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Yadah, Yadah, Yadah 2.0

I’ve been reading Klan literature. The histories, the newspapers, the sermons, the money trail, the facts. It’s very, very, very sobering. As much as it makes my gut roil, I have to admit that the beginnings of fundamentalism were intimately intertwined with the Klan ideology. The historian I’m reading right now clarifies that the Klan exploited the fundy discontent and disempowered status for its money-making potential. Perhaps. Perhaps they were duped with egotistical appeals for the sake of the almighty dollar. Perhaps it was just a violent money-making pyramid scheme with torches and sinister costumes. I’m not so sure.

But everything’s starting to make sense now. My family’s stories about growing up as immigrants in Detroit and my grandparents’ distrust of all things Baptist. The Polack jokes I heard from the BJU pulpit over the years. The hatred of all things Catholic. The creationism. The conservative politics. The misogyny. The violent ethics. The secrecy. The unorthodox “use” of Jesus for His moral example. It’s all there. In both fundamentalism and the Klan.

I heard a story this weekend from a friend and fellow graduate of BJU. He was applying for a job here in Greenville and made it all the way through to the third interview — a mere formality at that point. The African-American manager took one look at the man’s undergraduate degree on his resume and politely ended the interview right then and there.

I remember the city’s Christmas parade last December. It was a silly but joyful event. Dogs dressed as Christmas trees. Little preschoolers dancing like snowmen. Local politicians, chiropractors, the YMCA — they were all there. The BMW employees next to us cheered for their friends’ folk dancing troupe. Grandmas offered their blankets to our shivering wee ones. It was a perfect community event. We were all having a good time together.

Until. . . . the Bob Jones University float passed. Its presence cast a pall over the whole crowd. You could hear the crickets chirping above their choral singing. The African-American family next to us looked at their feet and cleared their throats. It sucked the joy right out of the celebration.

Despite BJU’s desperate insistence that it has a terrific reputation in the Greenville community, it doesn’t. And I’m slowly finding the documentation to prove why. For my BJU administrative readers and BJU IT web whackers, you won’t find me posting that data here, so you don’t need to lurk and rip. There’s too much data. It requires more analysis than is suitable for a blog.

But I want to confess this sin again. This sin of racism. For the sake of my neighbors and former and future students, for the sake of this town, for the sake of my sons, for the sake of Jesus, I want to identify and repent of that sin. For the most part, I’m just going to re-post a previous blog series:

1 Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.

2 Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.

3 When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.

4 The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.

5 Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.

6 These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.

7 God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.

8 Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:

9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”

10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.

11 Celebrate God.
Sing together—everyone!
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!

Psalm 32

I’m more than a little surprised at how different this Presbyterian thing feels. I mean, I’m not uninformed about American religion — especially among conservative Protestants. At least, so I thought. But now that we’ve attended several PCA churches locally and although their worship “styles” have varied, one thing is consistent and that’s the thing I find most startling.

Each service re-presents, rehearses, and reviews the Gospel. In my previous life, that might mean something heavily evangelistic. And I intimately know many fundamentalist ministries who are overtly trying to be God-centered (code for “Reformed”). All that aside, this Presbyterian thing is more deliberate, more routine, and, it seems to me, more tried-and-true. Dare I call it liturgical?

You often hear so-called non-denominational conservative Protestants scolding their more market-savvy brothers for being too man-centered in their worship. “Worship,” you’ll hear, “is not about you. It’s about God.”

Well, no. It’s not. It’s about both. Presbyterians get that. Sean Michael Lucas — fellow BJU alum and, I’m pretty sure, a former student of mine way, way back when because he looks so familiar — explains it this way:

Our belief [is] that worship is covenantal would mean that in worship there is a two way movement between God and his people. Some people have even suggested that in worship there is a dialogue between God and his church. God is the one who makes the first move toward us be calling us to worship, and we respond by invoking his presence in our midst. And the rest of worship is a movement back and forth between God and his beloved people, a movement in which God meets us in Word and sacrament and we respond to his presence with prayers and praises.

