There is temptation here, there is temptation everywhere.
There is sin to be found in the moonlight, sin on the silver screen. There is sin in the touch of lips in the moonlight, in songs of love lost or longed for, in rhythms that make the blood course faster.
The world is so loose in its belief, the students say as they walk along the covered walkways, never on the grass, the world is so loose and there is trouble everywhere.
At The World's Most Unusual University, as they like to call it, although the world is allowed precious little to do with it, God's young soldiers march at a measured pace, out of time and toward eternity: The present can be such a desperate place.
"We are here," says Bob Jones III, the president of the university, the son of its chancellor and the grandson of its founder, "to rescue the perishing and care for the dying, to snatch them in pity from sin and the grave." Lately, however, there has been much to do on a more temporal front; the forces of evil have swept down from Washington, wreaking havoc among God's people.
It began when President Reagan rescinded his support for a tax exemption that earlier had been denied on the grounds that the school was racist; that sent young Dr. Bob, as he is known, out to such heathen forums as the "Donahue" show and People magazine to talk darkly, if in somewhat unaccustomed terms, of how the civil rights of born-again Christians were being denied. But on campus, behind the chain-linked, barbed-wire fence, in the cream-colored buildings, where the 6,500 students of Bob Jones University go about the Lord's work, such worldly concerns matter little. While all the controversy provokes an air of injured pride among the students--"they attack the one school that would stand up for America, that prays for America"--it is not ultimately their concern--"we are not here," say the preacher boys, "to make the world a better place, but to save souls for Jesus Christ." Sanctuary
They like it here.
Not just the students who are dutifully trotted out by the public relations department, but the ones picked off at random. Many of them are from the South and from the Midwest, the sons and daughters of hard-working and God-fearing people; they are not rich kids. In their home towns they attended small, independent churches with names like Mount Bethel Baptist Church, the Gospel Mission Church, the Church of Everlasting Salvation. All their lives they have listened to the stern injunctions of the religion of their fathers, a fundamentalist Christianity that relies on a literal interpretation of the Bible as the directly inspired word of God.
It is an old-time religion that invokes the wrath of its fierce God on a world of the flesh and saves its sense of pleasure for the paradise to come. A personalized religion that feels the breath of God and the hand of God and the intense interest of God in all that a man does.
In a more rural America, it was a religion for hard times, practiced in small country churches whose members dug a living out of an unyielding earth, by the faithful who found little to live for in long harsh days that drained the youth from their women and the high spirits from their men before they had reached the noon of their lives, who had to believe in deliverance from this life in order to go on with the living of it.
And though many of its followers are more affluent now, it protects them still, not from the hardness of life and its difficulties but from an infinitely more complicated despair. "I already know the world is wicked and no good," says Don Unruh, a tall, thin ministerial student, a preacher boy as they call them here. "I've seen what it does to people, how they're always unhappy, always unsatisfied, always searching. To go out and get drunk and come back all bombed out, what's so appealing about that?" High-Class Salvation
The students say they like Bob Jones because here the spiritual aspect of life is not forgotten, they like it because "it doesn't just teach you how to make a living, it teaches you how to live," they like it because it can provide a refuge from complicated questions. But they like it as well because Bob Jones, with its vast auditorium and its award-winning film department and its playing fields and Shakespeare productions, its musical societies and operas, has a grandeur, a physical proof of the blessing of God's bounty, that the tiny little churches along the two-lane roads didn't have, where all the preaching and praying and hymn-singing in the world doesn't quite disguise the fact that if Jesus loves the saved in this life he doesn't seem to have much against the sinners. "Sometimes the unsaved look at the saved as being shabby or tacky," is the way Don Allen, a junior, puts it. "But if you come to Bob Jones, well, it's a place where if something can't be done first class, it isn't done at all." Rules of the Game
In the morning, the rising bell sounds at 7; at night, the lights go out at 11. The students eat their meals together in the dining room the size of a football field, sitting in the seats that are assigned to them. They have 25 minutes to eat dinner; on Sundays they have 10 minutes more. The meals begin with a hymn and are served family-style while over the loudspeaker comes a stern injunction to "avoid conspicuous table manners," and not to talk across the table. At times it seems more like a high school or a reform school than a college, as if the adults were trying to contain a prison riot rather than expand the young minds of their charges. But the students don't see it this way.
"The rules are here for our own good," says Ronda Blackburn, a preacher's daughter, pale and pretty, saved when she was 4. "To protect us from our sinful nature." The rules, says Laura Wood, "set us apart. It's a testimony to what we're all about." And if you love the Lord, says Don Allen, "the rules won't bother you."
