Subtle (And Sometimes Not So Subtle) Bigotry

Although there are exceptions, fundamentalist churches are predominantly full of (and I’m generalizing here) middle aged white people who like to watch reruns of the Lawrence Welk show. This lack of diversity comes as no surprise given the uneasy history of fundies with race relations. If you managed to get all the way through Christian high school and Bible college without having ever been taught why Martin Luther King Jr. was important in American history, you might have been a fundamentalist. After all, nothing bad ever happened in America prior to 1963, so whatever he did couldn’t have been that necessary.

Although it is less frequent nowadays, there are still some fundamentalist institutions that are overtly racist in their practices. For example, Maranatha Baptist Mission still carries in its Purposes, Precepts, Policies, and Practices booklet a prohibition both against interracial marriage and interracial adoption. There’s a sick irony in sending out international missionaries to bring the peoples of the world into the family of God while forbidding them to bring any into their own family that aren’t the right skin color. (Pardon me while I beat this drum again, but Pensacola Christian College has supported missionaries from MBM and had its President to speak in their services while this policy was in place. Mainstream? Hardly.)

More popular in the last decade, however, is a subtler more insidious ethnocentric approach to bigotry. It shows up in things like blaming Africa for the ‘demonic’ forces of rock music and condemning ethnic styles of dress. Although much of the racism has been forced underground by the winds of change and political expediency, the roots are often still there. Bob Jones University may now not officially prohibit interracial dating but it’s still a hotly debated topic among parts of the student body.

It stands to reason that a group of people who assign moral values to cultural norms would have issues with those who are different from themselves. Fundamentalists evidently espouse the theory that the more like Jesus a person becomes the more they will dress and act like a middle class white suburbanite. By this shall all men know that we are His disciples.

57 thoughts on “Subtle (And Sometimes Not So Subtle) Bigotry”

  1. Racisim is a dirty little secret in some corners of extreme fundamentalism. Eric Jon Phleps ( is one example. He thinks that the white race is superior to all other races and supports an America made up of “white states” and states where those of other races should reside. It is disgusting. Thank God it is a tiny minority of fundies!

  2. Thank you for this post. The amount of racism that was proudly exhibited in the churches I was forced to attend while growing up is sickening and definitely not Christ honoring, in fact I can’t think of many things that are more anti-Christ. I remember hearing deacons brag about joining the KKK because a *black* family moved into the neighborhood (in hindsight they were probably just shooting off at the mouth, so not only were they racists pigs, but more than likely cowardly, lying racist pigs.)

  3. @Morgan
    “Racisim is a dirty little secret in some corners of extreme fundamentalism”

    I attended mainstream fundy churches where the most “famous” of fundy preachers, college presidents, ect spoke very frequently. My dad being the pastor, I had the misfortune of having many meals with them. And I can say unequivocally that racism was NOT a secret.
    I don’t mean to be argumentative and I understand and agree with your point, but maybe the “dirty little secret” is that it’s not a dirty little secret, even among “mainstream” fundys (although for the life of me the words mainstream and fundy do not seem to fit together.)

  4. The last fundy church I attended had a BJU grad as a pastor. One wednesday night, he taught that inter-racial marriages were wrong because it confused the children and caused the children/family to be rejected by society. A number of the membership confronted him strongly after the study. He would not change his position, but he never taught it again.

    Don’t forget the Haitian Devil’s pact myth.

  5. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s a two-way street. I’ve been to plenty of churches where the whites are white and so are the blacks. BUT…us white folks stick out about as much in black churches. Racial segregation in Christian churches isn’t anything new, and it shows up on both sides of the racial fence.

    Good call about the family of God – some of the sweetest fellowship I’ve had while I travel is in churches with a very mixed racial and ethnic makeup. It’s neat to know that even though you don’t share a common language, skin color, or ancestry, you’re still related as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  6. mounty,

    I’ll stipulate that your point is true. And I’ll also point out that in the context of this discussion it’s really irrelevant.