Perhaps you have noticed a certain ebb and flow to many Presbyterian worship services:

  • God calls us into his presence by his Word and Spirit.
  • We enter God’s holy presence, are convicted of sin, and confess our sin to him.
  • God responds by his Word with an assurance of his pardon.
  • In prayers and songs, we praise our God for calling us into his presence and forgiving our sins.
  • God speaks to us by his Word in the reading and preaching of Scripture, as well as through his visible signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • We respond to God in thanksgiving with praise and offerings.
  • God sends us away with his blessing (or benediction).
  • We move back into the world for loving service, assured that we are God’s people.

That’s not just the Gospel in five easy-to-remember steps. That’s not just a revival service designed to get ’em saved. That’s reminding me that the Gospel is for me. That’s rehearsing the Drama of Grace.

Starting with Confession, yadah. Surveying the Old Testament use of the word en masse implies that confessing our sin as sin and confessing our God as Lord are pretty much the same. Like inhaling and exhaling, crescendo and decrescendo. We are helpless and fallen, and God is powerful and good. We have broken the law, and God provides escape. Salvation and adoration. Repentance and praise. It’s all confession. In admitting our iniquity, we privilege God’s greatness. We are depraved and He is gracious. We are human and He is God.

Why won’t we confess? We believers should be the best at this since it most glorifies God. But in refusing to admit our own sin, we’re erecting our own towering, babbling ziggurats. David describes it as gnawing away at our insides, dehydrating our juices, and pulverizing our bones. Nothing sounds more maddening, more Pharisaical, more pagan, and more blasphemous.

We get incensed that Science denies God as Creator while we whitewash our sepulchers. We raise our fists and our voices in anger at politicians for sounding a tad too Marxist in describing our religious impulse, but we act as embittered as any failed revolutionary when it comes to admitting our wrongs. We stand without apology after all, and we think that’s a tribute to God when it’s nothing more than a tribute to ourselves.

Why not confess our sins? What are we afraid of? Making God look good?

28 thoughts on “Yadah, Yadah, Yadah 2.0

  1. If I may tweak things a bit; southern Fundamentalists certainly had many connections with the Klan, Bob Jones included.

    But fundamentalism was not the exclusively southern and rural movement it is often portrayed as in the historiography. The northern, urban branches of fundamentalism had little to do with the Klan.

    It is also notable that the Klan predated both predated and extended beyond fundamentalism. So while you are right to condemn the sin of racism in the fundamentalist camp, racism and Klan connections can be found among most Southern Christians, fundamentalist and not.

  2. As usual, Paul, you state the persistent myth. But the facts don’t back that telling of history in the least.

    The Klan was as Northern as it was Southern. They paraded in costume for Midwesterner Billy Sunday’s revivals as much as they did for Bob Jones’. It flourished in Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, and NYC. New Yorker John Roach Straton, we know, worked for them.

    So no, you’re incorrect. In fact, I would argue that the Klan is what bound together the disenfranchised whites in both regions.

    Read the histories. Look at the numbers. You’re simply incorrect.

  3. “Starting with Confession, yadah. Surveying the Old Testament use of the word en masse implies that confessing our sin as sin and confessing our God as Lord are pretty much the same. Like inhaling and exhaling, crescendo and decrescendo.”

    Excellent! This is the very point I’ve been pressing in my reading and discussion of Augustine’s Confessions at Sacra Pagina. Lament for sin and celebration for salvation are distinct but not separate. Together they form a united act of worship.

      1. Right, but what form do you have in mind? Do you want them to call a press conference or something?

  4. BJU can’t undo it’s past but it can change it’s future but that won’t happen until the BJ3 and Stephen allow God to change their hearts and minds. At this point neither will take the stand to fix BJU’s reputation in Greenville and beyond.

