THE FUROR OVER George W. Bush's campaign speech at Bob Jones University is full of ironies. Candidates have visited the campus in search of Republican votes ever since 1980 with no discernible repercussions--until now. In addition, John McCain's criticism of Bush's failure to attack the university's now-famous policy against interracial dating and its hostility toward Catholicism came only after his own staff failed to arrange an appearance there. (Instead, McCain attended services at a BJU stronghold, Hampton Park Baptist Church, albeit without having a chance to offer his own views on courting practices or the pope.) More disturbingly, the episode revealed America's doyens of tolerance and inclusion exhibiting precious little of either.
Adherents of BJU's version of separatist fundamentalism have al ways been a little paranoid, but even they were surprised by the terms of reproach that descended after McCain's attack. Consider the descriptions of the institution's inhabitants by various New York Times columnists: they were "racists, homophobes, pope-haters, anti-Semites," who held "disgusting" and "perverse" views. The terms "racist" and "anti-Catholic" quickly became obligatory modifiers for "Bob Jones University."
The school does prohibit interracial dating--or it did until a few weeks ago, when university president Bob Jones III rescinded the policy. It also rejects the Catholic Church (and almost all Protestant churches, for that matter), sometimes in less than civil language. And it holds all sorts of religious and political views long out of fashion. But many other inconvenient facts were ignored in the rush to portray BJU as a sort of Aryan NationsSouth--facts that would give a somewhat more complicated picture of the school.
Several columnists who linked the university to the struggle over the Confederate flag in South Carolina failed to note that Bob Jones III has forcefully urged the flag's removal from the state capitol. Nor did many report that the president of the student body has a biracial heritage, or that Alan Keyes--a black Catholic with an Indian spouse--received more enthusiastic applause at BJU than Bush did, even after taking exception to university policy and doctrine. Though its rule against interracial dating was based on an unusual and unconvincing biblical interpretation, BJU does not preach the superiority of the white race--in a state where some people do. Also, virtually nothing was said about BJU's extensive collection of religious art, much of it by Catholics; its fine Shakespearean productions; radio station WMUU's repertoire of classical music; or the work of BJU nursing students at the local Catholic hospital.
Unlike the national media, most Greenvillians have learned to live with BJU without resort to demonology. One of the reasons is that locals can see the varied aspects of the school. For its part, the university has lowered both physical and social barriers between itself and the city in recent years. …