    “They did it too!” isn’t an excuse we’d accept from our child for his bad behavior. It’s not one I accept from the body of Christ for theirs.

    I do get what you’re saying. But I’ve spent way too much time listening to people who think that shared guilt is some kind of defense against their unrepentant sin.

  7. I think it’s more a matter of labeling on the part of non-fundies.

    There are Black churches, Latin churches and even Korean churches that are every bit as staunch, every bit as ridiculous and every bit as dangerous as the churches that we label as fundamentalist.

    Fundie is a label that applies as much to a political culture and movement as it does to a set of religious practices but we should remember that there are Xian lunatics of every race.

  8. @Thomas It’s a fair point. But as I’ve said more than once, when I use the word “fundy” here it means specifically self-described Independent Fundamental Baptists.

    Otherwise the meme just doesn’t work.

  9. My adoptive brother is Korean and my adoptive sister is black. There is nothing that annoys me more than racism and prejudice. It is against everything that Jesus preached. How can someone call themselves a Christian and hold racist views? I don’t get it.

  10. I attended BJU a few years ago, and it was around the time of “Artist Series” where everyone had to find dates for the evening. I was in my small speech class and the professor was asking all of us if we had dates yet. He asked me, and I said yes… but not with any enthusiasm because it wasn’t the guy I wanted to go with….. He then asked me “Why aren’t you excited? Is your date black?” I couldn’t believe it. Our whole class couldn’t believe it. Talk about blatant rascism. We told him his question was highly offensive and all he did was laugh nerviously and immediately start class.

  11. Depends on who you talk to, I suppose. Other current students I have spoken with have had a different experience. YMMV.

    And just to show that “progress” and “fundamentalism” aren’t *always* at odds,

    I did mention the change in official position at BJU. However, we both know that ‘official positions’ and ‘how it really works in the dorms and classrooms’ can be wildly different things.

  12. @Jordan Maria To which I would have responded, “No, I’m not excited because he isn’t black.”

  13. You are so right on with this point. I loved the end sentence: “Fundamentalists evidently espouse the theory that the more like Jesus a person becomes the more they will dress and act like a middle class white suburbanite. By this shall all men know that we are His disciples.”

    The most racist fundamentalist pastor I have ever heard is “Dr.” Phil Kidd. I was literally sick to my stomach after hearing him snort, scream and shout about how horrible African-Americans or “Hammites” are. During the message I heard at a youth camp, he practically blamed the AA race for most every ill in our society. He does not lack for speaking engagements in the fundamentalist camp. It’s a shame more people are not sickened/saddened by this.

  14. Great post.

    BJU did officially change their position, but that didn’t make them any less guilty or make the problem go away. I have to admit when I was there it wasn’t debated so much amongst my friends, but I know it is a major issue and still continues.

    Honestly the whole race thing is very unfortunate for me. I grew up with friends from all races. Race wasn’t ever a factor, and my parents taught me well. I went to BJU despite the controversy because I thought that changing the rule would fix the problem and perception. Unfortunately it hasn’t. I still get people who say, “I’ve heard of BJU”, with that tone of voice that clues you in as to why they know the institution. It is sad that the legacy BJU leaves outside of Fundy land and the South is one of bigotry and hatred.

  15. Agreed, Darrell and others. Just to emphasize though, Bob Jones issued an *apology* — they didn’t simply change the rules, and that’s an encouraging sight. In one of my Bible classes this semester, the teacher has spoken very highly of pursuing racial diversity and racial equality in churches and schools.

    Yes, there will still be some people with closet-racist views, but I’m just pointing out the other side.

  16. I can very vividly remember reading, as a kid, the pamphlet from BJU about why mixing the races was so “dangerous” and sinful. Looking back now, I think I’m more appalled than anything that my dad had the guts to actually bring such disgusting literature into the country where we were missionaries–Grenada has a population of mainly black people.

