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by William H. Benson

January 25, 2007

     In September of 1936, sixty years ago, a North Carolina farmer drove his seventeen-year old son west across the Appalachians to Cleveland, Tennessee to enroll as a freshman in Bob Jones College.  The lad had a dream of maybe someday becoming a preacher, but in his dorm room he stared dumbfounded at the sign on the wall: “Griping Not Tolerated!”

     Soon, he discovered that Bob Jones College was about rules, authority, and discipline, not at all what this North Carolina native son had expected.  He had to learn first that Bob Jones, the college’s founder and head, restricted the boys’ and the girls’ social life.  Dating was governed by the dean’s scheduling book.

     It was worse in the classroom in that instructors offered only one interpretation, Bob Jones’s.  No questioning, discussion, or give and take was permitted.  “Dr. Bob” often stated publicly that his institution had never been wrong.

     One student named Wendell Phillips was so frustrated that he packed his bags and left for the Florida Bible Institute, east of Tampa Bay.  He wrote letters back to Bob Jones urging the students there to join him in the south and abandon Bob Jones.

     The North Carolina farm boy turned eighteen in November, and the cold and damp in Tennessee left him suffering from the flu.  Feeling that he was not fitting in, he scheduled an appointment with Bob Jones and told him of his dissatisfaction with the school and that he was considering going to Florida.

     Without hesitation, Bob Jones said, “If you leave and throw your life away at a little country Bible school, the chances are you’ll never be heard of.  At best all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks.”  Decades later the student still felt the pain of those words:  “His voice booming, he pronounced me a failure and predicted only more failure ahead.  I left his office disillusioned and dejected.”

     The student’s name was Billy Graham; Bob Jones could not have been more wrong.  Billy went to Florida in January and ran across the golf course again and again, “like an animal that had been in captivity and had finally got its freedom.” 

     What was it that motivated Billy Graham to become the evangelist to the world?  What was it that drove him away from his wife and children repeatedly for long periods of time?  I suppose that there were a variety of factors, but I think that Bob Jones’s cruel words played a crucial role.  Who knows, but without them, Billy Graham may not have driven himself so relentlessly to build his own global organization.

     What motivates people best?  Warm encouraging uplifting words or the hostile angry verbal assault?  There is no clear answer.  People may need both, but in moderation.

     We each have differing levels of ambition, and the crucible of life—the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes—can crush out what we have, or it can whip it up into a potent mixture.  One never knows how a man or a woman will react.  Human character grows, expands, and develops as we slam into immovable blocks, people like Bob Jones.  

     What was it that drove Washington on to keep the British from destroying his pitiful army?  What was it that drove Lincoln on for four years to win what seemed an un-winnable war?  Either of them could have given up, quit, and surrendered at a low moment, but neither would think or do so.  Defeat was not in their make-up.

     What is it that drives our current President?  In the face of Congressional and public opposition to sending in more troops, he will not yield. “Not until we get the job done, will we leave Iraq,” he says.  In the long run he may be right, or he may be utterly wrong.  One wonders what happened in his past that has brought him to this position of such unwavering stubbornness.  Perhaps, and it is just a guess, there was a Bob Jones in his past.