Bob Jones and Interracial Dating

Recently in the media there’s been a big fuss about Bob Jones University. Presidential Candidate George W. Bush spoke there, as many politicians have, and the media began harassing Bush for speaking at a university with racist policies. That’s the issue in a nut shell, and I’ve been spending my day mulling it over.

Just what are Bob Jones’ racist policies? They have a rule against interracial dating. It stems from what they call a Biblical principle against a “one-world.” They claim that when God separated people at the Tower of Babel in Genesis, he was stopping humanity’s effort for one nation, one language, one people. Apparently God wanted us spread across the world with different languages, different races, different governments. In opposition to this one-world idea, Bob Jones is against any effort to unite the world. They are against one government, one church, or anything that could lead us down the road towards a one-world system. Therefore they don’t allow interracial dating among their students.

To point out a few things in Bob Jones’ defense, and clear up any rumors, they have no other “racist” policies. In fact, they’ll tell you this rule isn’t a racist rule–and they have a point. Who is it excluding? It’s not demeaning any one race. No one race is being discriminated against. Bob Jones does except students of all races, and they do allow students of interracial marriage to attend. They simply ban interracial dating.

I can’t help but ponder this issue. I don’t agree with Bob Jones’ Biblical support. It sounds to me like they’re grasping straws. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it wasn’t such a touchy issue. But we’re talking about racism here, which is a raw nerve in American history. Forcing people to date within their own race is implying that we shouldn’t befriend people of other races. It implies there’s something about race that makes us different. It could even produce racism towards children of interracial marriage. All of these are only implied results, and I have a feeling someone at Bob Jones would tell me none of these things are true. But I can’t help but wonder if what I’m calling implications of a no interracial dating policy are really glimpses of racist attitudes hidden away in hearts and minds.

Racism and prejudice are issues that run deep in America and have caused a lot of pain and bloodshed. They are not even easy issues to talk about. Making us more aware of our racial differences so we can avoid one another can’t be healthy. Acknowledging our differences and celebrating them is one thing, but acknowledging our differences and keeping our distance is another.

Perhaps you would say that not dating interracially doesn’t mean different races can’t work together. And you’re right. But what kind of message does that give? We can work together, but I can’t date you. There’s something different about you. Bob Jones denies that any one race is superior, but this kind of policy promotes the idea that your own race is better. I’m black, and you’re not black, so I can’t date someone like you. That sentence drips with superiority. You may tell me it’s not there, but I bet you can feel it.

We are all free in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, black or white.

What the issue comes down to, for me, is how do we as Christians deal with an institution like Bob Jones? I disagree with Bob Jones’ stance on this issue. I don’t like how Christians are being dragged through the mud with Bob Jones, guilty by association. But what can I do? Should I even do anything? How are Christians supposed to treat these non-essential issues of the faith? I wouldn’t say the policy makers at Bob Jones University are any less Christian for this stance–I just think they have a misunderstanding of who God is and what he wants for his people. They would probably say the same of me.

But am I to act on that? Will action only serve to further splinter the body of Christ? Or will loving action help to heal hate-filled attitudes and bring us to closer unity? For example, what if Bob Jones University wanted to advertise on What if they wanted to put their logo at the top of these ReAL Thoughts? Is it simply an issue of economics and paying the bills? Or do I need to follow my beliefs? I frankly wouldn’t want to be associated with a school that bans interracial dating. Would I refuse Bob Jones University advertising space?

It’s an issue I’m not totally sure on, especially in the light of other disagreements I’ve had with Christians. In that case, they too have beliefs contrary to mine (again, matters that are not essential to faith in Christ), and yet I’m calling for us to work together despite our differences. Am I being two-faced? Or are these two circumstances different? I’m now seeing both sides of the argument and I’m not sure what can be done. If you want a conclusion I think I can safely say that the church needs to earnestly pursue unity. These kinds of issues need to be addressed and some sense of unity found.

I’ve often heard it said that when certain people die and see who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and when they learn who God really is, certain people are going to be in for a big surprise. I’m beginning to think we’re all going to be in for a big surprise. We all think we know who God is, we think we have him pinned down–but I think we’ll all be in for a shock when we learn the truth.

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