Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bob Jones University Regains Nonprofit Status…Too Soon?

Bob Jones University regains nonprofit status…too soon? - David Milberg

During the 2000 Presidential election, a bomb was dropped right into the middle of conservative politics in America. While it wasn’t enough to keep George W. Bush, the self-proclaimed born again believer, out of the White House, it shook some segments of the Religious Right to the core. Now, sixteen years after the fallout, the group at the center of the PR crisis is hoping there’s been enough water under the bridge.

The story began when someone leaked the student handbook for Bob Jones University, a Fundamentalist Christian College in Greenville, South Carolina, to the press. In it, plain as day, was a direct prohibition on interracial dating. It was forbidden for the students and highly discouraged among the faculty and others connected to the college. A ban on interracial dating or marriage in the year 2000? Yes … and now the whole country heard about it.

The revelation was a huge black eye for the college and for the Religious Right. While the vast majority of people who aligned politically with that movement didn’t subscribe to these ideas, the entire group was immediately broad brush painted, forcing then university president, Bob Jones III to go on Larry King Live to defend his school’s reputation.

That interview was a hot mess and created more problems than it solved for the school. During the interview, Jones said he and the school were not racist. They just believed that interracial dating and marriage was one step toward a one-world government, which, according to Jones, is anti-Christ. Most folks came away from that interview more confused than enlightened. Some said it would have been better for Jones to say, “hey, this is South Carolina, and this is how we feel…”

Now, 16 years later, that’s essentially what the school has done. Current leadership has come out and condemned the school’s former views, saying it was “culture” and not “scripture” that guided the decision. Shorthand, of course, for, “yes, it was racism.” They haven’t come out and said that, but the implication is clear.

Now, after more than a decade of fighting a losing legal battle to keep their nonprofit status and their “cultural” prohibitions, followed by 16 years of keeping a low profile and hoping the scandal would become yesterday’s news, Bob Jones University has regained its nonprofit status.

When he came on board as president in 2014, Steve Pettit, said he believed so. He wanted the school to regain its lost status, and he believed more than a decade was certainly time enough for penance of past sins. The IRS agreed, granting the petition recently.

But has enough time elapsed? Every story about the change mentions the scandal and the context of why the school lost its status in the first place. Culture has shifted a great deal in the past two decades. What will Millennial Christians, who likely never heard of this scandal but form the base for the school’s latest recruiting crop, think when they hear the news? Is 16 years enough time to erase these ideas, or will the decision to apply for nonprofit status now come back to bite the college by introducing a new generation to the scandal that created the mess in the first place?

David Milberg is a financial analyst in NYC. He is a long-time owner of Milberg Factors, a factoring and finance company with locations in New York, California, and North Carolina.

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