• U.S.

Religion: Dr. Bob

3 minute read

One of Manhattan’s most oddly located churches is Calvary Baptist, a stronghold of pure Fundamentalism in West 57th Street within denouncing distance of bars, smart shops, noisy apartment hotels, racy night clubs. Sounding board of the late loud Dr. John Roach Straton, Calvary is seldom without a guest evangelist who fills its auditorium not with the demimonde from nearby streets but with mousy Manhattanites in no need of evangelization. Last week when the news papers were still carrying dispatches from Tennessee where a nine-year-old girl had become a bride (TIME, Feb. 8, 15), news hawks turned up at Calvary to hear a visiting Tennessee preacher, Rev. Dr. Robert Jones. He said Tennessee had set no age limit for marriages because “we just took it for granted that everybody had sense enough not to marry so young. . . We have 50 colleges and universities in Tennessee, and there isn’t a more cultured State in the Union.”

One of Tennessee’s 50 colleges is the most informally-named in the U. S. and, according to its founder, the only one in the world where Greek and Hebrew are required subjects for students majoring in Religion — Bob Jones College in Cleveland. Alabama-born Bob Jones, a tall, husky Methodist who held his first service at 13 and was licensed to preach at 15, founded his institution a decade ago in northern Florida, planning it as a college for preserving the Bible and “the oldtime decencies” and still appealing to young people. He began with 132 students, confounded pedagogs who thought he was setting up a Fundamentalist camp-meeting by soon proving that his freshman class averaged eight points better than those in other Florida institutions. At the behest of the Chamber of Commerce of Cleveland (population 9,100), Bob Jones moved his college into an administration hall; auditorium, library, classrooms and dormitories he built with proceeds from preaching tours. Today he has 400 students, 35 teachers, among whom is many a Ph.D. Bob Jones students take a general course for two years, then are “purged” much as are Communists, whom Bob Jones hates and chiefly preaches against. All students not outstanding in Christian leadership are ousted, the rest shunted into major courses in Speech. Music or Religion. Many of them turn out to be Fundamentalist preachers, although some find that majoring in Religion gives them a firm foundation for such vocations as selling insurance. While “Dr. Bob,” as his students call him, is on preaching tours, his 25-year-old son Bob Jr. becomes acting president of the college. Bob Jones Sr. writes a syndicated column for 200 southern newspapers, gets out a weekly called Fellowship News. No hellfire evangelist, “Dr. Bob” is zealous, says proudly: “We don’t hire any teacher who believes in Evolution. We tell students about Darwin, Huxley and Spencer, but we also tell them that evolution isn’t science, it’s guesswork.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com