Bob Jones University Did Not “Ban” Starbucks

Thanks to the fickle nature of search engines, my blog appears in the top searches of people googling “starbucks bob jones,” “bob jones bans starbucks,” and the like—and those searches seem to be coming in droves—despite the fact that I’ve never commented on it. I’ve never commented because I don’t care: I drink coffee only socially, I’m a thousand miles away from Bob Jones University, and it really doesn’t matter.

What interests me more is the public interest. For one thing, it’s as though someone passed out talking points to bloggers: “Look, when you blog about this, be sure to say that ‘Starbucks is too gay-friendly for right-wing Bob Jones University.’ We all need to stay on-message.” Bloggers here, here, and here all got that memo.

For another, it seems ironic that one of the times the school has gracefully handled its disagreements in the public eye, it still gets blasted for bigotry, intolerance, hatred, and the like. Here’s the official statement from the school as to why it has discontinued selling Starbucks coffee:

Dr. Stephen Jones [president of the school] announced that due to the social activism of Starbucks, we will no longer be selling their product at the University.

Here’s a selection from the Greenville News:

BJU spokesman Jonathan Pait said the school’s constituency began to object to Starbucks’ stance on gays several months ago. More objections came lately, he said.

“They were supportive of homosexual events and causes,” he said. “That would be a problem for our constituency.” The issue surfaced from quotes on a coffee cup Starbucks sells from a man who supports a gay lifestyle.

And here’s the description of an eyewitness to the announcement:

[Y]ou should have heard the announcement and the lengths to which [school President Stephen Jones] went to try to avoid doing this. . . . [He] had a pleasant chat with the regional representative from Starbucks, who gave him the impression that he was sympathetic and would get back with him. He never called back, and [Jones] left eight unanswered voice mail messages for the guy. They just strung [him] along to get another three months out of the franchise.

I see no calls for smiting hip-and-thigh there. Yet reading the comments under zacfoo’s story-breaking blog entry, you might think the school had called for lynchings. I think the point is that when it comes to Bob Jones University, many people already have the bigotry meme, and by George they’re going to stick to it.


  1. “They were supportive of homosexual events and causes,” he said. “That would be a problem for our constituency.”

    When you believe that homosexuality is not a sin, and that gay people are deserving of the same respect due other humans beings, the above statement is evidence of bigotry enough.

    Just substitute “black” for “homosexual” and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Even in slavery days “black” never equalled “sin.”

  3. Xenolith, just as we wouldn’t say someone who disapproves of polygamy is “bigoted” against those with heterosexual tendencies, it is imprecise to say that someone who disapproves of homosexual activism is bigoted toward those with homosexual tendencies. Both cases regard one’s choice of activities, not who one is innately, as in your example of race.

    So a better parallel than yours would be to substitute “Nation of Islam” for “homosexual.” One can reject the activism of Louis Farrakhan without being a “bigot.”

  4. One of the most interesting aspects of this kerfuffle in a coffee pot is that BJU blamed the school’s constituency for the change in its stance towards Starbucks. “They were supportive of homosexual events and causes,” [the school spokesman] said. “That would be a problem for our constituency.”

    The wording implies that the University might have done nothing about Starbucks were it not for concerns about its own supporters. But then Starbucks has its own constituency on the Left Coast that would have been deeply offended had the coffee chain caved to the likes of Bob Jones University. End of dialogue.

  5. Dad and filosofo, with all due respect: you both make the same mistake in logic when you ignore that heart of what I’m saying above. You both assume that homosexuality is a sin, and you both assume when leveling your argument that those you’re arguing against agree with that assumption. This places a rather large hole in the efficacy of your arguments.

    If one does not believe being gay is a sin, then the argument that “Even in slavery days ‘black’ never equaled ‘sin'” is irrelevant, because many people believe – and we have a significant weight of scientific, sociological, psychological and anthropological evidence to back us – that being gay isn’t a “sin” or a “condition” or a “lifestyle choice.” It is something “one is innately,” exactly like being black. This is why, however neat and well-stated your Louis Farrakhan example is, it’s fatally flawed. That’s why, from our perspective, the analogy stands. Quite firmly.