  17. If the above is Darrel is Darrel Lawson, go away. I know this may sound harsh, however, Lawson is a troll…..If this is not Darrell Lawson, then my sincere apology…..

  18. @BJ student

    Yes but remember that apology only came about because hundreds of former students, myself included, sent in a petition demanding the apology and it was almost a decade after the rule was changed. It is a nice gesture, but really that is all it is to me is a gesture. There was no apology back in 2000, and there’d be no apology save the alumni effort.

  19. @Kitty. I have no idea who that is but it’s certainly not me…I’m the guy who writes this blog and I do my best not to do any trolling on it.

  20. Right on, Darrell! Great topic, and a good ending.

    I went to an A.C.E. school in an IFB church. I heard more racist jokes during my seven years at that school, from teachers nonetheless, than I have since.

  21. BJU certainly has skeletons in its closet, but racism is NOT currently “hotly debated” on campus. There is no truth in your statement.

  22. “There are two great lies that I’ve heard:
    The day you eat of the fruit of that tree,
    You will not surely die,
    And that Jesus Christ was a white middle-class republican,
    And if you want to be saved you have to learn
    to be like him.”

    A King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb

  23. @mounty, @Thomas

    You’re missing the point. The problem isn’t that “white churches” embrace white culture and “black churches” embrace black culture. Nor is it about one ethnicity “sticking out” or feeling uncomfortable in a church of a different ethnicity.

    The problem is that fundamentalists view aspects of culture (whether it be white culture, high culture, Western culture, or something else) as being requisites of the Christian faith. Generally, the same cannot be said for the counterexamples you mention.

    Granted, this is partly an extension of a broader problem in the American mindset, as it remains entrenched in education systems (see: ). But like most issues, fundamentalists take it to a whole new level by promoting it from a preference/tradition to a moral imperative.

  24. @Amy

    racism is NOT currently “hotly debated” on campus. There is no truth in your statement.

    Read what I wrote again: “it’s still a hotly debated topic among parts of the student body.”

    Do you claim to know what is being discussed/debated in every single part of the student body at any given time?

    Let’s consider the proposition: you have to prove an absolute negative to be right and I only have to have a witness to one example to be right.

    I have such a first-hand witness, so you may wish to re-think your accusation of lying.

  25. You don’t have to have to be an omnipresent ear on campus round the clock to determine if something is “hotly debated” or not. I’ve been here three years and have never heard any student (or even heard *of* any current student) say anything whatsoever against interracial dating.

    Call that a “hot debate” if you want, but just (please) don’t go insinuating that we’re making stuff up when we politely disagree. I’m not saying that there aren’t any students against interracial dating, it’s just that if there really was a hot debate going on around me for years, I’d most likely have run into it several times by now.

  26. BJ student,

    I went to BJ also, please tell me why they still have a dormitory named after Bibb Graves,
    a former Exalted Cyclops (chapter president) of the Montgomery chapter of the KKK? Maybe they have changed the name of the dorm since I left, please let us all know.

    BTW, it was sin to inter-racially date when I was there. The leaders of BJU will apologize but they will never say that they were just flat out wrong and ask for forgiveness. Even in their mia culpa they never said we sinned.

  27. The Great Fundamentalist Institutions never sin. They just detect subtle changes in God’s will.

  28. “please tell me why they still have a dormitory named after Bibb Graves, a former Exalted Cyclops (chapter president) of the Montgomery chapter of the KKK?”

    There actually is a pretty simple answer for that–everyone who was anyone in the Prohibition- and Depression-era Deep South was associated with or a member of the Klan. The Klan of that era was also more interested in anti-Catholicism (they were a major force against the presidential campaign of Al Smith), anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant ideas, and temperance than in the black/white racial divide.

    None of this make’s Bibbs membership in the Klan okay, but it does call into question his motives. From Wikipedia, citing a study by Glenn Feldman: “it should be noted that both Graves and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, another Alabama Klan member, were more opportunists than ideologues, politicians who used the temporary strength of the Klan to further their careers.”

