Bob Jones University dean warms up to Romney
Mitt Romney addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum today in Washington. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
by Mark Silva
Word that the dean at Bob Jones University is ready to endorse Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the presidential contest has opposition researchers digging out the files on the evangelical college in South Carolina that once banned interracial dating on campus and whose former president once called Mormonism a “cult.’’
Robert Taylor, dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, has told the Wall Street Journal that he believes the former Massachusetts governor is the only Republican who stands a chance of winning the White House and who also can be counted on to press a conservative Christian agenda.
“The fact that I’m seen as a religious right person would hopefully get others to step out for him,” Taylor said in an interview in Greenville, S.C., the university’s hometown.
“I don’t have any endorsements to confirm or announce,’’ Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden told the Swamp today. “But, we are very grateful for the ever-growing support Governor Romney is getting from conservatives and grassroots activists in South Carolina and across the country.’’
Taylor’s soon-to-be announced endorsement, the Journal notes, “marks a stunning move for such a high-placed academic at Bob Jones University.” The Journal’s Michael Phillips notes that in 2000, Bob Jones III, then president of the university, wrote a public letter that referred to Mormonism and Catholicism as “cults which call themselves Christian.”
Romney, of course, is a Mormon — and he is actively courting the evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party, which accounts for a little more than one third of all Republican voters, according to a recent survey of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. One quarter of the Republican evangelicals surveyed say they would be unlikely to vote for a Mormon.
Taylor told his interviewer that endorsing a Mormon for president risks alienating the university’s conservative donors and alumni, but says: “We’re not electing a pastor — we’re electing a president.”
And so the diggers have started dusting off their Bob Jones files:
Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status in 1970 for refusing to admit African-Americans. The school then changed its policy but still prohibited any interracial dating or marriage. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court supported an IRS decision to remove tax-exempt status from the school for its dating policy, which included rules such as “students who date outside their own race will be expelled.” [The Tax Lawyer, Winter 1984)
The university still bnned interracial dating in 1998. In 1998, James Landrith, who is white, tried to apply to the school even though he is married to an African American woman. According to National Public Radio, Landrith received this response to his application: “I noticed on your application that you are interracially married. Bob Jones University does not endorse this. It would be no problem for you to be a student here as long as your wife was not or vice versa.” [NPR, 4/15/99]
On “Larry King Live” in March 2000, Bob Jones III said that the university had dropped the ban on interrracial dating as of March 3, 2000. Jones said the national scrutiny the school has received since George W. Bush’s campaign appearance there in 2000 led to the decision to drop the policy. Jones III also said that the foundation for the ban was still true — “that God made the races separate for his own purpose, and it is wrong to break down the barriers God erected, that it could lead to dangerous ‘one-worldism’’…. but that students and alumni were coming under too much criticism for the policy.
Three days after announcing that the ban on interracial dating was dropped from school policy, BJU President Bob Jones III announced that students must tell their parents if they become involved in an interracial relationship. “We will carry out the will of your parents,” Jones III said at the school’s chapel service. “They will need to have a say in this.” The new policy says that parents must send a letter to the dean of men or women approving the relationship before the school will allow it. Jones also said that most people disapprove of interracial dating and marriage. “I think that’s evidenced by the fact that so few people are interracially married,” Jones said to students. “When you date interracially or marry interracially, it cuts you off from people. [Associated Press, 3/7/2000]
In 1994, Jones III protested an agreement between evangelicals and Catholics in the south, saying that “The Christian Church has as much reason to separate from Catholicism as it does from Islam, Mormonism, or any other of the world’s religious deceptions.” The university’s website referred to Catholicism as “a cult which calls itself Christian.” Former university president and founder Bob Jones Jr. called the Pope the antichrist and referred the University’s collection of Catholic art as false, saying that “There is not a lot of good Protestant Christian painting. I had to buy Catholic pictures, despite the falsehoods in them.” [ Associated Press, 4/8/94, 9/11/87; Christian Century, 5/5/93; Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/30/91; Arizona Star, 3/7/2000]
Pat Buchanan kicked off his 2000 general election bid with a stop at Bob Jones University, his third visit to the school. University president Bob Jones III “praised [Buchanan] as a ‘brave soldier’ trying to keep the nation from slipping over the precipice,” according to the New York Times. The paper also said that Jones III stressed “the similarities of Mr. Buchanan and the school as mavericks who revel in defying the mainstream” and noted that the university president called the speech the work of a “lonely man, bravely annunciating the truth.” During his speech, Buchanan discussed “the country’s decline,” and pointed to the acceptance of homosexuality, the Supreme Court, and illegal immigration as examples. [Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2000)
Following Bush’s visit to Bob Jones University, Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson said he would have advised Bush against going to the university. “I think if I’d been advising him, and I wasn’t advising him, I would have advised him not to go to Bob Jones,” Robertson said. “But he felt that they represented a large segment of the voting population in that part of South Carolina, and he gave them his views. He didn’t endorse any of their views. … Bob Jones has been known as a rather extreme place. I mean, any of us in the Christian World understand that they are pretty harsh, you know. … These people are pretty far out to the right. [CNN, “The News With Paula Zahn,” 2/24/00]