Episode 48: Clown Colleges Part 1 - Liberty University and Bob Jones University

This episode covers two well-known Christian fundamentalist institutions of higher learning: Liberty University, started by Jerry Falwell, and Bob Jones University, started by, well, Bob Jones.

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Liberty University

What is Liberty University? According to a great New York Times article called “How Liberty University Built a Billion-Dollar Empire Online”, which everyone should read and which was instrumental for our research in this episode, Liberty is a private “university” targeted at recruiting Christian fundamentalists. It was founded as Lynchburg Baptist college in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Sr., located in Lynchburg, Virgina. It was renamed as Liberty Baptist College in 1977 before finally being christened as Liberty University in 1985.

Jerry Falwell Sr.

A little background on Jerry Falwell Sr. Before becoming the holy roller legend we all came to know and love, Falwell was raised by his secular father and Christian mother in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell’s father, Carey Falwell, was a natural businessman, who came to own numerous successful businesses in a variety of markets. One of those markets happened to also be bootlegging! 

Despite being the heir to a sizeable amount of wealth, it was seizing upon the socialistic preachings of a certain Jewish carpenter -- which you may or may not have heard of -- that catapulted Carey’s son into the upper stratospheres of demagogy. It was in 1956, in the revamped offices of a former bottling company, that he started broadcasting his first sermons on local radio and television.

Despite casting his mother’s piousness as representative of God and his father’s materialism as representative of “the Enemy” (i.e. Satan), Jerry Falwell turned out to have inherited a little Satan in himself, because he ended up churning out an even bigger money-making empire than his father.

Eventually, Falwell would go national with the “Old Time Gospel Hour”, the revenue of which was used to fund Lynchburg Baptist College. Here’s just a small sampling of the kinds of high level important ideas you’ll find from Falwell on this groundbreaking show. Quote, 

Most of these feminists are radical, frustrated lesbians -- many of them -- and man-haters, and failures in their relationships with men, who have declared war on the male gender. The Biblical condemnation of feminism has to do with its radical philosophy and goals. … They've asked for the kind of equality that God never intended.

Falwell would be the first to admit he falls short of the glory of God -- that is, as long as he didn’t say shit so egregious that even the sources of his income (i.e. fundamentalist conservatives) pushback on it. 

And in those more innocent times, when you couldn’t just say whatever the fuck you wanted and the GOP would blindly follow you, he had to apologize after he said that America desrved to be attacked by jihaidsts on 9/11 because of abortion, the ACLU, homosexuality, and feminism, or something. 

Falwell and Sons

Upon dying in 2007 at the age of 73, he left his empire of gibberish to his sons Jerry Jr and Jonathan. Jonathan took over as pulpit for Thomas Road Baptist Church, and Jr. took the lead at the University. According to the New York Times, and this is really great,

As the Great Recession hit, laid-off Americans turned to online education to seek a new economic foothold. After years of trying to save Liberty by cutting costs, Falwell Jr. said, he adopted his father’s vision of saving it through increasing revenues.

And Jr wasn’t kidding around. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and online courses, Jr. was able to fulfill his father’s vision of making a shitload of money by making a shitload of money. By 2010, Liberty University was raking in 420 million dollars a year!

Despite being an outwardly ideological and far right institution, Liberty is hugely dependent upon Uncle Sam shoving dollars up its ass. According to the New York Times, 

By 2017, Liberty students were receiving more than $772 million in total aid from the U.S. Department of Education — nearly $100 million of it in the form of Pell grants and the rest in federal student loans. Among universities nationwide, it ranked sixth in federal aid.

Liberty students also received Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, some $42 million in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available. Although some of that money went to textbooks and nontuition expenses, a vast majority of Liberty’s total revenue that year, which was just above $1 billion, came from taxpayer-funded sources.

And best of all, due to technicalities, Jr was able to evade some of the regulations created by a certain disease disguised as a president. The New York Times notes,

...because Liberty was technically not for-profit, it was spared many of the administration’s new regulations… If anything, Liberty benefited from the crackdown. The Obama administration’s actions helped put out of business large for-profit chains like Corinthian and ITT Technical Institute, clearing formidable competition from the field.

