Mercer sent this “Statement Concerning my Dismissal from Bob Jones University” to BJU Board of Trustees after his firing on June 15, 1953.
For those of you unfamiliar with BJU, the statement is a snoozer, so you can head over here. For those of you currently associated with BJU, you’ll dismiss it as some crackpot with an agenda who just needs to “shut up.” He even mentions that — that people wanted him to “crawl off into a hole after being fired.” So you can mosey over here.
But if you’ve ever found yourself on the other side of a BJU administrator’s desk feeling the ax hovering above your neck, the statement reads eerily prophetic.
The litany of accusations against him are mostly familiar. We’ve all been called the same whether in front of or behind our backs — “avowed enemy of the school,” unfaithful, inefficient, deceitful, “one of the greatest crooks in the history of the school,” demon-possessed, “the devil.” Mercer euphemizes the most intense accusation of homosexuality under the term “my moral character” — an accusation that still lingers in contemporary BJU histories (more on that later).
You’ll want to look at the list of BJU Board Members near the end. It’s at the very least intriguing. There’s Homer Rodeheaver and Jack Wyrtzen. There’s Mordecai Ham and Ernest Reveal. And you see some familiar fathers there. Look. There’s Ted Mercer’s dad, Jim. And John MacArthur, Sr. (father of the John MacArthur, Jr.). and William Piper (father of John Piper).
BJU apparently was undergoing an enormous faculty turnover in the 1952-53 school year — a movement that would only continue into the years to come. Mercer includes one letter of resignation in the end of his pamphlet from Karl E. Keefer. We who have been associated with BJU since 1952 don’t know Dr. Keefer. We do know his replacement very well — a 24-year-old Dwight Gustafson.
18 thoughts on “ted.mercer.blogspot.com — Post #1, 1953 June 15”
I find it very creepy that he can pinpoint the start of his problems when his wife wouldn’t change doctors and use the under-equipped BJU Infirmary.
It sort of parallels the beginnings of your problems doesn’t it, when you wouldn’t use Ezzo?
Hopefully, though, your name is being blasted from the pulpit in chapel.
I meant “is NOT” rather than “is” in my last sentence.
Very bad typo on my part. 🙁
It was the very work of that Christ was performing in our hearts that resulted in both our rejecting Ezzo and in our eventually leaving BJU. God’s gift of children to us resulted in a grace that ran roughshod through every aspect of our lives. It was exquisitely messy, and I’d go back to those days in a heartbeat to feel God’s ravenous, ravishing embrace of grace to that degree once again.
My mouth dropped open when I read this. My father went to Bj in the 50’s. My mom had a bad delivery with my oldest sister, at the infirmary and my parents switched to an Ob/gyn at Greenville General. They were ratted out and questioned about changing Drs. My Dad told me 50 years after the fact “I still can’t believe they made such a big deal. If I had not given the right answer I’m not sure what would have happened”. He stayed loyal to the university through his whole life but did allow me to leave after my soph. year. The two years I was there I was reminded to keep my nose clean which I did a poor job of at one point The dean of women called my dad. They talked for a min. about what I had done then talked about old times. When the phone call was done I was reminded not to do that again, the demerits were put on the previous semester, (thats when I went to the movies) and I was told not to talk about it. I was given “grace” My question has always been “would I have been given the same grace if my dad wasn’t an alumni?”
*whistles* Talk about deja vu!!
When our son enrolled at BJ I shrugged off the rude treatment I received as “a few bad apples”.
The family has watched in dismay as our son is learning to be a Pharisee. Because of the changes in our son, our younger children will not be attending BJ.
Please keep writing, Camille.
Oh. oh oh oh.
That is so intensely painful to read. 🙁
Fascinating! Uncanny, really, how it all begins to make sense….
Any further info on some of the other instances that come up? Bob Schaper in particular, and the mention of poor treatment of Dr. Grace Haight. My curiosity is totally piqued about what really happened. One has to wonder whether any of our favorite retired faculty members would venture to comment on any of this….
I was also accused of being homosexual while at Bob Jones. No idea who made the accusation (not allowed to meet anyone accusing you, apparently) and lots of meetings to try and trick me into a “confession” of things I never did.
Good times. None of my family ever went after me, and I spend a lot of time trying to expose these types of things to niave people who go there.
Thanks for sharing your story with us. It was familiar, sad and courageous. May God continue to bless you with His grace.
This was great to read. My father was Hal Carruth, who resigned along with Bob Schaper. (My mother, Helen, also taught at BJU along with Margaret Schaper, Bob’s wife) I’d certainly heard the stories that they were all blacklisted by BJU but I never heard the back story. I also knew Ted Mercer, Karl Keefer, Ben Ciliberto, etc. I was actually recently going through some of my parent’s photos from back then and I have several pictures of the three Bob Jones, my mother used to babysit BJIII. Oh well, I digress; thanks Camille for publishing this and giving me a piece of my parent’s history.
