It is the 14th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1927.
It was the year that the famed “murderers row” of the Yankees won the World Series. Babe Ruth hit his record sixty home runs this year but did not win the MVP. It wasn’t his fault. In those days, one became ineligible for the league award once you had already won it. Ruth signed a record 70,000 dollar a year contract. When asked how he felt about being paid more than the President, Ruth responded, “I had a better year than him.” And that was an understatement. President Calvin Coolidge became so unpopular he declined to run for reelection.
Much of Coolidge’s stress came from the 1927 Mississippi flood. One of the most massive natural disasters in American history, the flood displaced 3/4 of a million people. Racial tensions were stoked when many out of work African Americans were forced into the relief effort, often without pay and unable to leave. One of the results of the aftermath of the flood was the great migration of African Americans to the north and migration from the Republican party. Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, was hailed as the mastermind behind the better aspects of flood relief, and this helped propel him to the White House the following year. Spoiler alert: it went exceptionally poorly, and he was a one-term president.
1927 also saw the release of Henry Ford’s new Model A. The father of the automobile had great success with his model T, but by the late 20s, others were passing Ford with customizable features. Ford responded with a Model A that came in various body styles and four different colors. The price of the new car ranged from $385 to $1,200. It is estimated that 1/4 of the American population went to a Ford showroom in ‘27 to see that car that would be sold to over 5 million Americans in its five years of production.
And it was in 1927, on this the 14th of September, that Bob Jones College, later Bob Jones University, first opened its doors. In its almost century in existence, it has ridden on the crest of controversy and fundamentalist culture wars to become one of the biggest names, if not controversial names, in Christian education.
Bob Jones Sr never went to college, but his friend William Jennings Bryan suggested that a Christian college could thrive if it made a defense of 7-day creationism its academic calling card. As American Christians were dividing both theologically and politically, Bob Jones University would cater to the theologically fundamentalist and the culturally conservative. As those two camps aren’t mutually exclusive, they found themselves in a pickle in the 1950s when Billy Graham began emphasizing reaching across the aisle for the sake of evangelism. The controversy grew and attendance at Graham’s rallies became a cause for expulsion from the University. It is thought that Graham’s attendance for only one semester at the college before transferring was at the root of Jones Sr’s antipathy for the evangelist.
Moving from Florida to Tennessee and then, to its eventual home in Greenville, S.C., the school has long been controversial not because of its theology but because of its seemingly antiquated rules and the outlandish pronouncements from a long line of Jones family presidents. The school lost a Supreme Court case in 1983 when the court upheld a ruling that Bob Jones University was not eligible for tax-exempt status as they would not amend their segregation era rules against interracial dating.
For most of its existence, the University was neither accredited nor did it compete in intercollegiate sports. Despite this, the post-WW2 college boom and the culture wars of the late 20th century helped to cement Bob Jones University as a center of a certain kind of conservative Christian value. Recently the school named its first non-Jones family president, and the school is attempting to emphasize theological conservatism while distancing itself from its controversial past. It’s a fascinating school whose own history mirrors and reflects 20th-century American evangelical history. And their history began on this, the 14th of September, in 1927.
The reading for today comes from Afua Kuma, a 20th-century Ghanaian poet. This, her “Chief Who Listens to the Poor,” translated by Father Jon Kirby, is a poem in a traditional African form, but with Jesus substituting for an earthly chief.
Chief Who Listens To The Poor
Chief who listens to the poor, humble King,
your words are precious jewels.
We don’t buy them, we don’t beg for them;
you give them to us freely!
Giver of good gifts, we are waiting for you,
And the sick are waiting for medicine.
O Jesus, you have swallowed death
and every kind of disease,
And have made us whole again.
That was Chief Who listens to the Poor by Afua Kuma, translated by Jon Kirby, and thanks to D.S. Martin’s Kingdom Poets Blog.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of September 2020, presented by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who, in lieu of a nickname today, I implore you to look at the credits for this show and click on all the things he does…coffee roasting, podcasting, preaching. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.