The rules, says Dr. Bob, "are like a mold a sculptor would make--you pour the liquid into it and keep it there until it hardens and then you can take the props away; it's like a hothouse for a tender young plant."
And so the girls wear dresses and skirts and stockings, whenever they are not in their dormitories, where, of course, a male student is never seen. The boys dress in jackets and ties and slacks that tend to be overwhelmingly dark blue polyester. Their hair is cut short--tapered in the back, above the ears, and the eyebrows. They tend to be reedy and thin, shorn lambs whose eyes look small, fierce, in their pale uneasy faces.
The male students' hair is checked at compulsory chapel; lately the rumor in the dining hall was that they were checking the girls as well; hairstyles were getting too short, it was said, the girls were beginning to look like boys. Such ambiguity is not acceptable.
If there is one thing in this world that Bob Jones University believes in, it's distinctions, light and dark, heaven and hell, earth and sea, black and white, male and female, sacred and profane--only by drawing the lines can the borders between God's people and the souls of the unsaved be patrolled.
There are so many rules, it hurts the head to think of them. At Bob Jones, a student may not drink or smoke or play cards, or go to the movies or go anywhere in Greenville alone. The students may not dance or even listen to country and western music, and rock 'n' roll is "the music of bestial sex."
All of this is taken very, very seriously, the fundamentalist equivalent of angels dancing on the head of a pin. "When I got here I thought Barry Manilow would be all right," said one sophomore. "But it turned out that Barry Manilow was just as bad as all the rest." "At first I wondered about mustaches," said Don Unruh, "but the Dean of Men explained that mustaches could get out of hand."
Which is the worry, of course: that things can get out of hand, that the world in its infinite variety provides an infinite number of temptations, that one thing leads to another. The tide must be stemmed before the torrent takes hold. Which is why it seems strange that there are no rules against makeup.
The lips of the girls rushing from one class to another glisten red and ripe, their long nails are painted every possible shade of passion. Long lashes are spiked with mascara, bright eyes blink under the weight of a rainbow of eyeshadows. When it is mentioned that this seems somewhat incongruous, what with the emphasis put on avoiding temptation, much less provoking it, it turns out there has been a misapprehension.
The girls of Bob Jones University do not wear make up to attract men. Not at all. Well, not much. "It's good for your testimony to look sharp," Laura Wood explains. "If you're witnessing to a model, and you look like mud, she's not going to listen. The world cares about outside appearances." Besides, says Ronda Blackburn, "If the barn door needs painting, you paint it."
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" --Jeremiah, 17:9
They may not kiss or hold hands or sit together on the grass to contemplate the poetry of a perfect afternoon. They may not date off campus unless they receive written permission and are properly chaperoned. They may not even go the campus planetarium together, because it is so dark inside. But even these prohibitions cannot wreck the chance of romance at Bob Jones University.
Love and desire bloom in strange and fantastic fashion here, the ardent undercurrents so intense that at times the campus resembles an erotic minefield. This is particularly true in the Dating Parlor, an enormous, lamplit, though brightly lamplit, room filled with plush sofas and loveseats. There, strategically placed iron-haired matrons cast ever-vigilant eyes on the couples who sit as if marooned on their islands of flowered chintz and striped velvet, staring raptly into one another's eyes, the moment caught between them, motionless.
Sometimes you see them on campus, boy and girl together, each with a hand curled slightly as if they were holding hands, only they aren't. The hands are cupped that way, her hand mere inches away from his hand, but not touching, never touching, and they walk along this way suspended in their dream.
In the evening, after dinner, in the soft light, as the white blossoms on the pear trees tremble gently in the breeze, the couples seem to be standing in a long and patient line that stretches on to eternity. No, laughs a student, there is no line, this is "the snail trail," the boys are walking the girls back to their dorms, and since this is the last chance to see them that day, they are walking very, very slowly.
These are the chaste rituals of love, encouraging a breathless romance unsinged, untempered by experience. Sure, says Lisa Dale, a junior majoring in English, it's hard sometimes, especially when a friend on campus has a male relative visiting her and you see them embrace and the frustration level just goes off the charts. "No one's going to tell you it isn't rough," she says. "But my dating life used to be the pits in high school. It's so nice not to feel like you have to wear a steel-belted bra, not to worry about where you draw the line."
Instead the line is drawn for them, and although it seems to an outsider that drawing it before the hand-holding stage is somewhat drastic, they disagree. "The temptation always exists; if you play with fire you're going to get burned," says Tim Cline, who by his own admission had fallen into wicked ways in high school, drinking and smoking and chasing after what pass for fast women in Logan, W.Va. "No one's ever satisfied with just holding hands. The war between the flesh and the spirit is always with us."
