Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Predestination Isn't Just for Calvinists

My hometown of Pensacola, FL is graced with the presence of a very conservative, fundamentalist, Baptist[1] college named Pensacola Christian College. The KJV is the only Bible used on campus, females aren’t allowed to wear pants, and they believe in a Kirk Cameron style pre-trib rapture. Most of my youth pastors were PCC students when they were yelling at us about the evils of AC/DC, MC Hammer, and holding hands with girls[2]. So, one would think that the son of a prominent, fundamentalist, Baptist Pastor in Pensacola would find himself a student at Pensacola Christian College. And one would be wrong.

Not only did I not attend PCC, it was verboten[3]. I’ve been told bits and pieces of the feud between my dad and PCC, but the specifics are still quite a bit fuzzy for me; to be honest, I want them to stay fuzzy; I don't need to know everything. For as long as I can remember, what wasn’t fuzzy was that it was predestined that I would be a Bob Jones University student one day. This thought was a constant in my life, but it wasn’t really a hardship. In fact, I was fairly ambivalent, and at times on the right side of happy about the fact that my future attendance at BJU was a fait accompli.

I wasn’t na├»ve about Bob Jones University and the school’s draconian rules. In fact, I showed up on campus for my freshman year as aware of the rules as anyone probably could be without having grown up on the campus. My family, besides spending many Thanksgivings on campus, had actually vacationed at BJU a couple of times – at The Sword of the Lord Conference, and The World Congress of Fundamentalism. While my parents went to preaching all day, my siblings and I went to day camp. Well, I usually went to day camp. Being filled with faculty/staff brats, day camp sucked. The faculty/staff brats hogged the four-square “courts,” the craft time was lame, and I didn’t get to do what I wanted. Meeting Patch the Pirate at the end of the week was kinda' cool, although anticlimactic, but that was about it. So, on the days that I felt brave, I pretended to get on the bus while my parents were watching. They didn’t watch too closely; they assumed that BJU was watching; I guess BJU assumed that the structure and rules were an appropriate hedge. I, of course, was paying attention, and realized that no one was really watching. So, I would spend the day wandering around campus, pretending to be a spy or a run-away. I would meet my parents at the bus stop for lunches and the end of the day.

The main reason, I think, that I wasn’t bothered by the knowledge that I was going to BJU is that the rules weren’t a change from my status quo, and I had learned to navigate around and through the rules to do pretty much whatever I wanted anyway. Why should BJU be any different? I was confident that the equilibrium that I had achieved in my Christian high school and church youth group would translate quite nicely to BJU. I would put my four years in, and then I’d be free to do whatever I wanted. That and my interactions with BJU students during my junior high and high school years were mostly positive. And, by positive, I mean that my interactions were mainly tutorials in how to break the rules once I got to BJU. For example, during a youth group trip over a Thanksgiving, the BJU students in the prayer group[4] the guys in my youth group were staying with, told us the best places on campus to make out with your girlfriend. My oldest sister told me that the best way to get away with something at BJU was to act like you were supposed to be doing it. I took those pieces of advice (and other pieces of advice) to heart years later when I would wear blue jeans to class, among other things.

My dad frequently scheduled traveling groups from BJU (music and drama groups) to perform at our church; and my school would usually have those groups perform in chapel the next day. Besides the interaction with the group members that the actual events provided, the members would often stay at our house and/or the “prophet’s chamber”[5] in our church, which was next door to our house.

During my senior year, the BJU drama team made their annual (possibly bi-annual) visit. Per the usual arrangements, several of the guys stayed in the prophet’s chamber, including the group’s leader who was a dorm supervisor at BJU the next year - my freshman year. Our youth group room had a ping pong table and an air hockey table[6], and after the service and the food & fellowship in the fellowship hall that followed, my brother and I joined in a ping pong tournament with the members of the drama team that were staying in the prophet’s chamber. My brother and I enjoyed playing ping pong, and hanging out with the older guys was fun. What kicked the fundy ping pong party up a notch was that one of the BJU students, whose first name was Eddie and whose last name was the same as a SNL alum turned movie star, provided color commentary using the voice of Casey Kasem. Of course, the voice of Casey Kasem cannot be used without the generous helping of pop culture references to go along with it.

So, there we were, hanging out well past midnight in the youth group room, playing ping pong, laughing at pop culture references, and singing music that had been preached about in that very youth group room earlier that day. And, not only were the Bob Jones University students leading the charge, the University’s appointed group leader was right there with us, laughing. See, I learned early on that opinions of Bob Jones University deserve far more nuance and subtlety than that typical hater’s bitterade mantra of “LEGALISTS!!!”[7] And I grew up surrounded by BJU "haters" who conveniently ignored the truths about BJU and BJU students that didn't fit with how they were crafting their image about themselves using BJU and fundamentalism as a foil. Even now, whenever someone, specifically someone who claims to be a follower of Christ, says to me, "Man, I would never be able to make it at BJU! I'd get kicked out within a month!" (and this happens fairly frequently) I think to myself, "No you wouldn't. You're no different than many of the people that attended Bob Jones University with me."