Has anyone read “Island in a Lake of Fire”? It’s well reviewed on amazon.com, an economic place to read about a book! And it’s FREEE! It certainly would not be a particularly happy read, ie joyful. But I believe it would be a detailed account of the terrible time when as many as 70 faculty members resigned from BJU in a short period of time, in the early fifties ,along with the shocking spiritual abuse of Ted Mercer, when this precious christian man was basically “treated like dirt and thrown out like trash and BJU road kill.” Please excuse my sarcasm, but this kind of thing really angers me. Apparently the book details the downward spiral of destructive activities around that ‘infamous’ time, when the late Dr. Ted Mercer was so badly mistreated. The atmosphere at BJU then must have something akin to ‘ a mental loony bin’ with one crisis after another caused by Bob 1’s & Bob 2’s negatively religiously minded mental and spiritual confusion. How could any sane person possibly work there and keep their sanity? Just thinking about how such a true Godly christan man such as Ted Mercer was treated, causes me to shudder somewhat inside! I was very saddened to read that Denise’s son ‘changed’ in a negative way as soon as the BJU culture got to him, ‘converting him’ to ‘their way’ of high and mighty way of thinking and belieiving. So sad. And that negative change would have had a bad , undermining effect on all of their family relationships. Such a betrayal of the trust Denise’s praents placed in to BJU as a credible institution! Thank heavens they’re not sending their other kids there! I wonder when her son graduates? It sure will have been taking a lot of unconditional love from mom and dad and the BJU son’s sibs, along with God’s Grace, to carry this family through the religious wilderness of what that toxic BJU environment has done to their son. Heartbreaking really. Stories like these remind me about how much we need to support and encourage one another in the real love of God, and with ‘real christianity’ which fundamentalism is unfortunately NOT. Although there ‘are’ many fine, good and wonderful christian believers who want to follow what they believe to be the truth, trusting fundie leaders,’they’ are good people trusting a bad system of religious slavery not knowing that they are. Good people believing the best of men who have an agenda they are not even aware of.Good people ending up on the receiving end of what turs out to be ‘the worst.’ I can almost hear God the Father crying out to the controlling shepherds, some of whom may actually be ‘false’ shepherds: “LET MY PEOPLE GO THAT THY MAY WORSHIP ME IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH.” I love what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John chapter four that “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.”Oh that we could better understand that! Keep being free and keep calling each other into more freedom. Barbara.
If anyone is really interested in truth rather than blather one can read it in a book by Daniel Turner called Standing Without Apology. I have found that most of the rhetoric about BJU comes from misinformed and disgruntled individuals, most of whom have never stepped foot on the campus of BJU. David
Are you saying that I haven’t stepped on the campus? Is that the assertion?
I’ve read Dan’s book. He misses many, many, many facts. Like the fact that (one of) Bob Jones College’s financier Minor Keith was the founder of United Fruit Company.
You see, the myth that people who critique are simply uninformed is incorrect. I’m very informed. More than you. More than Dan. So you can take that myth elsewhere.
Best to you.
T. C. MERCER, FROM BOB JONES TO BRYAN
Mercer Hall might have easily remained the Administration Building had Dr. Theodore Mercer not been fired from Bob Jones University in 1953.
Mercer had spent a large portion of his life around the Joneses and their school at that point in ‘53, when he was relieved of his duties as Assistant to the President.
He had grown up in Spring City, Tenn., a small railroad town around 17 miles north of Dayton and the current location of Bryan College.
He was one of many children, but also only one of two shared by his parents. Both of his parents had marriages, and children, prior to the one that resulted in Mercer’s birth, according to Dr. John M. Mercer, the late Bryan president’s son and current Professor of English at Northeastern State University in Tulsa, Okla.
Theodore Mercer was five when the Scopes Trial captured the attention of a nation in the throes of debate about whether evolution could and should be taught in public schools.
The ‘Boy Orator of the South’ William Jennings Bryan represented the State of Tennessee in its case against high school teacher John Scopes, who had agreed to go on trial in order to bring the small town of Dayton national attention – successfully. Five years later, The William Jennings Bryan University was founded in the novel town of Dayton.
Three years after, in 1933, prominent evangelical leader Dr. Bob Jones Sr. moved his college, Bob Jones College, from Panama City, Fla. to Cleveland, Tenn., just east of the Tennessee River from Dayton.
Mercer’s education, career and personal life would be greatly impacted by that school and its patriarch. He graduated from BJC with a bachelor’s degree in Religion and English as well as a master’s degree… in Religion, and he began teaching English for his alma mater afterward.
In the Bob Jones English department, Mercer met the woman who would be his wife when the custodian continually misplaced the department’s trash cans, according to the couple’s son.
John Mercer called his parents’ meeting a “funny story.” His father, he said, was annoyed by finding his trashcan out of place every morning and found the young Alice to be stingy for hoarding them. Little did Mercer know, however, that Alice was not rearranging the department’s trash every night.
