Everything changed Monday, December 12, 2011. Everything.
Approximately 70 students at Bob Jones University and 15 alumni changed everything. No, there was no yelling. No money was raised. No t-shirts sold. No one walked the sawdust trail. We didn’t sleep on the grass. We were there maybe an hour or two. We ate at Coronas afterward.
We met at Rodeheaver. Students glared but few spoke. We heard one whisper an “I’m sorry” under his breath. When we Alumni found each other, we hugged and met “old” friends for the first time. We walked in together up to the balcony. We sat in the middle, right in the front. All in red. We didn’t fill three rows.
Former colleagues studied their shoes as they walked by. We saw a lot of focused and determined ignoring. The administration had already stated repeatedly how insignificant we were. They laughed nervously at our worthlessness. “Just an ordinary exam day!” they insisted. Riiiiiiiight. . . .
In chapel, we sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” A few of us refused to say the “University Creed.” I refused because I don’t affirm that creed anymore. I affirm my faith with the Apostles or with St. Nick — with creeds written as a result of long councils, not creeds written by a pundit on the back of an envelope on a train or whatever Gettysburg-like mythology is de rigueur. Faith starts with God, not a Text, and certainly not with politics.
The chapel sermon was dull and typical works-righteousness, complete with a suspicious sniffle after prayer. Eric Newton, in a clear Piper-esque style revealing what podcasts he listens to, preached on Shalom, defining it as a “can’t we all get along” veneer. No justice, mercy, or humility, mind you. Just compliance. ::yawn::
We left. One brave young graduate assistant did speak to us and, it seemed, was startled that we were more than a little informed about the BJU culture. The assumption that we are ignorant, and if we only knew them, we’d understand and shut up. No, we understand. We really, really understand.
We skittered out in the icy drizzle to find the balloon lady. It was easy to see her, of course. And even she gave me a hug! The balloons got their fair share of attention, and we meandered toward the Bridge but never made it that far.
One young man was lurking at the margins. I didn’t recognize him and neither did anyone else. When we had finally planted ourselves, he asked for a balloon. We gave him one and continued visiting with each other. He pulled out his pocket knife and popped the balloon and sneered at me. While he skittered off, we just blinked. . . . Odd.
That was the only direct contrary reaction. The responses mostly eked out only on Facebook. One videographer alum unprofessionally expressed her disdain for us. One young man, with a reputation for judging me personally and physically as “letting [myself] go” after 20/20’s broadcast, bragged that he wanted to shoot the balloons from the Bridge. An employee from my former church in Michigan who knows better called us “miserable.” Another former teacher and colleague, who also knows better, called us “wackos.” Mike Shrock insists that it “fizzled.” Again they really, really, really have to repeat this over and over and over. Nothing to see here. Keep moving. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Never mind us as we whistle past the graveyard. . . .
We released the balloons slowly. When I released the few I did, I said the names of the sexual abuse victims I know personally. Like “Jennifer.” And Cathy. And other names still too much in the throes of recovery.
The only television coverage came from Spartanburg’s WSPA. CNN has an ireport that might gain some traction. And the Greenville News was there, and an article was written, but is not yet published. Daisy Deadhead tracks this silence. Just for the record, here’s what our spokesman David Phillips was ready to say.
We saw Brian Scoles, BJU PR Rep, lurking across the street too. Pointing and talking about us but never to us. Think about it. There we were, fellow believers, graduates, all but two of us from Greenville county. Jonathan Pait, BJU alumni representative, had asked local alumni just this Fall what would BJU could do to bring us to campus. There we were! Could you talk to us? All you can do is point and glare? That’s odd, BJU. Soul Force at least got lunch. You really, really, really want to convince yourselves that we are unimportant.
We had a baby in our crowd, snuggled up to Mommy, and a handful of very brave students joined us to connect and chat. Just like . . . . oh, I don’t know? Heaven?
BJU only wants the Show Window. They don’t actually want to stand behind their merchandise. They are the beauty queens, but if their aunt or older sister visits them in the Green Room of the pageant with a bouquet of happy balloons, they pretend they don’t know her.
Time just named its Person of the Year — the Protester. And as of Monday, I was part of that. I’m a Person of the Year! I’m not that scary. I look pretty dull. Like the aunt who brings cheesecake to a family get-together. But watch that video to see who BJU calls “miserable” and “wacko.”
I think that psychologists call that projection.
We Fifteen were not alone. All over the world on 12.12.11 alumni were wearing red. It was so quiet and subtle — like a middle-aged auntie with cheesecake — that no one thought twice about it. We changed profile pics. We watched webcams for the balloons. We were at work or home. But we stood together. For the first time in history, there was a public, documented protest on the campus of Bob Jones University. And that says something. . . . It is an Ebenezer stating that everything has changed.
One dear friend who was wearing red 600 miles away, Phil Lehman, looks at it like this:
The Do Right (wear red) campaign turned the tables on BJU.
BJU got played with their witnessing program and now they know what it is like to be on the receiving end of their behavior.
How many times have we heard that we must stand up for Jesus? Be bold witnesses wherever we go. Put a Bible on our desk! Let everyone know that we are Christians!
The people wearing red did that. They clearly aligned themselves with an issue, a cause. From what I have read and have seen on the news clip, they did not confront or accost anyone, but they were clearly a BOLD presence. This group of students and alumni were the model witnesses. They were soldiers for Christ.
There was also a group that supported the cause in a less conspicuous way. Are they any less supporters? There were some who chose jewelry or another accessory that was red. Red earrings or red ties. What about layered clothing — that red shirt under another shirt or sweater? And I’m sure there were some that made a personal choice of red that was next to their skin that no one else could see. These people were the “silent witness crowd.” They are the one who know to look for the “code.” They may not have taken the bold stand — but as we often do in “witnessing,” they were regularly living out their faith, even though they may have been afraid of public opinion or retribution.
Finally, there was the host of unseen supporters. The hundreds of us who were boldly wearing red at our workplace. Those around us may have known nothing about the greater cause. We were standing with and praying for you even at a distance. We had it the easiest of any of the groups but were we also the biggest cowards. No one was going to condemn us one way or another. Did any of us have anything to loose? No one thought anything of a person wearing this color. We were thirteen days away from Christmas — and IU just pulled off an astounding upset in Basketball on Saturday night.
Each one of us were witnesses in our own vocation. Some were planting seeds, others were watering, and a few got to taste of the harvest, but ultimately we will not know the total fruits of our labors until the final harvest when all are gathered in and each one of us hear the words “well done, faithful servant.”
Our causes and locations are different, but we each will have to stand for something sometime in our lives. Some will be the vocal ones in the middle of the crowd, others will be in the crowd holding onto mere threads of the issue, and others will be yelling loudly in the woods.
The Woolworth’s Lunch Counter sit-ins only started with four brave young men. We started with 70 + 15. Next time there’ll be more.