Beliefs behind racism

bob jones signBob Jones University is probably best known at this point for the 2000 presidential campaign controversy involving its ban on interracial dating. After then-candidate George W. Bush spoke there, he was criticized, and the ban was lifted on CNN's Larry King Live show by the university's then-president Bob Jones III. Eight years later the institution, which started admitting African Americans in 1971, issued a public apology for its "racially hurtful" policies.

Here is the coverage from the Associated Press:

The private fundamentalist Christian school that was founded in 1927 said its rules on race were shaped by culture instead of the Bible, according to a statement posted Thursday on the university's Web site.

The university in northwestern South Carolina, with about 5,000 students, didn't begin admitting black students until nearly 20 years after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling found public segregated schools were unconstitutional.

"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," the statement said.

The AP story is unfortunately brief. The main issue I had hoped that the article would address is what it hinted about regarding its racial rules being "shaped by culture instead of the Bible."

The admission is revealing in many ways. Unfortunately, the AP doesn't provide any context for that statement. What needs to be explained is the fact that many Americans for generations have believed in various versions of racial superiority. This belief was at least in part based on their interpretation of the Bible. This belief justified evils from segregation to racism.

Here The State provides some of that context:

Vaughn CroweTipton, Furman University chaplain, said there has been a long debate about whether the Bible condones slavery or discrimination. Most communities, he said, have decided biblical references to slavery were a reflection of contemporary culture.

"We can say 'No, that was for them and not for us,'" CroweTipton said. Scholars and the faithful, CroweTipton said, are having a similar debate about the role of women in society. "We struggle to understand which of the texts we read are culturally bound."

The school had used the Bible to justify discrimination in the past, such as in a 1998 letter to a writer who questioned the school's ban on interracial dating. Then, school officials noted that God had created oceans to keep men apart, as well as ethnic, cultural and language barriers.

The ideas and theologies that justified racial segregation are not pretty, but journalists should not let readers forget that many racial policies were based upon what they believed to be biblical teachings.

Robert Parham over at Ethics provides some helpful context in his coverage of the apology. He notes that this apology represents a "new interpretation of the Bible" by the institution and marks "an about-face from a 1986 pamphlet, 'Race Relations,' written by a Bible department faculty member, Marshall Neal, who argued that racial segregation was based on the authority of the Bible."

Perhaps this is too much detail for an AP story, but the religious justifications for racist policies should be covered.

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