their brand thrown into history’s rotting garbage bin, discarded with all of the other false claims of failed marketing. As Andy Stanley said, “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business — literally. But leave Jesus out of it.” People of genuine and sincere faith practice must stop participating in a failed brand, Old-Time Religion, that justifies and perpetuates hatred, an excruciatingly limited perspective, unfounded fear and distrust, dismissive condemnation and hypocrisy.
Knowledge and understanding are part of the antidote to fear and distrust. So, I’m offering some specific ideas people of sincere faith practice can do to begin changing the deep hold the hateful dialog the Old-Time Religionists have had on American Christianity. Feel free to add your own. I would suggest picking one, two, maybe three things you think make sense for you, and diligently and systematically work through them. You know, I think that I also will be a better person for doing this.
- Be open to change your perspective, to broaden it, to entertain the possibility that your previous understanding might be so limited as to be selling you short. Most of us find this very difficult as we get older.
- Instead of stating your immutable positions on x, y, and z, just listen. This will be very difficult because the Old-Time Religionists teach us to dismiss and condemn without giving a second thought. Don’t just hear — really listen. Listen carefully. Listen thoughtfully without judgement. Suspend your judgement. Instead of judging, try to understand what you don’t understand and why. And while you do this, notice how very much alike you are to the person to whom you are listening.
- Assume that the reason(s) you don’t understand someone is a journey for you to take, not the person you don’t understand. After all, you are responsible for your own change, not theirs. So, pursue getting to know, support, and care about people that are not exactly like you and make you feel a little bit uncomfortable because you don’t understand them. Expend no effort whatsoever in trying to change them. Just accept them where and as they are. This presupposes that you are changing yourself, not busying yourself trying to change someone else — a fool’s errand. This will be a huge and probably difficult growth process. I’m rather convinced that if straight people spent half as much effort trying to understand a gay person as that gay person has probably spent trying to become straight, I wouldn’t need to write this piece.
- Take Andy Stanley’s advice: for an entire year, stop involving yourself in the culture wars focusing on everyone else, and, instead, sincerely work on ridding your life of those things that are keeping you from being the best you know you can be.
- Identify and break one (or more if you feel particularly herculean) of your bad habits.
- Here’s a reading list for you to tackle: Matthew Vine’s book, God and the Gay Christian; David P. Gushee’s book, Changing Our Minds; and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s book, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, with an open mind, presuming these authors are right and everything you have ever been told about gay people is wrong — in other words: suspending your judgement long enough to think new, possibly transformative thoughts. Compare and contrast the way you were taught to think and what they have to say. I mean, literally, make a side by side list. I find that last strategy helpful when I’m trying to get my head around something that is completely foreign to me.
- Become genuine friends with a person of deep faith who was brought up in the Old-Time Religion and has already started this journey of love, acceptance, and social justice. Create a safe space for the two of you to explore the potential of a new, inclusive faith practice. If you don’t know anyone like this yet, I might suggest one of the BJUnity board members, Sharon Hambrick. Not to fear, she is among the many wonderful straight people taking this journey18.
- Make a list of every single time you think that you, for any reason, are better than someone else. Take the time to reflect deeply on this list. Work at trying to ferret out every time you are behaving as if you are better than anyone else. Learn to detect the condescension deeply embedded in the Old-Time Religion.
- Tell your minister, if he19 is espousing hate from his position as pastor, you will stop funding his hate speech, and then stop giving to that organization. Leave if you must. This sounds harsh, but money speaks loudly.
- For those who have already begun a path to inclusion and acceptance, encourage your leadership to “take the public microphone” back from the hateful Old-Time Religionists whose hateful, hypocritical rhetoric is destroying Christianity. At the present, they act as if they speak for all Christendom when they absolutely do not. Participate in publically speaking out against this hate speech. Publically speak out against the Old-Time Religionists’ efforts to weaponize Christianity. They have cast a long shadow of hatred over the love and acceptance of God.
- Just be nice. Be kinder. Be more open and loving.
