Dec 052004
 

Dr. Bob Jones, III
Bob Jones University
1700 Wade Hampton Blvd.
Greenville, SC 29614

Dear Dr. Jones:

I am writing you today about a very serious concern of millions of Christians across America who you, in a recent public letter, blatantly insulted and demeaned. As a person claiming to be a leader in the Christian faith, your statement was not, by any explanation, acceptable. I am, of course, speaking of the statement you made in the recent congratulatory letter to George Bush, in which you state, “You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ.”

As former U.S. Senator Gary Hart said, “Liberals are not against religion. They are against hypocrisy, exclusion and judgmentalism. They resist the notion that one side or the other possesses “the truth” to the exclusion of others. There is a great difference between Cotton Mather and John Wesley.”

I was raised a church-going Christian. My faith has been tested, and I have chosen to remain a Christian, and return to my religious roots in the Methodist Church. I consider myself, like Jesus himself, to be a liberal on social issues. But leaving me out of this, two people I most highly respect are my mother and the Senior Pastor at my current church here in Tampa. Both would most certainly describe themselves as liberal, and for you to say they “despise Christ,” is not part of any description of “Christian” I can find.

Besides the standard, “thou shalt not judge” Scriptures, for you to say such a thing denigrates a forty-plus year ministry by my Pastor. And sir, my mother is one of the most Christian people I know. She has served her family, her church, and her community in ways you could never come close, and frankly, I resent your characterization of them both. To say they despise Christ is the greatest of insults to these two people.

I contacted your organization and spoke with a nice gentleman in your public affairs office. He offered several possible explanations and excuses for your comment. I will address each.

His first explanation was that the letter was never meant to be made public. This explanation is false on its face. In your P.S., you refer to reading the letter in an open forum, and your organization placed the letter on a public website. Therefore, it was dishonest of him to offer this an excuse. But worse yet is the belief of your organization that these sentiments might be okay, so long as they are kept private. Sir, as a Christian, what is in your heart is even more important than what you say in public. Clearly, this is the opinion of your heart, and being that you claim to be a Christian leader, this is indeed disturbing.

Your spokesperson went on to explain that another possible explanation was that you had poorly chosen your words, and should have used phrases rather than words to more precisely identify the specific group/s you were targeting with your hateful rhetoric. When I asked if that meant that a clarification and apology would be forthcoming, I was advised it would not. Lacking such a statement, it is only reasonable to assume that means you stand by the words you have written and spoken as they are.

He went on to attempt to clarify the specific groups he believed you were addressing in the letter, that being those who want to take religion out of the public square (government). That being the case, I fail to understand why you would be so insulting and disrespectful of so many of our founding fathers and national leaders.

Time and again, the founders cautioned against mixing church and state. They realized it was bad for both. Let history be your guide Dr. Jones, it can serve us well to learn the lessons of our history.

Despite the widespread prejudice against non-Protestant and non-Christian religions, religious minorities in this country have had remarkable freedom to proselytize and worship. Near the end of the 1800s, most of the government supported religious institutions faded on their own, and for over a hundred years our public institutions (libraries, schools, and universities) have been predominantly secular. Separation has had none of the negative side effects that its detractors have feared. Americans remain overwhelming Christian with a belief in God. If anything, separation of church and state has spared our country the religious infighting that has characterized the history of so much of the rest of the civilized world.

One can only conclude that separation of church and state is good for religion. When religion is supported by the state (as, for example, in most of Western Europe) people loose their initiative and passion (eg., only a tiny percentage of Western Europeans are actively involved in religion, despite the widespread existence of state supported churches, and in this country, as the more vocal conservative religious leaders have demanded greater reach into government, people have, while retaining their belief in God, left the church in hordes). Conversely, when the state uses its power to suppress religion generally (as, for example, in Eastern Europe), or particularly (as, for example, in Africa and the Middle East), it results in social unrest, civil war, and religious genocide (eg., Bosnia and Angola). The best policy is to follow the teachings of one of freedoms biggest defenders, Thomas Jefferson.

Writing the Statute for Relgious Freedom in 1779, Jefferson says, “To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.” Writing to New London Methodists in 1809, Jefferson clearly reiterates his position: “Our Constitution has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose.”

But Jefferson not only insists that the Civil Magistrate (government) stay out of religion, he clearly cautions that religious leaders should stay out of government. In 1815, Jefferson writes in a letter to P. H. Wendover, “Whenever preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.”

Over an over again, Jefferson warns us away from intertwining government and religion. In 1813 he writes to Alexander von Humboldt to say, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” And in 1814 he writes, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” In this statement, Jefferson was not only citing history, but being prophetic.

James Madison wrote in, “A Memorial and Remonstrance,” in 1785, “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”

The current Administration is not a just administration. The policies of the Bush Administration do NOT, by any definition, reflect any of the Christian teachings of the Jesus that I know. Yet in your diatribe, you speak of George Bush as, “living, speaking, and making decisions as one who knows the Bible to be eternally true.”

If we are to insert “faith” into the public dialogue more directly and assertively, let’s not be selective. Let us go all the way. Let’s not just define “faith” in terms of the law and judgment; let’s define it also in terms of love, caring, forgiveness. Compassionate conservatives can believe social ills should be addressed by charity and the private sector; liberals can believe that the government has a role to play in correcting social injustice. But both can agree that human need, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and sickness must be addressed.

Under the economic policies of the current Administration, the rich get richer while the middle class and the poor hold their ground if they are lucky, and lose ground if they are not. And there is the ever-growing threat of unemployment. For the vast majority of our fellow citizens, the pittance of Bush’s federal tax refunds are more than offset by the necessary increases in state and local taxes and in the loss of government services fire and police protection, health care, public schooling, financial aid for higher education.