Astute listeners of this podcast will have at this point recognized an overarching theme. And that is: nothing is more useful for the very fine people we cover on this show to get their message out there (and grow their bank account) than that wonderful little thing we like to call the Internet. According to the New York Times,

The real driver of growth at Liberty, it turns out, is not the students who attend classes in Lynchburg but the far greater number of students who are paying for credentials and classes that are delivered remotely, as many as 95,000 in a given year. By 2015, Liberty had quietly become the second-largest provider of online education in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, its student population surpassed only by that of University of Phoenix…

So, why enroll in the first place, whether traditionally or online? What would I get out of my degree from going to this place? According to Liberty University’s “About” section on their website, we’re told, 

Liberty graduates are sought after by prestigious companies for their integrity, personal discipline, and versatility. They are confident and competent, ready to make a lasting impact on their profession and their community.

Maybe Brent can help me with this. I’ve always been confused about why a true follower of Christ would want to go to a University to get a high paying job at a “prestigious company”. As Jesus put it, after all,

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me... How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Mt. 19:21,23-24) 

Speaking of being rich, Liberty University’s assets are worth a whopping 2.5 billion dollars! And Jerry Falwell Jr.’s personal salary is at almost 1 million dollars a year. Quoting the New York Times article again, 

Liberty, [Jr.] said, is simply being shrewd about keeping costs down, while plowing revenue back into the university.

Given that the University is such a behemoth, you’d think that the quality of education you’d get there would be first-rate, right? Not exactly. Again from the New York Times piece,

U.S. News and World Report clumps Liberty in the lowest quartile of institutions in its “national universities” category. Some of its programs have strong reputations, among them nursing, engineering and flight school. But the college is limited in its ability to compete for premier faculty, not only because its politics are out of step with the greater academic community, but also because none of its programs, with the exception of its law school, offer tenure.

As Brent alluded to earlier, Jerry Falwell Jr. is a big league Trump fan. In fact, despite Trump’s decidedly un-Christian performance in a January 2016 speech at Liberty University, Falwell Jr. ended up becoming one of Trump’s biggest supporters. As NPR reports, quote, 

He mispronounced a book of the Bible. He cursed — twice. And on Martin Luther King Day, the GOP presidential candidate said he was honoring the slain civil-rights leader by dedicating to him the record crowds he says he drew for the school's opening convocation.

Will E. Young, former editor-in-chief of Champion, Liberty’s student newspaper, had a few interesting things to say about Falwell Jr.’s pact with the Devil. Young claims that he deluded himself into thinking that, by simply being silent about the journalistic malpractice he saw regularly with his own eyes, he was just biding his time to one day bring about a great renewal of journalistic integrity at Champion, 

I’d spent the previous three years watching the university administration, led by President Jerry Falwell Jr. (who took a very micromanaging interest), meddle in our coverage, revise controversial op-eds and protect its image by stripping damning facts from our stories. Still, I stuck around. I thought that if I wrote with discretion and kept my head down, I could one day win enough trust from the university to protect the integrity of our journalism. I even dreamed we could eventually persuade the administration to let the Champion go independent from its supervision. I was naive.

Here’s just a small sampling of the the lengths Falwell went to protect and promote Trump:

  1. Film students were compelled to complete a propaganda film called “The Trump Prophecy” in order to receive their degrees.

  2. Falwell blocked Champion from running a column about Trump’s Access Hollywood scandal. 

  3. Falwell ordered armed officers to escort an anti-Trump Pastor from the Univeristy premises for a, quote, “unathorized protest”.

  4. In an article about a planned higher education Task Force that none other than Trump himself asked Falwell to lead, Falwell personally edited out all references to possible conflicts of interest.

