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Wheaton Kosher Part 3: Bob Jones

September 24, 2012

In this last series I have been looking at problematic issues within the Wheaton College student culture (or, at least, within the parts of the culture that I hang around), and trying as hard as possible to step on as many toes as I can. My prime goal in this series is to be as offensive as possible within the parameters of charitable Christian thought, because an offended person is someone who is having their thought challenged. There is no inherent virtue in having thought challenged just for the heck of it, but to try to get someone to re-assess the way they live their life in hopes that they will live it better is a noble goal. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and he was pretty spot-on when he said it.

All colleges have their rivals. Where would Alabama be without Auburn, or UT without Texas A&M? Most of the time these rivalries are sports-related, and lead to mockery of the other college. This is where we get the time-honored tradition of Aggie jokes, Auburn witticisms and true stories about students from Louisiana State University. Here at Wheaton College, however, we have no bitter rivalry with any other sports team, at least nothing to resemble Arkansas and LSU or Alabama and Auburn. So who do we make fun of? Bob Jones University.

It is easy to make fun of Bob Jones University, that bastion of fundamentalism, legalism and all those other “isms” which we all fashionably despise. In fact, it’s too easy to make fun of Bob Jones University. It’s a bit like making fun of a sick, old person or a baby. The target is too helpless to defend itself, too obvious to make for any real humor. Making fun of a place like Bob Jones University is kind of cheating.

Of course, there are many things about BJU that you could complain about–I’m sure I would not be a happy student there. Still, the level of mockery that is directed toward them at this campus is beginning to disturb me. The main thing that bothers me about this mockery is the way we make ourselves look good when we do it. (This is beginning to be a recurring motif in this series.) When someone tells a facile joke about Bob Jones, what they are in effect saying is, “I’m glad that I’m so cool and intellectual, unlike those fundamentalists, legalists, Biblicists, and even that tax collector.”

This superiority to anyone and everyone involved in BJU is held to be beyond debate. Once recently I was playing Halo 3 with some friends when someone walked into the room and remarked that BJU students are forbidden to play said game due to the college rules. Everyone laughed on cue. No one ever considered to think whether BJU was right. If you think about it, maybe there is something slightly sick about a form of recreation that consists of simulating meaningless violence. But we don’t have to think about these sorts of things at Wheaton. We just toss off the phrase “legalism,” like a smoke grenade and run to somewhere more comfortable.

Our arrogant attitude to Bob Jones University seems unwarranted. I could understand if we were arrogant toward them because we were more pious than them–If we made jokes about how little they prayed, how poor their understanding of the Five Points of Calvinism was, etc. But instead, we’re more arrogant than them because of how in-tune with secular pop culture we are. We think we’re superior to them because we’re better at being led. It’s like a McDonald’s addict making fun of a vegan. The freedoms that we have in being able to walk on the same sidewalk as a girl or to watch movies that aren’t Love Comes Softly weren’t given to us to make us arrogant and let us do whatever we want. Freedoms come with responsibility, and too many people use “Christian liberty” as an excuse to watch South Park.

Finally, if we feel comfortable making fun of our brothers and sisters in Christ, however kooky or misguided they may be, how come we don’t feel the same way making fun of the non-Christian world. How come cracking jokes about Bob Jones is acceptable, but we can’t make jokes about gays or drug addicts or atheists? If you’re going to mock Bob Jones, why not throw One Wheaton in there for good measure. Making fun of Bob Jones is fashionable, and that is why it is permitted. Every sin has its fifteen minutes of fame. But if we want to be truly just and merciful toward our fellow saints, I think we need to re-evaluate the way we respond to the foibles of the Body of Christ.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 29, 2012 3:39 am

    I was reminded of Lewis’s explanation of jokes in the Screwtape Letters. The accepted “joke” is not really a joke at all; it is just that all the group laughs, and so I do also. Jokes at the expense of members of the body of Christ should be offensive to all members of the body of Christ. I’ve been guilty of the same kind of thing. Thanks for this post. It was a reminder to examine my own heart in these matters.

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