Just to be certain I am not misunderstood: I am not trying to convert a single straight person into a gay person. For a person God created as straight to try to become gay (you won’t be able to) would be no less sinful than for a gay person to try to become straight (that can’t be done, either). God made each of us the way God wanted us to be.
Despite Mr. Crowell’s brilliant marketing campaign, oatmeal is just oatmeal. I mean here, almost 150 years later, I personally go for the Quaker dude on the box every time! There’s just something nice about him. Maybe it’s his ruddy cheeks (Is he blushing?) and pleasant smile. Maybe it’s because he no longer holds his “Pure” sign. I don’t know. I just like him.
Crowell’s work almost 150 years ago was really, really powerful! But the truth is oats are oats are oats. Yet, the next time I do the grocery shopping, I’ll head for that Quaker, but this time with a little smile on my face as I pick up the box!
And, just as Quaker Oats dropped the purity sign, the Old-Time Religionists need to drop theirs as well. The whole brand needs a recall. No human is more “pure” than any other. (One needs to simply look no further than the G.R.A.C.E report that carefully articulates that Bob Jones’ family business has been an unsafe place for young people for years.20 ) We are all simply human. We all deserve to reach our highest potential and not be excluded from community because of who God made us.
I know these are going to be big words for some people, but no bigger than God: I believe now is the time to welcome all people to the Christian church. I believe now is the time for Christian churches to celebrate the love shared between adults, even adults of the same sex. I believe now is the time to stop the judgmental condemnation and the unbearable hypocrisy. I believe now is the time to strip away the purity packaging of a failed brand of religion and practice being a silent witness. I believe now is the time to stop weaponizing the love of Jesus and embrace gay people freely and without judgement or conditions to full participation in God’s church.
Hate is hate. Love is Love. God? Well… God is Love.
(Note: Clicking the ↩ link at the end of each footnote below returns you to the location of that footnote in the above text.)
1. Hat tip to Rev. Curt Allison for calling my attention to this! ↩
2. The populists’ movement’s history at the root of Moody Bible Institute’s troubles, as documented by Gloege, is fascinating! ↩
3. About the products they consumed, for example ↩
4. I mention Bob Jones, Sr.’s close ties to the KKK because it speaks to his broad and all encompassing view of purity, which even included racial purity and contributed in no small way to his family business’ slow and arduous/forced journey toward merely tolerating full racial equality. And rather than just making this assertion in passing, I want to footnote the following documentation:
Historian Glenn Feldman is a history professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and has authored numerous books on politics in Alabama. He mentions evangelist Bob Jones over a half dozen times in his book, Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama: 1915-1949.
On page 131 he writes,
“During this period, Montgomery politics provided a frequent forum for conflict between the Klan and its detractors. Mayor William Gunter, a twelve-year incumbent, was a confirmed oligarch and an outspoken enemy of the sheeted organization. In 1927, the KKK tried to unseat Gunter by pushing the candidacy of J. Johnston Moore, a local druggist and Klan cyclops. Bibb Graves, James Esdale, and reactionary evangelist Bob Jones canvassed Montgomery for Moore, while hooded leaders alluded to underworld elements exercising influence in municipal government and vowed that Moore would clean up vice in the city.”
On pages 66 – 67 he writes,
“Bob Jones, a well-known friend of the Klan, denounced Underwood’s supporters as “the whiskey people, the Roman Catholics, and the lawless foreigners,”
On page 38, he writes,
“Clay County Klansmen made public donations to Baptist, Methodist, and Southern Methodist churches. The Andalusia den bestowed almost $1,600 on fundamentalist minister Bob Jones, a reactionary Klan sympathizer from Montgomery, when he visited Covington County.”
The author notes this Klan donation took place in the mid-1920s. Of interest is that this was a significant amount of money back then. When adjusted for inflation, it comes to $21,460.30 in today’s dollars.
I’ll just mention one more citation on page 175.
“Montgomery judge Leon McCord reserved particular odium for reactionary evangelist Bob Jones. McCord compared the preacher to Judas Iscariot and accused him of selling out his party, perverting his religious mission, fomenting intolerance, and prostituting his frock for Klan silver.”