  5. Deborah Huff, Champion’s faculty advisor, made it clear that any stories about scandals connected to Liberty would be suppressed, even if they showed up in mainstream headlines, such as a Politico piece about Falwell’s undisclosed, shady business dealings revolving around a seedy flophouse secretly owned by Falwell, and Falwell’s defense of Trump’s infamous Charlottesville remarks on Fox and Friends, saying, quote, “President Trump doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

Young ends his piece with this chilling bit of writing,

I still fume when Falwell spews dumbfounding conspiracies online or retweets a bigoted rant from Trump, and I still become uneasy when I see my diploma, which is sitting in a cluttered drawer at my parents’ house. I made amazing friends and memories on campus, but I’m realizing the extent to which I internalized the fear tactics; I still sometimes self-censor my thoughts and writing. How can a college education stifle your freedom of thought? When people ask me if I regret going to Liberty, as many do, I usually pause. I don’t know.

Bob Jones University

The Basic Potted History [1]

Bob Jones University was established in 1927 by Bob Jones Sr as Bob Jones College. Why did he feel the need to establish his own university?

Throughout his travels, Dr. Bob Jones Sr. saw students whose faith was shaken during college, and he recognized the need for a thoroughly Christian college that stood on the absolute authority of the Bible to train America’s youth.

His vision was to establish a training center for Christians from around the world that would be distinguished by its academic excellence, refined standards of behavior, and opportunities to appreciate the performing and visual arts. At the same time, Dr. Jones’ intent was to make a place where Christ would be the center of all thought and conduct.

While starting in Bay County, Florida, the College would move to Cleveland, Tennessee and then again to its final resting place, Greenville, South Carolina. This is also when it was renamed Bob Jones University.

Racist History [1] [2] [3] [4]

Bob Jones did not admit any black students until 1971, 17 years after Brown v. Board of Education if you were curious. But even then, they only admitted married black students from 1971 to 1975. When they sold out to the secular satanic elite in 1975 and admitted unmarried black students, they also banned interracial dating. The ban on interracial dating wouldn’t be lifted until 2000. This was despite the ban putting them on the hook with the IRS. In the 1983 case Bob Jones Uni v. United States, the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, decided that the tax-exempt status Bob Jones University had could be revoked in the name of eliminating racial discrimination, even if the racist practices were deemed religiously required by the university.

So if they were willing to forgo tax exempt status and lose a bunch of money, why the change in 2000? The answer is simple: George W. Bush. W. visited the university on the primary campaign trail in March 2000. While Republican candidates have visited over the years, McCain sought to make this a campaign issue, attributing the racist practices of Bob Jones University directly to W. Presumably being big fans of W. and not wanting his campaign tarnished by their racism, Bob Jones publicly announced on Larry King Live that the policy would be rescinded

Evil Music [1]

Of course, BJU hasn’t TOTALLY sold out. This is very apparent when you take a gander at their student handbook, especially the sections on appropriate music and movies. BJU recognizes that music can be both helpful and harmful to the aspiring Christian, music, 

...can display God’s glory by exhibiting the ideals of purity, dignity, honor, loveliness, virtue and excellence; or … appeal to the flesh and embed the world’s philosophy in the heart and mind of a Christian, drawing him or her away from unhindered communion with Christ.

So far, this seems like a typical policy for an extremist Christian university. The “bad” music is probably the usual suspects like heavy metal and rap. But, no, their policy is MUCH more extreme. 

The following music conflicts with our mission and is therefore excluded from performance, personal listening on and off campus, or use in student organizations, societies, student productions, outreach ministries or social media: 

Any music which, in whole or in part, derives from the following broadly defined genres or their subgenres: Rock, Pop, Country, Jazz, Electronic/Techno, Rap/Hip Hop or the fusion of any of these genres.

In short, your options are extremely limited. But as an aspiring BJU graduate you probably think that this doesn’t apply to your favorite Christian rock band. They’re just talking about those evil rock bands that promote cannibalism and pedophilia or whatever. Well, think again! BJU also bans,

Any music in which Christian lyrics or biblical texts are set to music which is, in whole or in part, derived from any of these genres or their subgenres.

