This morning I visited a church here in the west suburbs and heard a sermon that really jarred me. The preacher spoke on original sin, from Romans 5:12-14.
He pointed out that when we are confronted with the evilness of human nature, we tend to shy away from it. We don’t want to be confronted with it. It makes us uncomfortable. We even attack people who bring it to our attention. When victims of atrocities come forward, they are often shunned for making accusations—we don’t want to hear these things, they don’t concern us. Either we blame the victim, or we try to distance ourselves from the situation (They’re the perpetrators—I have nothing to do with this!). Neither of these reactions admits the basic flaw that philosophy has suffered from for centuries (since Genesis 3?): We are evil. Not they, not our surroundings. We.
And I recognized something. I’ve been involved in an effort to draft a letter to my alma mater in support of a statement that their policies and (more importantly) their teachings on race were wrong. God has blessed this effort. Through prayer and contemplation, and a lot of input from many different people, a letter was drafted that I really believe reflects the sincere support, gratitude, and conviction we wanted to convey. Almost 500 students and alumni have signed it.
While I’ve been involved in this effort, I have had a lot of occasions to be confronted with evil. Some of the words and actions that evidenced racism at the university were truly hateful and hard to reconcile with respect for another being created in the image of God. While some of the people who have written us to oppose this letter on various grounds are sincere and kind, others have attacked us with a viciousness that surprised me. Some believe the university was right in its stand against integration. Others just label us “worldly liberals,” or assume we are disrespectful punks looking for trouble. And among those who both oppose and support the letter, I have seen heartbreaking ignorance, bitterness, anger, and fear.
In each of these scenarios, my reaction has been to either blame the victim, or to distance myself from the evil. They are racist. They taught error. They have an axe to grind. They are proud. They fear man more than God. Can you hear the self-righteousness?
At Notre Dame we had this cheer we would do at football games: The whole stadium would chant over and over in unison, “WE ARE ND!” You know what? We are Bob Jones University. All of us who are there, went there, taught there, worked there. When people ask me how I could go to a school that stands for something so repugnant as racism, and I answer, “I didn’t know. It wasn’t a big deal. I never saw it,” that’s a cop-out. I am BJU. I was a part of what went on there. I didn’t speak out, I didn’t even see it, even though it was happening to people I knew. I was afraid. I was ignorant. I was angry. It didn’t concern me. When I sign that letter, asking for a statement that BJU was wrong, I am asking for a statement that I was wrong. Well, here it is:
I was wrong.