Students and faculty at Moody Bible Institute report more than a decade of white aggression and resistance to diversity initiatives.
“You remember Rodney King, don’t you?”
These words were spoken to Ernest Grey in 2002 when he was a young, black student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. They were spoken by a white student who was waving a baton—similar to the kind a police officer might carry.
(For those who need a reminder, the beating of Rodney King was one of the most infamous cases of police brutality of the ’90s.)
Grey reported the incident to the administration and the school disciplined the student. But the traumatic experience was seared into his memory.
“The most disturbing thing to me was that this student was training to do missions in Africa,” Grey said. “I couldn’t believe this cat thought he was going to be a missionary to people of African descent while harboring this kind of racial ignorance.”
The paradox of a missionary-in-training who exhibits racial aggression is emblematic of a troubling spirit that pervades the evangelical college, which was founded in 1886 by prominent evangelist Dwight L. Moody. While it exists to prepare young Christians for ministry, Moody has been wrestling with a deeply ingrained culture of racism for decades.
In numerous interviews with former and current Moody employees and students, I uncovered countless stories like Grey’s. Together, they reveal a culture of normalized whiteness, a pattern of microaggressions and institutional resistance to diversification efforts stretching back decades.
Micah Bournes is a poet and hip-hop artist who graduated from Moody in 2010.
Like many other students of color during that time, Bournes walked onto the campus with a sense of hope and ran headfirst into a wall of whiteness. He was often one of the only people of color in his classes, and 28 of 30 men on his dormitory hall were white. He reports feeling alienated in chapel services because the music was culturally white. Black gospel songs were only played on occasion during Black History Month during his time there.
“I felt a constant tension with white people there, who had a very superficial understanding of acceptance,” Bournes says. “Sure, no one ever told me I was unwelcome, but their thinking and actions excluded people of color like me.”
Bournes is one of several students who remembers hearing “racist jokes” in Moody’s halls and classrooms with regularity. In his freshman orientation class, a white student remarked, “God can’t use hip-hop because it is evil.” Another white student dismissed Bournes in a conversation stating, “I understand black people. I’ve watched BET.”
During Bournes’ sophomore year, he says he realized the Moody handbook “didn’t allow students to have what it called extreme or distracting hairstyles that included cornrows and dreadlocks.” He complained to the administration, telling them that this policy singled out black students. He finally met with the Dean who changed the policy, but the conversation revealed a deeper problem.
“The Dean told me, ‘Micah, this is the thing. We want to keep student expenses as low as possible. But many of our donors are old, wealthy, white people and they have a certain idea of what godliness looks like,” Bournes said. “To appease those donors we often have to move slowly.”
SOURCE: JONATHAN MERRITT