So, basically, only classical music is allowed. This is helpful when you’re using your headphones while exercising, which is thankfully still allowed. 

And, in a totally non-parody of Footloose,

In a related area, because of the sensual nature of many of its forms, dancing is not permitted.

Evil Movies [1]

Unsurprisingly, BJU has a, shall we say, conservative view on which movies their students should be watching. So conservative that most of the time the answer is none,

Students are not to watch television shows, movies or movie trailers on their cell phones or computers on campus. In homes students may view PG-rated movies and movie trailers and TV-PG television programming.

Students also can’t go to a movie theater under any circumstance while they live or work on campus. For some reason, this rule does not apply when students are away from campus during Thanksgiving and spring break. 

Evil video games [1]

Students are not to play video games rated above E10 or games that contain graphic blood or gore, sensual or demonic themes, violent first-person shooting, suggestive dress, bad language or rock music.

Evil Internet [1] [2]

As should be obvious by now, BJU is selective about what websites its students ought to be avoiding, 

Because certain websites often contain extensive sensuality, students are not to view celebrity websites, secular music lyric sites and humor/joke sites.

They also mention online periodicals that promote “an ungodly philosophy or pervasive sensuality”, and so ban,

fashion, model, teen, body-building, video/computer game and television/film magazines, such as Esquire, GQ, People, Entertainment, Yahoo Magazine, Men’s Fitness and ESPN.

BJU also recognizes that some students might feel a strong urge to view certain types of un-Christian content on the Internet. Thankfully, they have a solution,

In order to aid students’ pursuit of purity online, an accountability tool is offered free of charge to all students.

While there is a link to this “accountability tool”, it is broken, but the url indicates that the tool is Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is a website that will “help you quit porn for good.” How does it do this? By telling all your friends everything you do online!

Your allies will receive comprehensive reports of your screen activity, lessening the temptation to look at porn. 

Through meaningful conversations, your allies will be there to pick you up when you fall down, and cheer you on when you succeed. 

With the help of your allies, you can soar to new heights both online and offline, and say goodbye to porn forever.” 

Oh, and you can’t use Skype in your dorm for some reason. 

BJU also has a policy in place regarding the language students use on social media. 

Language should not violate scriptural commands regarding abusive, slanderous, complaining, disrespectful, profane, blasphemous or tale-bearing speech, and content should be biblical and avoid promoting a lifestyle contrary to principles taught in Scripture or at the University.

Gambling [1]

Gambling is, of course, not allowed, and everyone must read the entire paragraph BJU has on the matter.

Gambling—or risking the material provisions of God on chance—is poor stewardship and caters to covetousness and the love of money. It is based on the false premise of “luck” and is a portal for exploitation. Therefore, gambling of any kind is unacceptable for any student.

Dress code [1]

It shouldn’t surprise you that BJU has some strict standards about what students should wear. BJU not only has dress codes for men and women, but different dress codes based on the time of day. “Class Attire” is for Monday through Friday until 5 pm, “Formal Attire” is for Concert, Opera, & Drama Series programs and other special events, and “Church Attire” is for, well, church (although Class Attire is fine for church in the afternoon or evening on weekdays.) 

For women, Class Attire absolutely DOES NOT include,

Jeans of any color, sweatpants, exercise pants, shorts, bib overalls, leggings, pants of any other material or style that is designed to cling, shower shoes, hats (except for those worn for religious reasons) or hooded sweatshirts...

“Casual fabrics” like denim or twill should be avoided for Formal and Church occasions. Gratiously, BJU allows women to wear t-shirts, jeans, athletic pants, and flip-flops after 5 pm on weekdays and on the weekends. 

Men can’t have sideburns lower than the bottom of their ears. There is also a strange caste system regarding beards. Underclassmen have to shave daily, but upperclassmen are allowed short beards. But their beards must be “established” off-campus. Fingers, wristbands, and watches are fine but NO necklaces.