  5. The Klan was northern indeed. I had close family members in NJ and PA who were Klan members.

  6. I had family members in NJ that were in the Klan in the early 1900’s (oughts, teens, and into the twenties). There was a strong northern Klan presence…

  7. I live close to the town of Front Royal Virginia. Many will not remember but it was part of the ‘Massive Resistance’ movement against school integration. This all took place fifty years ago. The locale powers that be shut down the school system rather than have African-Americans attend.
    Many Godly people spoke out against this and one brave Pastor was eventually forced to resign for his own safety.
    The ones who spoke in favor of it? You guessed it. The fundamentalist IBF and GARBC Pastors. The ones who said that black people were supposed to be slaves and servants because they were the descendants of Ham. Remember all that?
    So I agree with the premise of this article. The roots run deep.

  8. Bob Jones University did apologize for their racial failures :
    http://www.wyff4.com/r/18031718/detail.html

    There is a video on that website too. They confessed their faults and they said sorry. I would say that is BJU confessing sin…no?

    Now it would be nice to see BJIII and other individuals confess their faults and racism in making those decisions.I don’t think Stephen Jones should be held accountable for the sins that he has not committed.

    @Camille let me know what you think of that link. What do you think needs to be done?

  9. PvR — I know that statement quite well. I was a major part of the behind-the-scenes alumni effort to demand an apology.

    That apology is not one, however. At all. It dodges their guilt. It sounds no different than Adam saying, “Well, that woman [culture/segregationist ethos] YOU gave to me. . . ”

    But I state my complete analysis here:

    http://www.drslewis.org/camille/2009/11/standing-without-and-within-apologia/

    And in fact, it was their poor apology that pushed me on this pursuit.

    1. I would like to read your full critique, but the scribd site is showing the message “The document ‘2009 NCA Standing Without And Within Apologia’ has been deleted.” Is the file still available?

      Until the full analysis is available, I would like to at least offer some ways that BJU’s apology is different from Adam’s in Genesis 3.

      1. I cannot find in the statement where BJU blames God for the culture/ethos it began in.
      2.) BJU’s statement refers to the culture’s influence (and negative effect–it’s certainly relevant to the topic at hand), but then takes full responsibility regardless, even saying that its proper role would have been to provide a “clear Christian counterpoint to it [the culture].”
      3.) BJU’s statement admits that BJU broke the Great Commandment, not just some minor principle or oblique point of doctrine where Christians may differ. It also expresses remorse for doing so.

      I might have written some parts of the statement in a different way, and I’d like to read your full critique, but I don’t see how it can be true that BJU’s statement below sounds no different from Adam’s in Genesis 3.

      http://www.bju.edu/welcome/who-we-are/race-statement.php

      “BJU’s history has been chiefly characterized by striving to achieve those goals; but like any human institution, we have failures as well. For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than providing a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

      In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

  10. I generally agree with most of your views and observations on BJU. There’s still a lot of reform (no pun intended) needed. I also respect and appreciate your Reformed theology views. But also remember, the sins of the past (racism, pride, etc) aren’t limited to fundamentalists. Calvin and the various reformers committed many sin (Michael Servetus, Mennonite persecution) mostly out of misinterpretation of Scripture and the culture.

    The Reformers clearly thought the Arminian’s were heretics and were trying to purge the land of heresy like was done in O.T. days in Israel.

    Very few reformed folks walk around negating the brilliant insights Calvin had on theology being one of the greatest theologians of all time. He just happenned to be wrong on some BIG issues. I just say don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of fundamentalists.

    God used a small fundamentalist church and pastor to bring my family into the faith in the 1930s. I turn hundreds of others have been brought into a saving faith through their witnessing efforts and life example.

    As much as many fundy’s have their problems, the pop evangelical has just as many problems–I guess that’s why I found a comfortable “home” in a conservative Evangelical church.

    Semper Reformanda

  11. @BMP

    Someone illegally hacked my scribd account. I’m pursuing legal means in that case, but I haven’t restored everything yet. I’ll get that uploaded soon.

    But it’s pretty obvious. With the line “segregationist ethos,” they were essentially saying “but everybody was doing it!” The entire planet sees this pretty plainly for what it is.