    Essentially: Until you can prove both your interpretation of the Bible and it’s inerrancy to us (“us” being Christians and non-Christians; gays and heterosexual people who disagree), you can’t build an argument upon that supposition and expect it to have any effect. (I understand that from your point of view it appears to be a powerful argument, and I don’t mean to minimize that. But it’s important to know that many people have examined the same information in detail and have not accepted the Bible as an authority on these matters.)

    This essentially is why the courts have had to rule that “sodomy” cannot be considered illegal. Because the Constitution is the law of the land, not the Bible. It’s also why the courts will likely, eventually, rule in favor of gay marriage or at least civil unions.

    I hope I’m not coming across as too aggressive or rude in your forum here. It’s not my intention to disparage your beliefs, but only to challenge your thinking, even as I would encourage anyone to challenge my own.

    I was brought up to believe homosexuality was wrong, too, and I’ve come to think that part of the problem is that we heterosexuals only focus on the “sex” part of being gay. As I’ve come to know many, many gay people, I’ve found that they don’t fit the stereotypes I was brought up with, and I’m sure you’ve both met gay people who fail to meet the stereotypes of a mincing effeminate man, for example, too – though you may or may not have know those people were gay at the time. The gay couples I know, rather, are committed to one another, moderate in their behavior, kind, thoughtful – and, yes, even spiritual and moral people. The gay couple I know best have lived together for years and plan to leave their belongings to each other upon their deaths. They finish each other’s sentence. There’s is clearly a love, which is much, much deeper than a simply fleshly or sexual love.

    Well, I’ve rambled on long enough. I hope you’ll consider my thoughts in the spirit with which they were intended – with much respect. Take care.
    *I should make this footnote, too: unfortunately, many people and churches during the time of slavery justified slavery by saying that black people had no souls. I’m not sure which would have been worse: saying being black was a sin or basically saying black people were animals.

  6. being gay isn’t a “sin” or a “condition” or a “lifestyle choice.” It is something “one is innately,” exactly like being black.

    Xenolith, I don’t think I made my earlier point very clear, but let me try to elaborate. For the sake of argument, let’s make the questionable assumption that one is born “gay.” What would that mean? At most it could mean that independently of all non-genetic influences, one experiences an attraction to members of the same sex. What it can’t mean is that one is compelled to engage in a certain kind of sexual activity.

    We know that particular sexual activities are not determined by one’s inclinations because of the evidence of “heterosexuals,” those we’ll define as being attracted to members of the opposite sex, independently of non-genetic influences. Heterosexuals choose a variety of sexual activities: some are promiscuous, some are monogamous, and some are celibate. In other words, despite their inclinations, heterosexuals obviously have a choice about how to act sexually, including the choice to avoid sexual activity altogether.

    Now, either homosexuals differ from heterosexuals in that their inclinations compel them to engage in certain sexual activities, or they are like heterosexuals in that they have a free will and can choose what sexual activities (or no activities) in which to engage.

    If the former were true, then it would seem to imply that homosexuality is a pathology; however, I think few would take that position.

    If the latter is true—that homosexuals can choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity—then your racial analogy does not apply, because Christians do not object to inclinations; rather, it’s the moral actions that concern Christians. The racial analogy obviously fails because no one can choose her race.

    Consider the “heterosexual” male. Christian moral theory does not object to his being inclined toward women. However, if he chooses to engage in polygamy, or commit adultery, or be promiscuous, etc., then those actions are condemned. You can make similar claims to those above: that these actions are not sinful, etc., that Christians are closed-minded, etc., but you can’t claim they’re bigoted towards “heterosexuals,” and you can’t claim that there is any parallel to civil rights. The same applies to homosexuality, mutatis mutandis.

    In other words, you seem to let your objection to the particular moral conclusions of Christians blind you to the larger meta-ethical issue: the dispute about homosexuality is about moral activity; civil rights instead are connected to innate characteristics.

  7. As for Xenolith’s PS: There were Southerners (and Northerners too) who believed that blacks were animals without souls. But to my knowledge, all these guys were secularists, pre-Darwinians, rather than orthodox Christians. If you have evidence that any church declared that blacks had no souls, I’d like to hear about it.