The author, Glenn Feldman, was interviewed by AP reporter Jay Reeves back in 2000. Reeves is quoting Feldman,
“He made money off it, but I think he was also a true believer,” said Feldman, who did not look for evidence that Jones was a Klan member. Jones went out of state to start his school. He founded Bob Jones College in College Point, Fla., in 1927, according to the university’s Web site. Feldman said he did not research the question of whether Klan money went into the school. The racist organization likely had money to spare back then: It claimed 150,000 members in Alabama in the mid-20s, including many business people, politicians and ministers.”
Dr. Feldman “is currently professor of History at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he began in 1996. He has also served as a professor of Economics and of African American Studies, and as director of the Center for Labor Education and Research. Feldman is the author or editor of ten books of original scholarship. His work has been nominated for the Bancroft Prize in American History. To date he has also published over 150 articles and reviews, including almost 40 blind, peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, virtually all of them sole-authored. His scholarship is recognized internationally and he has been interviewed by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, the Associated Press, Newsweek, USA Today, Scripps-Howard, the BBC, The Guardian (UK), NPR, PBS, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, ESPN, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and over 50 other media outlets, including those in countries such as England, Scotland, Canada, and Slovakia.” Source: the University of Alabama website. ↩
5. This reminds me of Sarah Palin’s 2008 campaign comments about “real Americans” as if some Americans are not real. Real religion as if some religion is not… ↩
6. The reasons the industrialists withdrew their funding are included in the Timothy Gloege interview and are fascinating. ↩
7. John Shore writing to the students of Bob Jones University about that institution: “And please mark this: the men atop the food chain at your college who insist upon ‘Dr.’ always proceeding their name are overtly and shamelessly lying by simply expropriating for themselves that title, which out in the real world—the same world those men purport to hold in such disdain— actually means something. You’re young, but not so young you don’t know that a man who would lie about his position in life would lie about anything.”
Honorary doctorates are reserved for singular, extraordinary accomplishment: like Yale bestowing an honorary doctorate on Elon Musk today as well as other astonishing luminaries. One doesn’t don a costume and hand them out as trick or treats: Attaboy! You give me one next year, ok? ↩
8. As in a perspective that excludes and separates from anyone and everything that is different from them until they find themselves isolated in bizarre patterns of thinking. The doctrine of separation is a big thing in the brand as evidenced by the Chairman of the Board in Bob Jones University’s recent search for a university president. Their published questioning for each candidate would focus on:
- Biblical separation (emphasis mine)
- The Charismatic movement
- Reformed theology and Neo Calvinism
- KJV onlyism and the textual debate
- Contemporary Christian Music and worship
- Philosophy of Higher Education from a Christian Perspective.
9. And this past week we have seen yet another in the long list of classic examples of the hypocrisy that drives Americans away from Christianity. The Duggar family has been outspoken, harsh critics of LGBT+ people, even suggesting that gay and transgender people are pedophiles, while, at the same time, knowing that their own son, Josh Duggar, is an admitted, repeat-offending pedophile.
Josh was hired by Tony Perkins to work at the Family Research Council, an identified hate group. Add to this obscenity the fact that pastor-turned-politician Mike Huckabee stands by Josh, saying “Good people make mistakes.” Make mistakes? (What about the victims?!) This is certainly not the characteristically vituperate hate speech we would expect to hear from the Old-Time Religionists about anyone outside of their brand, especially a gay person.
The Duggar parents turned their children, their family, into a television product that they marketed and sold for money—a great deal of money. They turned their family into a mechanism for political action against the LGBT community and in support of that Old-Time Religion brand of family values—a brand that seems to be nothing more than a hallow caricature of family values. All-the-while they knew at least 5 girls had been molested by their son, but they didn’t want to place their revenue stream at risk. Indeed, when TLC learned of this scandal, they pulled the series.
So much more should probably be said about this scandal, like where Josh was sent for treatment and the pedophilia scandal that was the demise of their friend Bill Gothard, founder of the organization once prominently featured on the Duggar’s webite until allegations of his 30 counts of sexual assault were made public. Yes, I would suggest that this is a classic example of the staggering religious hypocrisy Americans just can no longer stomach.
