Taking the Bob Out of Bob Jones U.

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By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005

GREENVILLE, S.C.

Is Bob Jones University going to the Devil?

Could America's most famous bastion of hard-core Christian fundamentalism and pugnacious political conservatism be getting a little . . . soft? There are signs, portents.

In 2000, Bob Jones III, president of the university and grandson of the Founder, announced on "Larry King Live" that the school was ending its ban on interracial dating, long defended because "God has separated people for His own purpose."

In 2003, the school ended the practice of ringing the dorm bells at 6:55 a.m. to rouse students for daily room inspections.

Last year, the university applied for (and received) accreditation, a process it had always avoided because, as Bob Jones III once said, "accrediting associations will not approve our educational process if it does not include the worship of their gods."

And on Saturday, for the first time in its 78-year history, Bob Jones University will inaugurate a president not named Bob Jones.

For eight decades, BJU has been led by three generations of Bob Joneses -- preachers who pioneered a combative and highly political form of fundamentalism that gave rise to the "Christian Right." The Joneses became famous touting politicians they liked -- George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, George W. Bush -- while hurling thunderbolts of quotable vitriol at apostates, back-sliders and liberals.

Bob Jones, the hellfire-and-brimstone evangelist who founded the nondenominational Protestant school in 1927, railed against the Catholic Church, which stands, he said, "for ignorance and superstition and the slavery of the human soul."

Bob Jones Jr. pilloried Secretary of State Alexander Haig as "a monster in human flesh" and publicly prayed that God would "smite him hip and thigh, bone and marrow, heart and lungs."

Bob Jones III denounced Ronald Reagan as "a traitor to God's people" for the sin of choosing as his vice president George H.W. Bush, whom Jones called "a devil."

But at Saturday's graduation ceremony, the presidency will pass to Stephen B. Jones, 35, the Founder's great-grandson, a mild-mannered fellow who describes himself as "laid-back" and says he doubts that he'll be calling on God to smite anyone.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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