Bob Jones University: conservative from start

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/1/2000

ob Jones Sr., the founder of the university that today bears his name, was a well-known evangelist at the turn of the century whose family has remained committed over the years to the most conservative, and occasionally separatist, form of fundamentalist Protestantism.

The 11th child of an Alabama sharecropper, Jones started Bob Jones College in College Point, Fla., in 1926 when his followers complained that their children were losing their faith upon attending college.

The school struggled under Jones, even going bankrupt in 1933, but moved to Cleveland, Tenn., and then in 1947 to its current location in Greenville, S.C., where it was revitalized under the leadership of Jones's fiery-tongued son, Bob Jones Jr. The school now has about 5,000 students and is run by Bob Jones III.

Jones Sr. and his son were so conservative that they distanced themselves from the Revs. Billy Graham, a former student, and Jerry Falwell, as well as from the National Evangelical Association, because they worked with ministers perceived as liberal, according to Washington and Lee University historian Mark Dallhouse, author of ''An Island in the Lake of Fire: Bob Jones University, Fundamentalism, and the Separatist Movement.''

The university, which teaches that the Bible is literally true, requires every faculty and staff member annually to sign a document affirming belief in the university's creed.

Under the leadership of Jones Jr., the university broadly expanded its academic offerings.

''He was much more academically oriented, but he also had quite a tongue,'' Dallhouse said. ''He's the one who called the Catholic Church a satanic cult. He could wield quite a venomous tongue.''

In 1928, Jones Sr. campaigned in Alabama against the presidential candidacy of Governor Alfred Smith of New York, the first Catholic to be nominated for president. Years later, Jones Jr. was quoted comparing the Catholic Eucharist to cannibalism.

Today, the school's Web site says, ''We love the practicing Catholic and earnestly desire to see him accept the Christ of the Cross, leave the false system that has enslaved his soul, and enjoy the freedom of sins forgiven that is available for any of us in Christ alone.''

In the 1970s, the university lost its federal tax-exempt status because of its prohibition of interracial dating among students.

Bob Jones IV, a frequent contributor to World magazine, recently drew attention for his critical profile of GOP presidential candidate John McCain, a senator from Arizona. The magazine is edited by an adviser to McCain's rival, Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Meanwhile in Washington yesterday, several Democrats said they would push for Congress to condemn Bob Jones University for barring interracial dating and espousing anti-Catholic views. Republicans slammed the plan as an effort to embarrass Bush, who has fended off accusations that his appearance at the school was a tacit endorsement of its teachings.