Besides, says Don Allen, who with his crew cut and snappy jacket and sunrise smile looks like a suddenly resurrected '50s dreamboat of the Tab Hunter variety, "You get to know someone on a very, very strong basis, on an intellectual and emotional basis. You get to know the substance of a person. Love is a commitment, not a feeling. It's something you decide to do. The divorce rate is so high today because men and women are together only for the physical relationship." Young Love
Sitting on a bench in the sunlight are Dickson Beam and Lori Jerby, bright with love. He has red hair and freckles and eager-eyed enthusiasm and she looks up at him from under her brown curls as if he were Galahad, guileless, gifted, tall as an oak. The rules, says Beam, "make you look at things though the school's eyes, so when we leave, we'll look at the world through the Lord's." Everyone, they say, is guilty before God, and as Christians "we have to show them they're in bondage, how they're enslaved by their sin," but such metaphors seem to hang on them heavily, too old, too harsh for the two of them sitting there in the sunshine, in the spring of their lives. Besides, all they look at is each other.
He is 21; she is 19. He has "I love you" written in ink on his hand and she has "I love you" written in ink on hers. They want to get married, they say. How long will they have too wait? "Too long," says Dickson Beam, and he sighs a fervent sigh. World Wary
And don't they ever wonder what they're missing, what possibilities lie in the conversations of the flesh? No, they all say, the pleasures of sin are only for a season. But there is also this: "The world always looks kind of run down," explains Dickson Beam, and when you leave the neat, prim campus of Bob Jones University, the world does indeed look tired and weary and down at the heels. Night falls, the bars are flashing their cold-hearted comfort, and there seems to be no saving grace beyond the temporary attenuation of a permanent despair.
And so the students of Bob Jones preserve a fearful innocence; they have found a way to postpone childhood's end, to keep safe. But out on the street, in the violet light of a warm spring night beginning, out on the street, the unsaved boys gun the engines on the old battered cars and the unsaved girls go by in laughter, wading out into the river of life. What a pity to miss any part of it; to be young is to go over life in a barrel, tasting the salt spray, cold and stinging: the heartstopping risk of it. Chaste Cheerleaders
After class, there are the usual channels in which to channel young energy, extracurricular activities as there on any campus, but here the forms are tempered by the rigid adherence to discipline, to keeping things under control. Sports, for instance, are all intramural; that way, the campus will not be infiltrated by a bunch of beer-guzzling rowdies whose idea of a good time strays considerably from the the Bob Jones way of doing things.
The system has its disadvantages, however; it is, after all, difficult to work up a really good blood lust against one's own classmates, and though the student body is divided up into 52 "literary societies" with Greek names and special colors, membership in the societies is compulsory and loyalty a little forced.
Friday night is the semifinal round of the intramural basketball tournament. The day of the game, the cheerleaders are in uniform, red and white, gray and burgundy, and they walk along with the same insouciant confidence that all cheerleaders have, that must be in the DNA of cheerleader genes, although in this case their pleated skirts come down to mid-calf and the cheers themselves tend to the kind of acrobatics that could just as easily be performed in a body cast.
The game begins, and the team members play with great enthusiasm, if less than perfect skill; the crowd cheers "We Believe! We Believe!" whenever their team comes from behind to tie the game. When finally Delta Theta has triumphed over Basilean, polite pandemonium breaks out briefly and the boisterous high spirits among the winning team members on the court are startling, compared with the prevailing campus decorum. "It's all the Lord's doing," explains the game's high scorer, Dale Baker, as his teammates came up to slap him on the back and offer congratulations. "Last year we were prima donnas, we didn't credit the Lord and we got beat. This year we were humble and He answered our prayers." A Burden on Her Heart
The Mission Prayer Band meets in the evening to pray for the men and women bringing the Word of God to the godless overseas. On Friday nights, men and women students meet together; sometimes there is even a speaker, but on weekdays the sexes remain separate. After dinner, in the twilight, the girls walk over to the War Memorial Chapel to sit in the pews beneath florid paintings of Moses holding the brass serpent, and Isaiah with the hot coal of fire on his lips, and they pray for the missionaries and their flocks.
In the darkened chapel, there are girls standing in the aisles with hand drawn posters indicating where to sit depending on which country you want to pray for, Communist bloc, or Asia, or South America. Laura Wood, smiling shyly, softly sincere, "has a burden for Africa," and so she is handed a manila folder which contains information on a missionary family there, Gordon and Alicia Wimers, Touleplea, Ivory Coast. The information in the sheet has been underlined in magic marker, indicating which items are meant for giving thanks and which need a little working on, green for praise, yellow for prayer.
