Bob Jones University: The Good, The Bad, and the Very Ugly – Pt. 2

Last week i posted the first of three posts about my perspectives as a graduate of Bob Jones University. That first post focussed on a few of the good aspects of the school.

This is the second post and it will focus on two of the bad aspects of the school. I attended Bob Jones University from 1973 through 1977 and graduated with a B.S. in Broadcast Engineering and a minor in Mathematics. The final post (Part 3) will look at the more truly harmful things about the university.

Of the two aspects I want to focus on in this post, the first is personal and the second is doctrinal, but they are related.


This has to do with the core aspect of the rules at Bob Jones University. I could go on endlessly about the individual rules like hair cuts, dress codes, allowable music, etc, etc. However, those are superficial things. The real problem is not the individual rules.

Even if you think some of the rules are absurd, wrong, misguided, arbitrary, or without any biblical basis, you signed up to follow those rules when you enrolled at Bob Jones University. You are completely aware of the consequences of breaking any of the rules. This is called personal responsibility, and is reasonable.

Here is where the core problem of the rules at Bob Jones University lies. Every student is not only responsible for his own conduct, but also for the conduct of every other student. The school considers that if you are aware of any other student breaking a rule and choose not to report that student, then you are equally guilty of violating that rule.

Think about the implications of this:

  • Every student becomes a spy for the school administration
  • Legalism (rule following) is made more important than relationships or friendships
  • You spend 4 years looking over your shoulder wondering who might be watching you
  • Instead of an atmosphere of love and grace you feel an atmosphere of fear and condemnation
  • Instead of a desire to build relationships and friendships you find yourself preferring isolation because the more people who know you, the greater your danger

I’m sure you’re thinking “Well, just don’t break any rules.”

If only it were that easy. You see, i haven’t told you about the catch-all, unquantifiable rule. It’s called “bad attitude”. It is unspecific, involves no particular rule violation, is nebulous and hangs over you like a cloud. There is no defense to being accused of having a bad attitude.

BTW, when i was a student at Bob Jones, each dorm room had four of five students in it. (Each room had a double bunk and a triple bunk). That means that you could not usually develop the deeper friendship you might with a single roommate who you might learn to trust. With three or four others living in the same room with you, you could never be sure one of them wouldn’t report you for some perceived infraction. I’m pretty sure having that many in each room was intentional for just this purpose.

I had nightmares about this aspect of life at Bob Jones University for about 20 years after i graduated. That’s how thoroughly the atmosphere of rules over grace permeated the entire institution.


The difference between an Evangelical Christian and a Fundamentalist Christian is basically a single doctrine known as Separation.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what Separation is:

You should only associate, endorse, or align yourself or your organization with those who agree with the “fundamentals of the faith” which are basically the things enumerated in the Bob Jones University Creed: the inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, that Jesus is God, that salvation comes only by the grace obtained from the death of Jesus on the cross.

That seems pretty straight forward until you start to apply it in the real world.

The first problem you run into are degrees of separation. Let me explain:

  • First degree separation is simple. You don’t associate, endorse or align with anyone or any organization which does not hold to all these doctrines. For instance, someone who isn’t sure Jesus was actually God, or an organization that thinks the Bible is not inspired by God.
  • Second degree separation can get very messy. It says that you can’t associate, endorse or align yourself with someone who associates with, endorses or aligns themselves with anyone who doesn’t agree with the doctrines above. This becomes problematic as it means you end up having to know every person or organization that the person you want to associate with, endorse or align with in turn associates with, aligns with or endorses.

According to Bob Jones University, a true fundamentalist is only someone who practices second degree separation. Those who practice just first degree separation are labelled as pseudo-fundamentalists. Bob Jones is big on labelling things.

The second problem is even more impactful. According to this doctrine of Separation, you can not align or associate with others who have a common cause if they disagree with one of the “fundamentals of the faith”

  • You can’t join with an a political organization (from the 80’s) like the Moral Majority because it could have in it those who violate the “fundamentals”
  • You can’t protest abortion along with Catholics because they hold to a different doctrine of salvation (at least according to Bob Jones University)
  • You can’t participate in a Billy Graham crusade because he is known to have had association with those who do not believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

I realize those three examples are dated, but they are ones i am familiar with and typical of the application of Separation by fundamentalist Christians.

Please note that you may see a pattern here between the Personal and the Doctrinal issues. The essence of second degree separation is that not only are you responsible for who you associate with, but you are also responsible for who everyone else associates with. Just. Like. Students. And. Rules.

The fundamentalist system as practiced by Bob Jones University is that you are your brother’s keeper and also the keeper of your brother’s friends and their friends, etc etc. It is an institution whose foundation is all about finding fault with others.

Personal accountability is irrelevant. Or rather, it is the beginning, but not the ending. You are responsible for those over whom you have no relationship or authority. Fundamentalists are extremely isolationist as well as being vocally critical of those whom they disagree with.

I find both of these aspects contrary to the gospel and to the clear teaching of scripture about love for others. Fundamentalists will say that by being critical or isolating themselves from others that they are “speaking the truth in love”. It’s a nice phrase, but as someone who lived that life for four years, i can unequivocally say that there is actually no love in the “truth” which they express.

You can look at the fundamentalists you hear about in the news and please decide for yourself whether love is something which springs to mind.

The next post will move from the bad to the very ugly.

Here is a link to Part 1.

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