    Everybody wasn’t doing it. And BJx’s participation in this “segregationist ethos” was so thorough and complete. . . .

  12. The phrase “segregationist ethos,” is not saying that “everybody was doing it,” but is drawing attention to the fact that segregation was practiced widely and openly in the south.

    There are generally multiple, competing cultures in any setting, but that fact doesn’t deny that one is frequently dominant (at least until stage 2 of Hegel’s historical dialectic). In the south, there was definitely a dominant (although not exclusive) segregationist ethos, which many whites, Christian and non-Christian, accepted and practiced.

    BJU’s adoption, codification, and eventual defiant defense of its racist policies has certainly created a dark blot from which it may never fully recover. But it appears to me to be trying to be open and repentant, while acknowledging its past active participation in a practice that was morally wrong and biblically indefensible.

    For the sake of the gospel, I am thankful for the step that this statement represents, however late, in the right direction.

    1. Saying that BJU was simply participating in the common “ethos” is like calling John D. Rockefeller a big fan of capitalism.

      BJx didn’t just participate. BJx didn’t just follow the crowd. It went to the highest court in the land to defend what was so wildly unpopular and indefensible. And then lied about it on national TV.

      These are just the facts that we’ve all witnessed in our lifetime. History reveals many, many more details that . . . well, that cannot be fully explained on a blog.

      Compare BJU’s “apology” to the PCA’s and the SBC’s. It’s so dramatically different. In every way.

  13. We’re agreed that BJU actively and publicly supported and defended its racist policy. As far as I can tell, we’re also agreed that its statement is not necessarily an apology (in the sense of saying “we’re sorry” to specific individuals), although the statement does express remorse for its failure before God and before others.

    But anyone who knows the history of BJU knows that the statement represents a significant change from its previous direction and nationally-known policies. (I’ve read posts by racists who took BJU to task for its change). For myself, I don’t believe that it would have been worthwhile for BJU to enumerate a detailed history of its failures or a list of those it hurt in its statement.

    RE: Rockefeller::capitalism is as BJU::racism stretches one point of connection past many other dissimilarities. Without capitalism, Rockefeller would likely have never been the success he was, Rockefeller represents (even today) the personal embodiment of unbridled capitalism, and he actively defended his harmful use of capitalism without any sense of remorse for those whom he hurt. Changing the words “BJU” for “Rockefeller” and “racism” for “capitalism” produces a series of nonsensical statements.

    Besides the fact, capitalism isn’t inherently abusive or wrong as racism is. Repenting of racism involves acknowledgement of sin against God and others. I’m not sure anyone could repent of being a capitalist in the same sense…but we’d probably need to agree on definitions of terms (at least of capitalism, since I think we’re using “racism” in the same sense so far).

    I’m pretty sure we won’t agree at the end of the day, but I’ve appreciated the exchange.

    1. Rockefeller::capitalism is as BJU::racism stretches one point of connection past many other dissimilarities.

      That’s not what I said. At all.

      So yeah, without actually getting what I’m saying, it’s going to be “nonsensical” to you. . . .

  14. Hmm…so I’ve misunderstood (and subsequently misrepresented) your simile, which was itself a response to something I never said.

    Since this exchange hasn’t progressed much over the last couple comments, I’ll at least say again that I’m thankful that BJU made and has left publicly available its statement. It was late, unfortunate that it even needed to exist, and BJU’s public defense (yes, to the Supreme Court, which I alluded to in an earlier post) of its previous racist policies are an ongoing problem for the school. Its critics will use its past–with some justification–as a stick to beat it with for the foreseeable future. But as far as I can tell, the school has finally shed any remnants of its racist policies, which is good for the sake of the gospel, which is bigger than any institution that claims the name of Jesus Christ. The change should have come sooner, but I’m glad it has happened.