  8. Hi filosofo: I would love to have responded to your thoughts a while back, but I’ve been terribly busy.

    To get to the heart of the matter: You assume in your response that the act of homosexuality is wrong or immoral, and you go on to compare it with polygamy and adultery, etc. It’s important to understand that many people do not find the comparison appropriate. In fact, many gay people I know also think promiscuity unwise, an attitude that one wouldn’t guess existed if you only bought into fundamentalist and other mainstream stereotypes about homosexuality. So it’s not “my objection to the particular moral conclusions of Christians blinding me” to any larger issue. (Did you mean to say “larger meta-ethical issue” BTW? That seems like a tacit admission uncommon among fundamentalist Christians: that human morality exists above with the morals of the Christian religion appearing as a subset of the other. I would quite agree, adding that many Christian morals are admirable, though they’re always reflected elsewhere in the world’s religions and philosophies.) In fact, many modern Christians have no problem with gay people or “homosexual acts.”

    Allow me an example. I’d assume that neither you nor I consider the act of eating immoral. Seems pretty simple. Perhaps it seems almost silly to apply a moral dimension to it at first blush. However, to many committed vegetarians, eating meat is indeed morally offensive. Now, I disagree with them, though I somewhat understand their concerns. Similarly, some Christians (and arguably the Bible) have assigned a moral facet to the homosexual act; however, many other people do not assign that moral facet to the same act. That does not mean that we don’t see the sense in arguments against promiscuity, adultery or polygamy. Those are simply different actions, with different consequences. It’s common to see them conflated, and when they are conflated, any detailed analysis of their difference is swept aside.

    So, gays are being denied civil rights for their actions, which society is increasingly coming to understand are, in fact, not immoral at all. And as gays are becoming more confident in a more welcoming atmosphere, they are able to live more stable lives, choose more stable relationships (since they don’t have to hide their indentity quite so much any more) and they’re able to explain to us straight folks how, yes, in deed, they do have morals: They can value monogymy and open, honest relationships, too. Are some or even many gays promiscous? Certainly. So are many heterosexuals. But their promiscuity is completely separate from their attraction and their desire for sexual intimacy with someone of the same gender. The fact that you or I may feel uncomfortable with some of their private acts is quite irrelevant, especially considering the fact that when practiced safely there is absolutely no scientific evidence that it brings any harm.

    In fact, I think that in a world where love and intimacy is difficult to come by, and individuals live increasingly isolated lives, we should be encouraging loving, affectionate, committed relationships between consenting adults, not denying them.

    Dad, I’m sorry that you would automatically assume that “secularists” and “pre-Darwinists” are automatically inferior morally to Christians. This certainly is not the case, and it verges on an ad hominem attack. Of course, Christians and other people of all stripes have been and are guilty of racism. Racism knows no religious boundaries, I’m afraid.

    I’m sure not all Christians believed that black people had not souls, but it’s quite well known that the some used to believe they didn’t. Similarly, the Catholic Church debated whether the American Indians were human. These attitudes allowed early white Americans to feel quite comfortable with slavery. Of course, Aryan Nation types still teach such rubbish and many of those folks claim to be Christians. I’m certainly not comparing all Christians with such people. And again: I’m not criticizing all Christians; I’m just saying that human beings are capable of quite a lot of hate. Being a Christian simply does not prevent some folks from possessing the same attitudes.

    Dad, you may wish to consult The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God (Silvester Johnson), just one authoritative source, but I’m sure there are others. Here’s an excerpt:

    Ariel linked this to his belief that the God-given souls of whites inspired them with “a sense of immortality”; their lasting architectural endeavors evidenced this longing for immortality. Not so for the Negro, whose “building is only for the day”. Unlike whites, the Negro posessed no soul. The Negro, in fact, was an animal, the noblest beast of creation, but a beast, nevertheless. This was the heart of is argument. Because Negroes, like all other animals, must have been on the ark, then the Negro must have been created along with the other beasts in the Garden of Eden. This point was the premium among Ariel’s frequently noted “logic of facts.”

