Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Confession is Good for the Soul of the Country

In my first post on CTW, I shared an important confession by the American Medical Association: an apology for the racism that dominated the organizational mindset of that body for 100 years. I saw that as important because, all too often, there are people who love to pontificate about a 'victim mentality' give the impression that racism is something that is historic anomaly to be gotten over.

Even the most well intentioned will sometimes ask why we have to talk about race or racism, as if it no longer exists, or to the degree that it does exist is relegated to grainy newsreel footage and photographs tucked away in the musty pages of old books and magazines.

Well, how about this: Bob Jones University has recently apologized and asked forgiveness for its racist policies!

Yes, THE Bob Jones University, as in the Bob Jones University of Greenville, North Carolina.

Can anyone say, 'It's a new day!'?

At the behest of an organization called Please Reconcile.org, 500 alumni encouraged the university to make this radical step.

Bob Jones University did not enroll African-Americans as students until 1971 and banned interracial dating and interracial married couples until the year 2000.

Was the apology genuine? You be the judge:

"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 provide 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.

"On national television in March 2000, Bob Jones III, who was the university’s president until 2005, stated that BJU was wrong in not admitting African-American students before 1971, which sadly was a common practice of both public and private universities in the years prior to that time. On the same program, he announced the lifting of the University’s policy against interracial dating."

Why is it significant? Its not because there are not other, or even better seminaries than Bob Jones (either conservative or liberal). Nor is it because most of us didn't know that BJU was not racist in its policies. It's because any type of efforts to diminish the opportunity of any group of people because of a sense of superiority, on no matter what grounds, is abhorant to thinking Americans. Bill Kristol, the noted conservative columnist, acknowledged as much when he commented on President George W. Bush's speaking engagement at BJU in 2000. Kristol wrote, "It's one thing to lurch to the right. It's another thing to lurch back 60 years. You could make the case that 'compassionate conservatism' died Feb. 2 when Bush appeared at Bob Jones U."

Bob Jones U's confesstion is significant. It is significant because without using lame, tortured logic and twisted explanations, or self serving prose, officials admitted that they had been complicit with and nurtured a culture designed to deny the humanity of other men and women.

Their's is an admission that their bigotry and segregation wasn't a matter of natural 'preference', nor was it simply the preservation of a 'way of life'. It was a systemic and systematic effort to deny opportunity to others because of the color of their skin. And they participated in that culture for nearly 200 years. It wasn't accidental, it wasn't historic happenstance, it was intentional and they acknowledged it and admitted they were wrong.

Institutions sharing a history and heritage of racism and bigotry, such as the American Medical Association and Bob Jones University, are not engaged in isolation incidents of prejudice and the consequences of their engagement are not benign. Both the AMA, BJU and the institutions share their guilt but not their admission, prove that in matters of health care and education, they sought to advantage one group and while keeping another group at a disadvantage. They admit that for more than a century they were part of a cultural conspiracy to deprive a group of U.S. citizens, (in these two cases) the best of their attention regarding health care, education and religious training.

What will Bob Jones U do, 'post - confession'? I don't know. What are adequate acts of repentance? I'm under the assuption that it will be figured out.

But I think there is a better, more important question:

What other institutions need to make this confession?

Whoever they may be, the confession is good for the soul of an institution as well as the indivdual; its good for the soul of the country.

3 comments:

Becca said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment on apologies. They're so hard to get right, and a real one is so rare. I hope with you that BJU's is backed with actions worthy of its eloquence. It's a good start, huh?

Cathy said...

I am one of those graduates that signed the petition. I am glad the University took this action. I am sorry that is has taken this long for it to do so. I think this is a good start. We only can pray that good actions follow their good words.

Gerald Britt said...

Cathy,

Thanks for having the courage to take part in this and urging your alma mater to take this step.

I can't help but believe this is anything but good news. Everyone who had a part in it is to be commended.

Becca is right: it's a good start...