Gordon and Alicia Wimers are pleased to report that 100 souls now gather on their veranda on Sunday mornings, when it doesn't rain, that is, and they are building a temporary church of mud and brick with a metal roof, and for this Laura Wood gives praise. But the Wimers are also fending off a strong push from a rival church, and this calls for a strong counteroffensive.
Laura bows her blond head in prayer; she herself dreams of becoming a missionary, and in her dream she safely invests all the romance and glamor and sense of adventure that is part of being 21. She will spend the summer in Canada, bringing the word of God to the Manitoba Indians. Seven were saved in last summer's ministry, and this year she wants to help. The trip will cost her $900, and already she has received $500 in anonymous contributions from fellow students who have heard of her trip and know that she cannot afford to go without help.
After the prayers, the girls sing hymns, calling out the number of a particular favorite they would like the others to sing. The high soft voices sing the songs of comfort, sing the songs of rescue far from the fearful ways of the world, and of an almost romantic yearning. "Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart, draw me, my Saviour, so precious Thou art, fold me, O fold me, close to thy breast, shelter me safe in that haven of rest," is the way the song begins that Laura Wood chooses.
She is an assistant prayer captain in her dorm, responsible for leading the nightly prayer meetings and keeping an eye out for worrisome deviations, a junior majoring in elementary education. She explains that it doesn't matter how good you are, how moral a life you lead, unless you admit your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you will suffer in hell, suffer everlasting torments. "That's why we have to go out into the mission fields," she says earnestly. "Jesus has said, 'I am the way, the truth and the light and no one comes to the father except through me. To say that people are going to die and go to Hell who have never had a chance to be saved is to our shame," she says sadly. The Counted Blessings
Most of those who come here are saved children from saved families. Many of them are the issue of a Bob Jones marriage, coming to the convent from the cloister, the Bible Belt equivalent of the old-boy network. But there are more and more waifs here as well, refugees from all the lost tribes of America, seekers who have been scorched on the road to other salvations.
"They gave me a chance when the world would not," is how Kim Leupp describes the odyssey that ended here. Her mother managed a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale as she was growing up, and "I saw her go from man to man, getting beaten by men." When she was 17, she says, her mother bought her a bus ticket and told her to leave town. She found her way to Bob Jones eventually, arriving in blue jeans and a T-shirt; she remembers going down the road to the K mart to buy her first dress. Now she is married to a graduate student here, but she comes by the dorm on a bright Saturday morning as the girls are busy cleaning for the White Glove inspection, spring cleaning in time for the Bible Conference.
"I made it at Bob Jones," she says. "They cared. My mom didn't care if I went to Timbuktu, and here I couldn't even go across the street by myself." She works now as a waitress while her husband finishes school and she smiles at the blessings that abound in her life. "My husband and I are a two-car family," she says proudly. "It was God who gave us the cars, even though half the students here can't afford even one." A Strumming Amigo
Carlos Salinas is tough and wiry, his smile confident, his brown eyes direct in their gaze. Salinas is a Mexican-American from Phoenix; his parents were divorced when he was 9 and his mother worked two jobs to support 13 members of the family. A Roman-Catholic-turned-Mormon-turned-Jehovah's-Witness-turned-Buddhist, he was studying karate and playing rock 'n' roll with a group called the Strumming Amigos when he came to know the Lord.
He was saved after his cousin Jesse, an alcoholic drug addict, came home sober one day and "shared with me that I was a sinner, I was lost and I was going into a Christless eternity." Now, says Salinas, his father has returned to his mother, the entire family has been saved and he himself has "found the thing I was looking for--the peace. There's no more searching."
Now he would like to be a preacher, saving the lost souls of southern California, and to that end Salinas is enrolled in the preacher boy classes, and spends his weekends practicing his ministry. These days, Salinas assists in the relatively safe environs of a nearby country church, but for a while he was making the rounds of the bars in nearby Seneca preaching to the drunks, particularly to the black drunks in a section of town called Ramcat Alley, on the theory that "I wouldn't be so offensive to them since I was Mexican-American."
"The wages of sin is death," he would tell the drunks, and some of them "had a deep respect--'when I stand before you, I feel like I'm standing before God,' " one of the sinners told him. Some of the others, of course, tried to punch his lights out. But it doesn't bother Salinas. After all, he's been there. "I feel like I'm no longer a part of what I used to do, but it doesn't mean that I look down on the people still doing that. My duty, my privilege, is to tell them what happened to me, to go and share the Gospel, and that's what I do."
Tomorrow: Bob Jones, academic life and the racial questions.