  29. Bill,

    I never meant to imply that Bob Jones is racially perfect, or that they practiced perfect discernment in naming dorms. All I mentioned was that the apology was a step in the right direction.

    from the apology: “we failed…we are profoundly sorry…BJU was wrong”

    I’m not opposed to criticism of BJU. All I intended to do was point out a silver lining on the issue. I’m not going to vainly attempt a comprehensive debate of BJ dorm-naming or whatever, because on that issue, I totally agree with you.

  30. roloff homes survivor here.

    during my stay at that lovely institution, there were at least 2 people who were kicked out for interracial dating.

    there was a traveling preacher (irish name, o’grady maybe? he wrote a kjv only book and another book about how america was founded by ifb’s…) who came around preaching about how God had set the bounds of the peoples, or something like that (it’s in Acts somewhere) and then explained that this was God’s endorsement of racial seperation. i had been fundy all my life, but that was the first time i’d actually heard Scripture used to back up racism. until then, i figured it was just a cultural thing.

    anyway- this wasn’t in private conversation. it was from the pulpit.

    and it wasn’t in 1950. it was in 2001.

    i, for one, am VERY cautious about labelling somebody a racist, or some viewpoint racism, as i think this is a trump card used in the political realm to shut people up, or make them feel guilty, so i won’t say that racism is implicit in fundyism, but i’ve seen it. i think we all have. and i think the post is spot on.

  31. Darrell. don’t get bent out of shape. As a first-hand witness myself, I disagreed with your “hotly debated” statement. Don’t you want to know if your blog contains something inaccurate or misleading?

    I am torn over this issue. God has used and is using BJU, but I cannot understand how they held to racial policies for so long. They should have been leading the charge for racial equality, not dragging their feet. Christ broke down racial barriers. BJU should have done the same even when it would have been unpopular to do so.

    There is plenty to criticize in BJU’s past. But, that was the past. Presently, racism is not tolerated.

  32. I am ashamed to admit that I grew up in a somewhat subtly racist home and environment. It took me years to see that. And a lot of it was related to IFB influence, although some of it was family background. Inter-racial dating would not have been acceptable in my family.

  33. I can’t believe that no one is mentioning the racial superiority implied by “bus church” in most fundy churches.

    Implications as I see them: 1. These kids are different, lets send them to a different part of our campus. 2. These kids don’t know how to behave, we shouldn’t let them near our good christian kids or their actions might rub off. 3. These kids just can’t understand the deep truths of scripture, let’s just have them color some papers of Jesus and give them a dumbed down gospel message. 4. What if they embarass us in the church service? 5. Just plain old traditional segregation.

  34. Just to add a little additional support to Jordan’s comment about the KKK. I was surprised to find out that in the 1920’s the Kooks in Kone Kostumes had a thriving membership in the small town I grew up in in Maine where the only thing black was the pavement on Main Street. They held fairs that included a booth where you could throw rocks at a plate with a picture of the pope on it.

  35. Amy and BJU student, I think you’re reading into Darrell’s statement a bit. “…it’s still a hotly debated topic among parts of the student body” does not mean that “every student has gotten into a debate about this” or even “every student has heard about the debate” or that “BJU campus is in an uproar debating over this”. I can understand how that statement could be interpreted as one of those, but it’s not what Darrell means.

    Of course this is a hotly debated topic among parts of the student body. The student body is quite diverse. There are parts of the student body among whom women wearing pants or working outside the home are hotly debated as well.

    What is meant by this post is that in IBF circles in general, you are much more likely to run across attitudes like this than in any other place in the US. Despite BJU’s changing the rules and offering an apology (whether under duress or not) and race being a non-issue to a large portion of students, that monster is still there. To pretend it doesn’t exist currently or never did is folly. To confront it and expose it for what it is – unchristian, unbiblical xenophobia – is the purpose here.

