Normally I’m proud to tell people that I graduated from Wheaton. It has a reputation for being an institution that thrives on the basis of rigor, discipline, and academic conversation all towards the ends of “Christ and His Kingdom.”
But this week Wheaton made the news in a painful way. The college has a long standing tradition of hosting a Town Hall Chapel. During this gathering of the college community, students are allowed to address the college’s president- Dr. Philip Ryken- directly. It’s a cherished tradition in which the student body is allowed to express their concerns publicly and respectfully and hear the response straight from the horse’s mouth- so to speak.
But on Monday that’s not what happened. On Monday a married, heterosexual senior stood up and asked Dr. Ryken a question concerning apparent discrepancy in Wheaton’s policy against same-sex marriage and/or relationships. The student (who’s wife has shared a wonderful post on the incident found here) saw a potential discontinuity in Wheaton’s Community Covenant- a document all students and staff must sign- between the college’s decision to directly address and condemn homosexuality while excluding any stance on sacraments such as baptism and the Lord’s supper. The student asked:
“Why is it the case that our college, in documents we all must agree to or be expelled, insists on formally condemning and denying equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, on spurious theological grounds, yet completely leaves behind baptism and Eucharist, which Jesus Christ himself instituted to grow and strengthen the Christian community?”
And then something terribly embarrassing and immature occurred: another student threw and apple at him. Someone threw an apple at him. Someone threw and apple at a student who questioned the school’s stance on homosexuality.
To make matters worse, a couple of days later the perpetrator posted a letter to the college’s Forum Wall, an informal bulletin board in the campus’ student center, often used for the expression and even comedic sparring of opinions. But this letter was anything but a joke. Here’s what it says:
Now I want to be clear here: this post is not about my stance on the issue of homosexuality, per say. The issue is a nuanced, complicated, theologically and politically (to say nothing of emotionally) charged debate. And it’s not my intent to attempt to address it with any sort of authority let alone comprehensively in the next five minutes.
But I also can’t compartmentalize what took place at Wheaton College. While on the one hand, this was immature and disrespectful, we mustn’t pretend that such diagnoses pertain only to the perpetrator and not to the nature of the debate itself. In other words, this particular event is a glaring example of what is somewhat symptomatic of Evangelicals when it comes to the debate over homosexuality.
Evangelicals, as exemplified by the author of this letter, like to assert that we stand on the foundation of truth. We claim the high ground of morality then dare anyone obstinate enough to go ahead and question us. We hold our viewpoints with an attitude that says “this is the truth. Because it’s undeniably what the Bible says and the Bible is inerrant. Therefore not only am I justified in my assertions but I am also justified in the manner in which I express them.” In other words, we employ a type of theological immunity with which we excuse a multitude of sins. And the events at Wheaton are a bitter and deplorable example.
Homosexuality is not a black and white issue. I say this because humanity is not a black and white issue. There were Nazi soldiers who committed great acts of humanity and most of the figures we hold up as saints and tenants of the faith committed sins which would have made LA paparazzi blush. Jesus did not walk around with a set of criteria, presenting us with a checklist for morality. Rather he told parables, nuanced, intriguing, mysterious and vague parables that confused the hell out of the disciples (and us- if we’re being honest) and pissed off the Pharisees. Jesus denied the dogmatic structures of religion.
Likewise, we- the church- cannot view the issue of homosexuality as something which we address once (either in condemnation or affirmation) and then declare the problem solved. This would be irresponsible of a church filled with people of every shade, culture, disposition and struggles. For theology without relationship is moralism and relationship without theology is humanism. There’s not a blanket, dogmatic approach to life with Christ. Religion works that way, but Jesus doesn’t.
And yet, we often handle the issue of homosexuality the same way as a certain Roland Hesse. As frustrated and angry as I am with this individual, he’s really just a product of the Evangelical agenda developed in response to the gay agenda.
It is true- and I have witnessed it and experienced it personally- that there are individuals who express their support of homosexuality in disrespectful and immature fashions. They make blanket generalizations, declaring any Christians who can’t- with either intellectual or theological integrity- affirm homosexuality as “intolerant” and “hateful.” This does happen and it is just as unhelpful as throwing an apple at in Town Hall. It hinders the conversation which desperately needs to be had.
But- and here’s my point- such (limited) occurrences do not justify Christians reacting in kind. And if there’s one thing Christians are mighty, damned good at it’s adopting a victim mentality when it comes to this debate. We love to point at the secular culture and express how unfair, immature and cruel they’re being to us. We’re like two siblings in the back of the van on family vacation: one of us punching the other and then defending our actions with a: “well they started it!”
Evangelicals have come to base our mode and fashion of debate on the standard of culture rather than Scripture. Again, I’m not talking about the issue of homosexuality itself. I’m saying that the way we handle this argument- before we even get to the argument itself– is in stubborn denial of the log in our own eye. We punch because we were punched first; we insult because was have the high ground and its time that those miscreants understood that.
What needs to be said about the episode at Wheaton College this week is not: “We’re sorry this happened. But the Bible does condemn homosexuality.” No, it’s time that we shut up, keep our dogma to ourselves, and instead express what really needs to be said.
That’s it. No “but…you’re also wrong, so….yea.” No “well have you seen how the other side acts?!” No “but we have to make sure we express the truth!” No “but if we don’t say anything then we’ll be allowing Christ to be slandered.” Christ never asked us to defend him. He asked us to put away our swords and learn how to love others…for a change.
The testimony of Scripture is one in which Christ said “go and sin no more.” But is also (arguably more so) a story that speaks for the marginalized, the hushed, the oppressed and the overlooked. If we, as Christians, are the ones throwing the apples and not the one’s being hit by them, then we really need to check ourselves. Because Jesus didn’t throw anything at us. To the contrary, he received our immaturity, our sin, our anger, our self-righteousness. He conquered our sin with his love and commanded us to do the same. If we want to enter this vital conversation as representatives of Christ, then we need to start with a more humble approach.
What needs to be said about Wheaton starts and ends with “we’re sorry.” We’re sorry for the pain, hurt, hatred, anger and injustice that we’ve committed in the name of Christ. We’re sorry that we create environments where anyone who says “well, hey maybe we’re wrong here…” is silenced and put down. We’re sorry.
But if something else must be said then, please, let it be: “forgive us, we know not what we do. And we hope someday that you will know we are Christians by our love.”