Additional sources of information on this latest hypocrisy: Thoughts on learning of the Duggar scandal, and I Think the Duggars Are Still Lying — Here’s Why, as well as the blame-the-victim for their sexual assault (a prominent theme of the Old-Time Religionists for which too many links could be provided) found in Gothard’s materials: Lessons from Moral Failures in a Family and in Gothard’s Counseling Sexual Abuse.
Blaming the victims of sexual assault is tragically documented in Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s 2011 book, A Love That Multiplies: An Up-Close View of How They Make It Work, where we find this incredulous quotation on page 101 shifting the blame for sexual assault from men to women:
“We believe that a man’s physical drives are excited by what he sees, and it is defrauding for a woman to wear clothing that accents her body, instead of bringing attention to her countenance. Defrauding means ‘stirring up sensual desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled.’ We know that certain desires are a normal part of adolescence and adulthood, but as much as possible, we want to help our children to learn to have self-control over those desires. And we don’t want to defraud others. The Bible tells us not to be a ‘stumbling block’ (Romans 14:13). So, we choose to dress modestly.”
Of course another group of Old-Time Religionists, Bob Jones University, has also been heavily faulted for the damage that family business has repeatedly done, including blaming the victims, when “counseling” victims of sexual abuse: the G.R.A.C.E. Report. That family business has taken little heed of the report’s extensive and thoughtful list of recommendations for change.
Wait. You know, I just have to stop. This is not just hypocrisy. In my mind, and probably many others, this “hypocrisy” extends well beyond the definition of hypocrisy. No, hypocrisy itself doesn’t leave devastated victims. These were criminal acts with real victims who may well be harmed for the remainder of their lives. In these scandals, real, innocent people get hurt and mangled while the perpetrators of this devastation are protected, are shielded from being held responsible for their choices and actions. The blame for wrong-doing is deflected from the perpetrator to the innocent victim. This “hypocrisy” feels more to me like sanctioned and endorsed brutality and personal assault. At the very least, this is the stuff of subjugation, cruelty, and self-serving, high margin dishonesty. ↩
10. And recently (2015) he fabricated a public relations stunt to seem like an apology. He never even mentioned the LGBT people he hurt with his hate speech, let alone apologized or sought to make amends to them. ↩
12. One of the largest churches in the nation which is also located in metro-Atlanta ↩
13. You want to talk about a change in packaging for the brand? Take a look at that web site! ↩
14. I refer back to the industrialists’ funding needed by Moody, Bob Jones, and others. According to Gloege, what were they interesting in purchasing with their donations? ↩
15. Pew Research Center: America’s Changing Religious Landscape, p. 87 ↩
16. As if that’s even possible ↩
17. The Bible belt is not just plagued with illness but also ranks at the top of numerous metrics that are the ear-marks of suffering: poverty, lack of education, STD rates, divorce (with fundamentalists having the highest rates and atheist the lowest) single-parent families, and the list goes on… The Old-Time Religionists appear to have done little if anything to empower people in the very area of the nation where they have reigned unfettered for over a century! This should be a clarion wake up call to failure—and not the failure of God but of a brand that has failed to share God’s grace! ↩
18. If you’re only interested in arguing with her, don’t waste both your and her time! ↩
19. In the Old-Time Religion I doubt your minister would be a woman. ↩
20. And, tragically, they have done little of nothing from the reports list of recommendations to address those serious concerns. ↩
Tim Tyson graduated from Bob Jones University in 1979 (B.S.) and again in 1981 (M.A.). He went on to earn his doctoral degree from the University of Illinois. He then had to earn an additional master’s degree from the U of I because BJU is unaccredited and his undergraduate and master’s degrees were not recognized by state teacher certification agencies without a master’s degree from an accredited institution. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA, with his husband, Steve.
Ed. note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone. BJUnity supports people of Christian faith, those who have embraced a different faith tradition, and those who no longer hold to or practice any faith with equal compassion and dignity.