  15. Camille,
    you’re ‘so’ brave to wade through klan history material like that in your research! Maybe that hard work helps you do penance for not taking a stand in the past? But if you ‘had’ taken a stand back then, you may have lost your job, and not been there to influenc young minds with your wisdom and leadership. You’re so honest! You really set a fine example to those who read your web site. Your articles and thread conversations are really helping people THINK. When I renounced dispensationism and pre-trib, premillenial eschatology, I viewed the simply AWFUL documentary “The Late Great Planet Earth’ on line, stopping and re starting to make notes. It nearly drove me crazy! I felt like I was doing ‘penance’ for believing all that crazy stuff in error. I repented of believing it all, and felt so much better. But I took ‘full’ responsibility for having ‘fallen’ for it in the first place. I did not blame anybody. This eally helpd me come free in my mindand thinking. And it really strengthened my intellect in a good way.The documentary is the most negative, doom and gloom piece of fear merchandising religio-political propoganda piece of nonsense I have ever viewed. It was almost impossible to watch. But I ‘really’ was repentant, for believing things about eschatology for over 25 years, that Orthodox/historic christianity NEVER taught, ever! Now when I started researching the American Religious Right on the internet, I nearly felt like peeling the wall paper off the walls. It was one of the hardest things I ever researched. But I wanted to learn and understand as much as I could about the effects of ‘politicized religious fundamentalism’ in America. ARGHHHHHH! I love the American people. I have had a special love for them, since I was first saved. God put this love for them in my heart and it has remained there, growing deeper as I have grown in God’s love. Still don’t know how God wants to use this, but “I’m still waiting, Lord!’ It’s never too late. I commend you on your intestinal fortitude to research the klan history. I am an avid fan of children’s literature, epecially the stories that tell about history. Junior historical fiction. Children’s author’s are so gifted. I’ve read so many beautiful books about the precious black people and the dreadful effects of the klan when it ‘comes to town.’The authors are so well rsearched as ‘you are working so diligently to be’ also. Have you ever considered writing children’s books? Or writing a ‘how to think’ book for young Elementary students? The children need our help. Because hardly anybody is teaching them ‘how to think?’ And these children are our future leaders. Keep up the good work, Camille. Awesome site. Barbara Quinn

  16. I don’t know whether we see eye to eye on everything else or not (though I am liking your blog as I read it!).

    But I wanted to let you know how very, very much I appreciate your stand on racism. If I believed that one’s pedigree, so to speak, meant ANYTHING, sometimes I would be deeply ashamed to be white. When my spouse & I hear Christians (and they are ALWAYS white Christians) defend slavery or act like it wasn’t that big of a deal, it just makes our blood boil.

    I’ve also heard people say that those blacks who are angry now (whether it’s a stated protest or whether anger is sensed from an individual now and then) don’t have a reason to be angry anymore. That’s absurd. Yes, slavery technically ended 100-plus years ago, but when did the Klan become inactive? When did racially motivated killing stop? When did black men accused of raping white women have the right to juries composed of their PEERS, meaning at least half minority?

    When did blacks gain the ability–really, truly–to gain educations and hold good corporate jobs? High paying enough that they could then send their own children to school, to college, etc.? We are foolish in not tracing our histories back a few generations when we look at why *some* of them had a harder time. (I know someone is going to say “I’m white and we had no money.” Me too. That isn’t the point. For generations my family would still have been able to associate in certain circles without the same racial hatred. And that gave generations, I am sure, a different opportunity to develop professionally, being exposed to those circles.) By the way–just so this isn’t taken wrong–I do know African Americans who DO have money from their families. My point is just that it has been hard hard HARD for them to get to that point, given everything that was stripped and stolen from them.

    So, please, if you say “They don’t have any reason to be angry now,” stop. They have MANY reasons, and when they’re NOT angry, it’s only by the grace of God.

    Praise Jesus that someday He is coming to reign RIGHTEOUSLY!

    Dr. Lewis, thank you SO much for writing about this in a way that doesn’t gloss over gross injustice or say “That’s just the way it was. Oh, well.” Thank you for regarding these dear people as being just as worthy of humane treatment as your own children.

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