I knew that I could survive four years at Bob Jones University. After all, I had survived eighteen years of strict parents, strict youth pastors, and strict schools. So, I planned accordingly during high school. But, there was a hitch that developed over my senior year in high school and that blossomed into a full-fledged tragedy over the summer. I fell in love. Well, as much as “in love” as an eighteen year old with an eighteen year olds undeveloped brain can fall in love. We were convinced that we were going to get married. We had a plan. I would graduate from BJU, we would get married, and then I would go to law school. The plan, that sounded great in May, took on a somber tone come July once the reality of my imminent departure made it into our love letters to each other.

There was a wrinkle that complicated our plan, and that threw a wrench into my *meh* acceptance of my BJU fate. My girlfriend’s dad was on staff at Pensacola Christian College. This meant that not only would we be separated in a couple of months, but she would be attending PCC upon her graduation from high school. That very same conservative, Christian college that my parents’ strictures against had had no bearing on me until that summer. Right down the road from my house was a BJU clone school that also happened to be the school of the love of my life. I began to question the logic of why I wasn’t allowed to attend PCC.

I knew that a direct assault on my dad’s rule wouldn’t be affective, so I tried an end run. I began discretely expressing my desire to go to Florida State. My tactic was dependent on my parent’s taking me seriously, and then confronting them with what I assumed would be the lesser of two evils – PCC. Well, when I wrote “discretely,” I wasn’t kidding. In fact, I was so discrete that my parents never picked up on it. Besides, knowing what I know now, in my parent’s mind, PCC was not the lesser of two evils between PCC and FSU.

My sister, the good one, got me a coveted job at BJU’s Campus Store. Most freshmen in the work-study program[8] got stuck working in the Dining Common. Not only did the work and the work hours suck, but the uniforms were laughably atrocious. Like I’ve already stated, I was already well-versed in BJU lore, so I was very thankful that my sister deemed me worthy of her recommendation to her bosses, rescuing me from the BJU hell that was the Dining Common. That, of course, meant that I, along with the rest of the Campus Store student staff, had to be on campus a week before the rest of the student body arrived. The store had to get ready for book rush.

My girlfriend and I exchanged tearful goodbyes with the promise of fidelity; after all, Christmas break wasn’t that far away. She promised to be miserable without me, and I promised to be miserable without her. She was concerned about the hot upperclassman girls who would be draping themselves all over me. I assured her that I would fight off all the hot upperclassman girls who would be trying to drape themselves all over me. The next day, I sulked the entire eight hour drive from Pensacola to Greenville. My dad cheerfully ignored my angst.  

Being a week early meant that I had the pick of the bunks and shelves in my dorm room. I chose the top of the double bunk, but before I unpacked my suitcases, I taped pictures of my girlfriend on the wall beside my bed, and then, sitting on my bed crying, wrote a letter to her. It was a short letter because my sister, the good one, had told me to meet her at the Dining Common for dinner, and as I walked the half a mile from my dorm to the Dining Common, I began to take stock of the surroundings that seemed much less familiar than the last time I was there that previous Thanksgiving. I missed my girlfriend, yet was excited about being a college student. I was sure that I could handle the rules, but was beginning to feel oppressed by those rules that no longer seemed as malleable now that I was there. More importantly, I began to realize that there was something about the few students walking around that I didn’t understand. It didn’t really matter now, though, I thought. I was a Bob Jones University student, just like them.   

[1] Baptist isn’t in the name, but if you know anything about theology, you know it’s Baptist.
[2] For some reason, it was always the boys who got yelled at. Apparently PCC Bible majors didn’t believe that girls wanted to hold boy’s hands. In my experience, they were often correct.
[3] The true proof of a writer’s skill is being able to work a double negative and a big, fancy word into the same sentence.
[4] A prayer group consists of three rooms that get together every evening to pray - so, roughly 9-12 guys.
[5] The term “prophet’s chamber” derives from the story of Elisha and the Shunammite Woman found in II Kings 4.
[6] It would not be hyperbole to state that I am undefeated in air hockey.
[7] For the record, BJU is not guilty of legalism. Bitterness blinds people to the basic definition of words.
[8] Or whatever BJU called it.


  1. <<"The main reason, I think, that I wasn’t bothered by the knowledge that I was going to BJU is that the rules weren’t a change from my status quo, and I had learned to navigate around and through the rules to do pretty much whatever I wanted anyway. Why should BJU be any different? I was confident that the equilibrium that I had achieved in my Christian high school and church youth group would translate quite nicely to BJU. I would put my four years in, and then I’d be free to do whatever I wanted.">>

    ^I appreciate how clearly you recognized this "economic system" version of righteousness when you were a teenager.

    On a totally different topic: I have to disagree with footnote number 7. And I'm not bitter, so I don't think I'm blinded to the definition of words. Have we talked about this? I think we have. Might need to take it up again.

  2. You're reading too much into that statement. I never viewed the rules as "righteousness" because I wasn't taught that. I was explicitly told, growing up and at BJU, that obeying the rules does not equal righteousness. Everyone has rules. I was used to the rules I lived under, simple as that.