    And as a corollary to this blog post, I recently saw some pictures of the 75th anniversary of a large indy/fundy church posted by a friend of mine on Facebook. A more whitebread non-diverse group of people you have never seen in your life – except perhaps on It’s a shame when a church has been in a community for that long and doesn’t reflect the makeup of community.

  36. And by student body being quite diverse, I mean that it’s diverse in a relatively narrow spectrum of beliefs, not that it’s truly that diverse otherwise.

    Talking myself out of a hole now.

  37. It still to this day,(25 years since I graduated) amazes me how the fundy world has accepted BJU’s collection of catholic art which they conveniently call “fine arts”. What a crock.

    Further, BJ III’s best friend (and former trustee of Bob Jones University) is Stuart Epperson (a great guy in my opinion). Stuart is CEO of Salem Communications which happens to be the largest owner of CCM stations in the US. BJU condemns CCM as the work of the devil and then on the other hand takes money from the CEO of Salem. Maybe “BJ student” can shed some light on how this is just a bunch of lies and BJU is as pure as the wind driven snow.

    If you can’t tell by now I HATE double standards! I know that I am a big lie and my only hope is in the righteousness of Christ. Why can’t BJU tell the truth?

  38. Bill,

    I’m not a fundamentalist; I don’t quite understand why I’m supposed to be endlessly defending BJU just because I’m a student here. Like, I said in my previous comment, “I’m not opposed to criticizing BJU.” You seem curiously intent on painting me as a knee-jerk reactionary, assuming that I will readily insist that “BJU is as pure as the wind driven snow.” Why?

    The religious art in the BJU Museum and Gallery is indeed extraordinary, and actually not entirely Catholic either. But no matter anyway, as far as I’m concerned. God can certainly use his Catholic children to paint masterworks too.

    I have seen fundamentalist websites decrying the “Catholic art gallery” here (and my own youth pastor back home didn’t like the “Catholic feel”), but, as someone who’s worked as a guard there for the past couple years, I can truly say they’re really missing out, because the M&G is quite a place indeed.

    1. “God can certainly use his Catholic children to paint masterworks too.” BJU needs more people (students, faculty and administration) who think like this.

  39. BJ Student,

    I apologize, I didn’t mean to single you out or demand that you defend the University. I know that you will get a quality education there and I wish you much success in the future.

    I think you have a better perspective than me when I was a student. I bought into the idea that BJU never did any wrong for the first 2 years that I attended. I began to push back a little my Jr. & Sr. years and was placed on “spiritual probation”.

    I have children your age now (my daughter attends UGA) and it is a joy to see her grow in Christ and pray that you do also.

    I also loved the arts gallery when I attended and visited many times. It is a fabulous collection, I was simply pointing out another double standard…IMO.

  40. BJ Student, guard. Mark Thomas, guard.

    Am I the only thief? HaHa, *kidding*

    I was an art major there and loved the M&G. Odd progression though:

    Racism > Bob Jones > Racism > M&G

  41. GuessWho,

    hmmm…Come to think of it…there IS quite a lack of minorities depicted in M&G — even the Queen of Sheba looks positively European!


  42. Racism was very real, at least in my time with the fundies. I was born into it and didn’t get out until I graduated high school – even though mentally I left around 7th grade. Senior year (’91) of high school, riding in the school van which was being driven by the school secretary, a former missionary to Africa. I was shocked and disgusted when she referred to a group of black people as “jigaboos.” I’m sure she was an effective witness for Jesus in Africa…

  43. As President Bush said: “The Bob Jones policy on interracial dating, I mean I spoke out on interracial dating. I spoke out against that. I spoke out against interracial dating. I
    mean, I support inter–the policy of interracial dating.”

    George W. Bush
    February 25, 2000
    Candidate Bush was referring to the official policies of Bob Jones University.
    From CBS News broadcast.

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