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The Endorsement: A Shift in Style for Separatist Rhetoric

I don’t really do political stuff around here. But this issue intersects with so many other interests that I can’t resist.

So the separatist endorsed the other separatist. Why? To “[beat] Hillary.” This is a shift in past political involvement for these sectarians — a dramatic shift.

First of all, let’s get the preliminary facts out of the way. BJU or BJIII or their very politically-involved Dean of the COAS has never officially endorsed a candidate. If the school were a typical tax exempt organization, this would be illegal (See recent brouhahas at another separatist school a few miles to the West.). But since BJU is the only fully-taxed university in the country, they don’t fit within those expected boundaries. After gaining accreditation from TRACS and Title IV Federal Student aid, BJU needs to work harder at talking more like an educational instituation rather than less.

Now, let’s get to the fun rhetorical criticism part.

“This is all about beating Hillary,” Jones said. “And I just believe that this man has the credentials both personally and ideologically in terms of his view about what American government should be to best represent the rank and file of conservative Americans.

“If it turns out to be Guiliani and Hillary, we’ve got two pro-choice candidates, and that would be a disaster.”

Asked whether Romney’s religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, “What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?

“As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,” he said. “But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.” . . .

Jones, who said he has met with Romney several times over the past few months, said he is sticking to his belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints isn’t a Christian denomination, but he believes Romney’s character is above reproach.

“He’s a very presidential guy. He has a loving family. He has, as far as I can tell, no scandal connected with his life. I can’t say that about all of the candidates unfortunately,” Jones said.

“I’d be very concerned if he tried to make it appear in any of his statements that Mormonism is a Christian denomination of some sort. It isn’t. There’s a theological gulf that can’t be bridged,” Jones said.

“But as long as he says I am what I am and you are what you are and doesn’t try to make it appear that we believe the same things, I can respect the difference.”

Several new things are going on here. A pentadic analysis would look like this:

Agent: BJIII, Romney, Bob Taylor
   Counteragents: Guiliani, “Hillary,” Democrats
Act: Aligning politically
Agency: Endorsement
Scene: “rank and file of conservative Americans” who need to be represented
Purpose: To foil the “liberals,” to “beat Hillary”

Making his listeners (BJU alumni, state-wide Republicans) the scene (a thing to be acted upon) rather than the (co-)agent (persons who act), I believe, is exactly why Jones’ endorsement is failing. No one wants to be the passive receiver of any action, political or otherwise. By rising up and speaking out, his audience rejects Jones’ drama.

His purpose of “beating Hillary” seems far from the chivalrous talk I’ve heard from him before. While it’s a common patriarchal trope to slight a woman by flippantly using her first name (he uses “Guiliani” not “Rudy”), Jones is most often (and should be) a gentleman. How did his father used to joke? “I don’t hold the door open for you because you’re a lady. I hold the door open for you because I’m a gentleman.” Good advice and good politics.

I’m most intrigued by his attraction to Romney’s image as a clean-cut guy. Most Mormons are well-scrubbed, scandal-free family men. So then, it’s not just the issue of abortion or the potential success at “beating Hillary” that appeals to Jones. It’s image (i.e. “character”). And it’s a nearly identical image that BJU tries to cultivate before its own audience. I would argue that this is the real deal behind the endorsement. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Notice all the dichotomies in Jones’ statement: “Hillary” v. everyone, liberals v. conservatives, pro-choice v. pro-life, lack of religion v. erroneous (but still existant) religion, Christians v. Mormons, conservative America v. conservative religion, preacher v. president, scandal-free v. potentially scandalous candidate. In presenting his view of the political landscape, Jones attempts to shape his audience’s view: there are a set of clear either-ors, and you are either with him or against him.

With previous forays into the political arena, Jones (and his father) used deliberately provocative and indcendiary rhetoric (previously calling the LDS church a “cult,” for instance) when talking with “outsiders” or arcane but “romantic” rhetoric when talking with “insiders” (or members of the “BJU Family”). This seems like an attempt at deliberative rhetoric (what Robert Hariman would call the “republican style”): it’s pragmatic (they must “beat Hillary”), it’s compromising (ignore religion; this is politics), and it’s familiar (using the political language of endorsements). He’s not talking like a fundamentalist. He’s not talking like a preacher. He’s not talking like an educator. He’s talking like a politico.

And it doesn’t suit him. This is not playing well in Peoria . . . er, Greenville where national pundits have assumed it would work. So as a rhetorical critic, my prescription would be for BJU to drop the deliberative stuff. You can’t do it and be a fundamentalist too. Go back to the romantic style. You’re good at it, and it’s mysterious enough to appeal to all your audiences.

Addendum: BJU’s recent clarification that this endorsement is “personal” and not corporate changes little in the analysis. This critic does chuckle, however, because just like Kenneth Burke described Protestantism as having a splintering effect, so these sectarians seem to be separating from themselves.

[tags]Campaign 2008, Bob Jones University, Romancing the Difference, Rhetorical Criticism, Mitt Romney, Bob Jones, Bob Taylor, Kenneth Burke, pentadic analysis, Robert Hariman, political styles[/tags]

7 thoughts on “The Endorsement: A Shift in Style for Separatist Rhetoric

  1. This comment is relevant both here, and at the earlier post. BJU seems to have reversed Jesus’s mandate. We are to be wise as snakes and harmless as doves. It seems that they are wise as doves and harmful as snakes. I’m inclined to say that most error in Christian circles comes from getting one of those commands wrong, but BJU has the rare accomplishment of getting both wrong.

  2. Hubby brought to my attention that this week that Mitt Romney was given the endorsements of prominent evangelicals Al Mohler and Wayne Grudem.

    Quite honestly, I’m surprised that any of them would be doing ANY endorsements this early in the game, not just at who they have chosen to endorse.

  3. From this Sunday’s local paper, The Greenville News:

    “The Bob Jones University family has never followed Bob Jones III in lockstep fashion, school officials will tell you.”

    “‘There’s always been diversity of viewpoint among people who are part of our university family,” Pait said. “That’s nothing new. It just so happens that during this election season there is more than one choice for people to be looking at.'”

    :-O The rhetorical critic is me is intrigued. I guess diversity is now an attractive thing?

    Group communication experts say that the more you tell a group how the same they are, the more different they’ll be. And the more you tell them they are different, the more the same they’ll be.

    This is not that strategy. I think it is that the more you tell the external publics how different you are, the more alike you hope your internal publics will be.

    Or something like that. . . .

  4. Hey, I got the link to this from the CRM Blogspot. Let me know when you are blogging on BJU news via mail or the faith forum @ the ooze

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