Only after finally confronting the assumed thief did Mercer realize that he had assumed falsely. In a twist of irony, however, Alice did end up taking something much more valuable from Mercer than his garbage.
In 1953, Ted Mercer wrote a pamphlet to the Bob Jones University Board of Trustees in which he said the summer prior was “the beginning of the end for me I am convinced in my own mind.”
He says in the literature that he felt choosing off-campus hospital and doctor attention over medical services provided by the BJU infirmary during his wife’s pregnancy would harbor bad feelings from the school.
“Mrs. Mercer and I, knowing Dr. Jones as we did, discussed the possibility of my losing my job for failure to comply, but we decided that the selection of a doctor was the privilege of every American and that if I lost my job over this situation, we would be willing to take the consequences, which we are now taking,” Mercer wrote.
John Mercer confirmed that it was his birth that his father was writing about. Choosing to have children off campus, he said, was equal to disloyalty to the school. His father’s pamphlets confirm the presumption.
“I was called into [Dr. Bob Jones Sr.’s] office on June 9, 1952, and upbraided for disloyalty to him and the institution,” Mercer wrote to the Board of Trustees.
A year later, after accusations of further disloyalty and sexual immorality, Dr. Bob Jones Jr., President of Bob Jones University, fired his assistant Mercer. Mercer was one of a host of BJU staff and faculty that lost their jobs or voluntarily left the school at that time, according to his pamphlets.
John Mercer said that the events of that summer were “very traumatic” for his family, but that “[his father] felt that a huge burden was lifted” after his firing. The sexual accusations against his father’s character were “real ridiculous” and merely attempts at smearing his name, John added.
The incident, however, “was the best thing that could have happened to us. I didn’t want to grow up in that environment,” he said.
“I’m sure he was happy he was no longer in that situation.”
Between 1953 and 1956, Dr. Theodore Mercer worked in public relations for Muskingham College in New Concord, Ohio, while the fallout from the BJU incident faded.
The incident, John said, was on the lips of those at Christian schools around the nation; his mother, he added, speculated that immediately after the incident, her husband would not have been in contention at many Christian schools because of it.
However, in 1956, things seemingly came full circle for Dr. Theodore Mercer. After the Scopes Trial in 1925, Williams Jennings Bryan said that he wished to open a school to forward the Christian message in Dayton.
In 1956, the result of Bryan’s wish, William Jennings Bryan University was operating in Dayton on a tight budget and limited resources. As the president, Dr. Judson Rudd’s health failed, the school began looking for the next president.
Three years after his ugly divorce from BJU, Mercer was offered the position.
He accepted; in 2005, at an honorary naming of Mercer Hall, Bryan alumnus Dr. Ronald Zartman said of the late president, “It was a tough ministry [Dr. Mercer] had. The Administration Building was unfinished; the furnace was coal-driven. Times were tough. There were unpaid food bills he inherited. We needed a gifted man – that’s what we got ” according to an article on Bryan.edu covering the heritage event.
John Mercer recalls that in the early years, one of his father’s primary goals for the school was to attain accreditation, an accomplishment that was reached in 1969.
In those first days of the Bryan, John recalls living with friends in Chattanooga and moving to a small house in Dayton nicknamed “The Crackerbox” a few weeks before the college secured a rental for the family on Bryan Hill.
The house that the Mercer family rented is now the home of Academic Vice President Bradford Sample and his wife, said Mercer. It is also held to be the oldest house in “Hill City,” he said.
Dr. Theodore Mercer’s tenure at Bryan was a successful one. Under his leadership, the school completed the administration building and built several dorms.
Mary Rudd Carlson, daughter of late President Judson A. Rudd, Mercer’s predecessor, said in an email that the decline of her father’s health and presidency was eased by the arrival of Mercer and his “amazing energy.”
As her father’s health declined, Carlson remembers the new president spending one entire night with his papers outside of Rudd’s hospital room. When Rudd passed, Carlson remembers Mercer arriving where she and her mother were staying with all of the funeral details planned and ready for signature.
“This was the way he operated,” she said. “For the next several days, our home was Rhea House where they welcomed all of our Rudd relatives and other close college friends at each mealtime.”
On into the 60s, John Mercer points out that his father also navigated the school through desegregation.
His father, he said, “was a proponent of admitting black students and achieved this goal in a way that caused little stir or objection.”
In 1986, at the age of 66 and after leading then-named William Jennings Bryan College for 25 years, Dr. Theodore C. Mercer died unexpectedly just weeks before he had planned to give his last commencement speech and retire.
19 years later in 2005, Mrs. Alice Mercer was present at a special Heritage Week chapel where the administration building that her husband finished was renamed in his honor. The following January, she too died, at the age of 89.
Bryan College, however, will forever bear the fingerprints of President and Mrs. Theodore Mercer.
Mercer Hall is noted for sharing the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. Perhaps fittingly, the building that bear’s the Mercer name, the building that he was most proud of according to his son, played a similar role in Bryan’s history.
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