Let me remind you once more The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: (Matt. 5)

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.

Fundamentalists like to ask: “What would Jesus do?” Good question! So let’s ask:

  • Would Jesus launch a war of choice against a non-threatening country?
  • Would Jesus cut back on school lunches for poor children?
  • Would Jesus decline to comfort those who mourn as the soldiers’ caskets arrive at Dover Air Force base?
  • Would Jesus sign 155 death warrants, giving the clemency appeals only a cursory glance?

George Bush wants to tell the world that he’s been “born again.” But born again to what? To pacifism, humility, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, frugality? The Bible teaches that “By their fruits shall ye know them. (Matt: 7:20)” It seems that Mr. Bush has not learned very much from his “favorite philosopher.” As the Bible says about people like Carl Rove and George Bush, who would misuse religion for personal power and reward, “Beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew, 7:15)

Christian Fundamentalists, such as yourself, believe that the recorded words of Jesus in the Gospels are the words of God Himself. And the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that they contain are the central foundation of Christian ethics. What fundamentalist Christian would deny that Jesus said, and meant, “Blessed are the Peacemakers?” If they believe this, then if they would “do what Jesus would do,” they must come to terms with its full implications.

Your comments also besmirch the memory of at least one great Republican President of the United States. To see how far along a dastardly path you have crawled to the extreme right, it is important to remember that Eisenhower called himself “a militant liberal.” On November 16, 1953, he wrote to John Foster Dulles that his Administration was “committed to…policies that will bring the greatest good to the greatest number. This means that there must be lifted from the minds of men the fears of disaster, poverty, and old age.” He campaigned for national healthcare and appointed former Women’s Army Corps commander Oveta Culp Hobby to head his new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Together with Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Esther Lape, Hobby and Eisenhower fought for a single-payer health system to cover all Americans. Eisenhower increased the minimum wage, extended the excess-profits tax, expanded the public-housing program and warned the nation of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, which he originally called the Congressional-industrial-military complex.

Eisenhower wrote his brother Edgar on May 2, 1956: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again…. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt…a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

A neglected thread of church doctrine was the social gospel of John and Charles Wesley, the great reformers of late 18th-century Methodism. The Wesley brothers preached salvation through grace but also preached the duty of Christians, based solidly on Jesus’ teachings, to minister to those less fortunate. My political philosophy springs directly from Jesus’ teachings and is the reason I became a member of the Democratic Party. Finally, in the qualification-to-speak category, I will seek to pre-empt the ad hominem disqualifiers. I am a sinner. I only ask for the same degree of forgiveness from my critics that they were willing to grant George W. Bush for his transgressions.

So what have liberals given America? We nasty lefties have brought you Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, the 40 hour work week, consumer protection laws, child labor laws, welfare for the poor, food stamps, school lunch programs, Civil Rights legislation, Affirmative Action, pressure to respect human rights worldwide, the original GI Bill, the Veteran’s Administration, various Clean Air & Water Acts (not written by the polluters themselves until the Republican “revolution”), worker’s health and safety laws, anti-discrimination laws (pertaining to sex, nationality, color, disabilities, age, religion, etc., etc.), laws regulating airlines and trucking and savings and loans and banks and phones and utilities, Truth in Lending regulations, the Freedom of Information Act, the Brown Act requiring (among other beneficial things usually ignored by local school boards) all government meetings to be open to the public, the Family Leave Act, tax-free IRA’s, most existing national parks and wilderness areas, protection of endangered species, NASA and Americans walking on the moon, constant support for the separation of church and state and the First Amendment, every campaign finance limitation law since 1950, support for worker’s rights to organize, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), the National Endowment for the Arts, windfall taxes on profits from price fixing and consumer gouging by oil companies, support for equal rights for all women and the control of their bodies left to them, mandatory installation of safety belts and air bags and ABS and higher fuel economy in all autos sold in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control, minimum taxes on the wealthy and corporations, renter’s tax credits in California, the list goes on and on but I think you get the idea.

So Dr. Jones, the challenge for all of us is to work to have the kind of society for which Jesus worked. He too was a liberal, and a radical of his day. As Benjamin Franklin wrote to his father in a letter in 1783, “I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. The scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined on what we thought but what we did.” I would caution you, that your words are hateful and demeaning, and that the many Christian liberals of this country are owed an apology. I pray that our loving, inclusive and compassionate God will lead you to that revelation.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you wish discuss this matter further.

Yours in Christ,
B. John Masters, Jr.

Open Our Minds and Hearts

I pray that we may at all times keep our minds open to new ideas and shun dogma; that we may grow in our understanding of the nature of all living beings and our connectedness with the natural world; that we may become ever more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life…

I pray that we may learn the peace that comes with forgiving and the strength we gain in loving; that we may learn to take nothing for granted in this life; that we may learn to see and understand with our hearts; that we may learn to join in our being.

– Jane Goodall

  No Responses to “An Open Letter to Dr. Bob Jones, III”

Comments (1)
  1. John,

    Your letter to Dr. Jones prompted me to send him the following e-mail:

    Dear Dr. Jones,

    Did you really write to President Bush, ?You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ.??

    This seems troublesome counsel from a ‘Christian’ to a leader. Should we not counsel a leader to be more Christlike? Christ did not only lead those who agreed with him. Christ did not align himself with the popular nor with the majority, but he associated with, healed and redeemed the least, the socially rejected, those scorned by mainstream society.

    In this manner, liberals, who identify with and act on behalf of the poor, orphans, widows, and prisoners, seem far more Christlike than many who call themselves Christians today.

    Simply becasue a duck calls itself a dog, does not mean that it can bark or have puppies. We shall all be known by the fruits of our labor.

    Sincerely,

    Kevin W. Allison

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.