TimesFreePress — For nearly 35 years, this university tucked inside the struggling Highland Park neighborhood knew exactly what it was.
Tennessee Temple — first a Bible school, then a swelling college and seminary — was the child of the largest Baptist church in the country and the flagship of the staunchly conservative Independent Baptist movement.
At Temple’s peak in the 1970s, more than 5,000 young men and women intent on winning souls crowded the 55-acre campus.
Outsiders saw the campus as a strange place, where people still were buttoned up and strict rules set them apart from a growing youth culture of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
But it was that separatism that drew the believers.
Lee Roberson, the founder of the school and renowned evangelist, called Temple “distinctively Christian,” an idea given to him in a vision. While the world was changing, while even Southern Baptist seminaries were softening, the school would be a place where God’s rules didn’t waver.
So Temple kept watch over its students. Professors and dorm mothers made sure the men wore their ties and the girls wore their skirts. They checked for heads in chapel, prayer meetings and evangelism outings. They told students to stay away from the movies, to keep their ears from rock music — the devil drums — and to keep their hands and lips to themselves.
“We called it ‘living the list,’” said Dell Hamilton, who was a Temple student in the 1970s and later was a trustee for 13 years.
But those deeply rooted in the school’s past know that Tennessee Temple is only that in name now.
In the 27 years since Roberson retired from running the school — some say he left, others say he was pushed out — the line between Temple and the outside world has thinned.
Today, there are only 300 students on campus, and fewer of them are drawn by the school’s conservative heritage. Some don’t even know who Roberson was.
“I’ve seen people kiss, right in front of the lobby,” said Kiara Govan, an 18-year-old freshman recruited from Houston to play volleyball at Temple.
There are still rules. No guys in girls dorms. No alcohol. No tobacco. No lip rings. No cursing. No basketball shorts in class. No tight clothing. But the school doesn’t emphasize perfection.Continue Reading on www.timesfreepress.com