Position Statements [1]

That’s all fine and good but what does BJU believe in. Here is the greatest hits from their page on Position Statements.

On the creation

God created the universe and all organisms including man within a literal 6 day period. On the basis of the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 that week happened less than 10,000 years ago. The reason death even exists is because Eve ate a no-no apple. The genesis flood narrative is literally true. The flood lasted about a year and was “biologically and geologically catastrophic in effect.” Speaking of which, BJU does not have a geology department. Frankly they shouldn’t have a biology department but one thing at a time.

On the sanctity of life

Life begins at conception, although BJU adds a really creepy spin to that idea,

...the Bible does not view procreation as occurring independently of God’s ongoing creative work. Psalm 139:13-16 asserts that God creates human life in the womb. “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. …Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written…the days that were formed for me.” David’s use of personal pronouns implies his humanness and personhood began at the moment of conception. Psalm 139:15 metaphorically compares a mother’s womb to the “depths of the earth” where, says David, “I was being made in secret, intricately woven.”

The fetus at conception is called the “conceptus”, and it is immediately a “viable person with legal rights.” While BJU defends this position by citing several passages from the Bible, they are also happy to inform us,

Developments in modern biology consistently uphold the biblical model of the personhood of the unborn.

After all, immediately at conception the conceptus has the entire genome present, which allows it to “navigate the entire process of intrauterine development, growth, birth, puberty, and adult maturation.” Beyond this, the conceptus only requires the same thing adults do: nutrition, water, and oxygen.

Therefore, we believe that life and personhood begin at conception.

Also, BJU is against euthanasia,

The Scripture does not recognize as legitimate several contemporary justifications for euthanasia, including the right to die with dignity, the relief of financial strains on the family, the relief of burdensomeness to society, or the relief of suffering. We may not understand why God permits indefinite suffering on the part of the dying, or why he allows the elderly to become enduring burdens to their families. But we are certain that God permits trials for the sake of perfecting the Christian’s faith (James 1:2-4).

Pretty standard sexuality stuff; no gay marriage, no sex outside of marriage, etc. But they do talk about transgender issues, stating that God assigned one’s “physical gender” at conception and it would be a dick move to change it. No “beverage alcohol” is allowed. BJU is not a King James Only university, but they do favor the KJV. 

A Return to Music

We briefly mentioned music at BJU above, but a fascinating find is that the Music section on their Position Statements page is the largest section by far. It is even larger than the sections on the Creation and the Sanctity of Life. BJU also provides a handy definition of rock music:

the rock genre is distinguished by the combination of some or all of the following characteristics—sensual singing styles, dominating beat, heavy percussion, overwhelming volume and an overall atmosphere that counteracts self-control, especially when coupled in performance with elements such as a defiant demeanor, immodest attire, sexually suggestive dancing or crude gestures.

They also explain why so-called “Christian rock” is a bad idea:

Attempts to couple worldly vehicles like rock music (and other pop styles) with sacred lyrics and settings create a moral tension for the believer and contradict the Christian’s call to a consecrated approach to life (Rom. 12:1–2).

Sources

“How Liberty University Built a Billion-Dollar Empire Online” by Alec MacGillis/ProPublica

"Archive of Conservative Video Broadcasting" by the Berkeley Center for Right-Wind Studies

“Falwell: I Blew It” By CBSNews.com Staff

“About Liberty” from the Liberty University website

“Citing ‘Two Corinthians,’ Trump Struggles to Make the Sale to Evangelicals” by Jessica Taylor

“Inside Liberty University’s ‘Culture of Fear’” by Will E. Young

“My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse” by Brandon Ambrosino

“History of BJU” from the Bob Jones University website

“Bob Jones University Would Probably Like You To Forget it Once Banned Interracial Dating” by Sarah Jones

“Bob Jones University” by RationalWiki

Bob Jones Uni v. United States

“Bob Jones University Drops Interracial Dating Ban” from Christianity Today

Bob Jones University Student Handbook

Covenant Eyes

Bob Jones University Position Statements

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