More on Wheaton College

d67ac-wheatonEveryone is talking about Wheaton College.  I just got back from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta and it seemed like everyone I ran into wanted to chat about the Larycia Hawkins case.

I had conversations with three difference kind of people this weekend in Atlanta:

  1. Evangelical historians.  These conversations were intramural in nature.  We all understand Wheaton and the issues that Christian colleges face, but are baffled with the way the administration is handling the whole thing.
  2. Non-Christian historians.  What is happening at Wheaton College has a ripple effect on those of us who teach at other Christian colleges–sister schools, if you will.  Since many of my historian colleagues know I teach at Messiah College, they wonder just how Messiah would respond to a similar situation.   I have had to work up an answer on this front.
  3. Public intellectuals.  I had a few exchanges this weekend with historians who work at intellectual and political magazines as reporters and editors.  They are very aware of what is going on at Wheaton and feel an obligation to cover this.

After last night’s article in Time magazine, a few more observers weighed-in today.  John Hawthorne’s “Why Wheaton Matters” is worth reading.  I appreciate him referencing my post on graduate admissions and our subsequent exchange on Facebook.  Tobin Grant’s extensive piece at Religion News Service is also worth a look.

4 thoughts on “More on Wheaton College

  1. It was alluded to in the TEI panel I wrote about, too. One presenter was from Wheaton College (Ma.), “the other Wheaton,” she clarified, “the one with a mission of academic and religious freedom.” Not explicitly talking about the case, but everyone knew the point.


  2. What then do we do? In my conversation with John, I suggested that we needed to speak in academic terms that our disciplinary colleagues will recognize.

    Perhaps the best place to begin is to call out those situations where a protectionist stance is evident. It’s amazing to me how much the common wisdom about Wheaton is that unhappy donors pressured the school into its current predicament.

    If this is indeed a religious issue and not an academic one, you could hardly blame the donors. If they want to endow a school that has only a nominal commitment to Christianity, at least Notre Dame has a decent football team.

    FTR, Rod Dreher believes it’s a religious issue.

    With those provisions made, I am standing up for Wheaton in principle because I think it is important for religious institutions to police their theological boundaries. Most Catholic universities in the US haven’t done so, and the result in many, many cases is this kind of embarrassment, and a radical degradation in what it means to be educated in a Catholic institution of higher learning.

    Wheaton does police its margins carefully. Catholics are not allowed to teach there, not because Wheaton’s leadership think Catholics are bad people, but because they do not believe a faithful Catholic can affirm the institution’s standards. If I were a professor, as an Orthodox Christian, I couldn’t teach there either. Do I think that is excessive? Probably. But I admire Wheaton’s willingness to take a hard stand, even when they are mocked by outsiders. It requires the kind of courage and confidence that one doesn’t often see among Christian churches and institutions these days, and that will be desperately needed in the years to come, by all of us.


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