    Now, as you might, figure, Ariel’s point was that he believed black people didn’t descend from Ham but were animals. This was contrary to the popular belief (as I’m sure you’re aware) that black people *were* the accursed descendents of Ham. Of course, you can read much, much more about how people actually used the Bible to justify slavery elsewhere, too.

    If you can’t get the book, you can read much of this by searching within the book on It also mentions Charles Carroll and his rather obscenely titled book, The Negro a Beast, in which he attempts to use the Bible to do the same as “Ariel.” Here’s an article by a black Christian pastor within which he mentions Carroll, as well as some other well-known Christian who promoted racist ideas, including Scofield and Dake. This pastor didn’t have to look too far back into American history to find racism endemic in the American church though:

    Later, after 20 years in ministry, I was forced to break fellowship with the white leaders of a large ministry when the evidence I saw and heard indicated that they were making a distinction between whites and Blacks in their church. The incident, which occurred about nine years ago, catalyzed me to begin teaching a series in 1997. I titled it Race, Religion & Racism and taught it for 76 weeks over my Ever Increasing Faith television broadcast, which appears nationally and in many countries around the world.

    Thankfully, Christian attitudes towards black people have evolved over time. Thinking hopefully, I believe Christian attitudes towards gay people will as well. I believe, in many way, they are already.

    Thank you both for considering my thoughts.

  9. P.S. Dad: I consider myself a secular person, and I believe evolution is a powerful theory (like the theory of gravity), most likely a fact. As you can see, however (I hope), I’m quite concerned with morality and with treating all human beings equally and with dignity.

    There exist people among all the world’s religions – and outside of them – with similar mindsets. What we all have in common is our humanity and a desire to see a better world for ourselves and our children.


  10. For the sake of argument, let’s make the questionable assumption that one is born “gay.”

    I find your characterization of this assumption as “questionable” to be odd. There are 1500 animal species in which homosexuality has been reported, 500 of which it has been well documented in. Add to that the fact that psychotherapy and similar techniques have been notably unsuccessful in “treating” homosexuality, and the recent discoveries in differences in brain structure between homosexuals and heterosexuals, and I find it hard to understand how it could be assumed to be anything but innate.

    What would that mean? At most it could mean that independently of all non-genetic influences, one experiences an attraction to members of the same sex. What it can’t mean is that one is compelled to engage in a certain kind of sexual activity.

    I disagree completely. I believe the correct statement would read, “What would that mean? At most it could mean that independently of all non-genetic influences, one experiences a drive to engage in sex with members of the same sex.”

    I believe that humans do have a compulsion to engage in sex. While the drive is not absolute and can be overcome (although apparently not without difficulty, as evidenced by the recent wave of revelations of sex-related crimes within the priesthood,) it seems absurd to suggest that all our biology provides is with is an appreciation of the opposite sex, but that acting upon that appreciation is simply a matter of rational decision. I would venture that the sex drive, the urge to perform sex with a given gender, is what is innate, and the from-a-distance attraction is a feeling learned corollary to that drive.

    Therefore, your characterization of a homosexual act as comparable to polygamy or adultery is off-base. To prohibit adultery is not to call a broad class immoral for engaging in an act they are innately driven to engage in. The heterosexual would seem to have several choices: act on innate drives in an adulterous manner (immoral); celebacy (difficult, perhaps impossibly so to some, and contrary to innate drives, at least for most); or act on innate drives in a monogamous manner within the bonds of marriage (moral). Yet, the choice you seem to be offering homosexuals is: celebacy (contrary to innate drives); act on innate drives in any way (immoral.) It is fundamentally different from prohibiting adultery in heterosexuality, since heterosexuals, even without adultery, may be able to morally act in accordance with their nature. You deny homosexuals any way to morally act in accordance with their innate nature.

    That said, by the way, I agree with your characterization of the Bob Jones situation. I find it regrettable that their constituents hold the views that they do, but I believe “voting with your pocketbook” is always a valid way of promoting your views. And their statement did criticize Starbucks for being “supportive of homosexual events and causes”. While I can’t see any way this criticism could stem from anything but either ignorance or bigotry, the statement itself is criticizing an activity, which is appropriate. I do believe they handled this one as gracefully as possible, given the facts of the situation.

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