Fired Up, Fired Out

4:09 am Personal, Political, Religion

Wheaton CollegeWheaton College, Wheaton, Ill., requires faculty and staff to sign a faith statement and adhere to standards of conduct in areas including marriage. This is, after all, the origin-place of evangelist Billy Graham and the home of the globally evangelistic Billy Graham Center. 

It’s also the place that made national headlines on Feb. 20, 2003, when it lifted its then 143 year-old ban on student dancing. (Whoa! Next thing you know, they’ll be apologizing to Galileo.)

It would be weird to work or go to school in such a place, don’t you think? And yet some choose it, you have to believe deliberately. It does have a pretty respectable academic history.

Here’s a young man (I guess; he kept his identity a secret) who became an atheist halfway through his college years at Wheaton (he just graduated in December), and chronicled the journey in a blog called “Leaving Eden.”

Nov. 29, 2007: “Now is the time when all of my final papers and projects are due, all of which must be from a Christian perspective. Before I started I thought, no big deal, I know what the Christian perspective is, and anyway it’ll be kind of fun using words that I haven’t used in a long time, like sanctification, eschatology, spiritual discipline– not to mention the whole language of Wheaton evangelicalism that I worked so hard to become fluent in. / But man, it sucks. It actually makes me feel a little bit ill to have to do this.”

Okay: Student. He got into it, discovered he couldn’t believe it, and had this uncomfortable deconversion along the way. It sucks the way it feels in the turbulent early moments of it, but the end result is going to be a lifetime of freedom. So bully for him.

But a faculty member? You’d think a faculty member would be IN, wouldn’t you? Safe in his beliefs, safe in his community? Safe in his job?Prof. Gramm

Ha. After devoting 20 years of his life to teaching at Wheaton College, Kent Gramm, a popular professor at Wheaton, was recently dismissed after he got divorced – apparently not according to approved New Testament principles.

” … Every year, the college […] must evaluate the divorce of a job applicant or a staff or faculty member and consider whether it matches the exceptions laid out in Matthew 19 and the writings of the Apostle Paul.”

Professor Gramm has been in the nest there for two decades, helping support that biblical worldview, backing the full mission of the college, probably steadfast in believing that he was doing the Right Thing.

And now it comes and bites him in the ass.

I’m torn between poking fun and being supportive, between saying “Ha! Now you know how it feels, don’t you? You know at last what that exclusivist worldview does to OTHERS, dumbass!” and “Poor guy. I hope this is the first of many such realizations as he travels up out of that pit.”

Either way: Sorry, Professor Gramm, you had to have your mind forced open on this business of divorce and the issue of family privacy as it relates to an enforced Christian worldview.

And best of luck in rethinking some of your other ideas along the lines of what Christianity, and religion generally, really is, and really does to people.

You have a long, long road stretching out ahead of you, as you face the possibility of arduous and uncomfortable freedom – the freedom (and labor) of discovering your own independent meaning of life, and your own set of rational morals.

I hope you make it.

5 Responses
  1. DC :

    Date: April 30, 2008 @ 7:52 am

    Excellent post and very truthful.

  2. anomalous4 :

    Date: April 30, 2008 @ 9:08 am

    A similar thing to the prof’s plight happened in my church some 25 years ago, when our pastor’s wife left him and filed for divorce, supposedly on the grounds that she wanted another baby, and he couldn’t father any more kids on account of having had a vasectomy.

    She’d been somewhat mentally unstable for years, so no one was surprised, least of all him. She was absolutely adamant, and he felt he was doing the right thing by letting her go if it would make her happy. He signed over a lot of property that he was sole owner of, including several rental properties to give her a place to ive and a good source of income, and reluctantly let her go.

    The congregation went crazy. People took sides, one side supporting their beloved pastor of 20 years and the other side insisting that he must go because “the Bible says” a divorced man isn’t suited to be a pastor.

    Finally the latter side gained the upper hand, and he was forced out even though his situation was biblical; it came out soon after the wife left that she’d been having an affair (possibly not her first). But nooooooooooo, that didn’t matter.

    So a good man got messed over twice—once by having his wife divorce him and once by his faith community adding insult to injury by refusing to stand by him through the crisis. Fortunately he was able to become pastor of another church in the area, and a number of church members went with him.

    It’s stuff like this that gives rise to the observation that Christians have an alarming habit of “shooting their wounded.” It happened to my dad twice in two years in the early 70s—ironically, he was hounded out of two jobs because he was too good at his community-organization work.

    Sad to say, it’s not just the conservative/evangelical/Fundamentalist churches that do it; I know of at least three instances where my own progressive-liberal church did pretty much the same thing, albeit for different reasons. (Sad to say, I was one of those caught in the crossfire there.)

    Bleeping sanctimonious, ignorant, holier-than-thou, unforgiving, unChristian witch-hunters!

  3. Jim Lippard :

    Date: April 30, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    I found the article about Gramm fascinating, especially this part about another professor being fired because he converted to Roman Catholicism:

    “Wheaton officials said Catholicism contradicted the college’s beliefs by setting up a spiritual authority in addition to Scripture.”

    Uh, isn’t that exactly what Wheaton is setting itself up as?

  4. Autumn :

    Date: April 30, 2008 @ 10:51 pm

    I don’t in the least feel sorry for this professor.
    I am glad that he is feeling the brunt of the hypocrisy that he has been a part of for so many years.
    Any institution which requires a loyalty oath such as the one Wheaton employees are forced to take, and then indoctrinates the young with pernicious untruths such as the ressurection or the flood of Noah, is a bastion of anti-intelligence.
    This professor has been part of a great evil, allowing the idea that teachers must conform to some outline of what is allowed to be thought about.
    Screw Wheaton, and for that matter, screw all private colleges. They only exist to provide a safe haven for the idiot children of the wealthy to gain a measure of respectability.
    Almost any public university in America provides an equal, if not superior, education when compared to private schools. The only distiction is how many of the inbred blue-bloods in charge of most of our nation’s economy will have gone to a different school, and will thus regard a superior pblic education as not worth as much as a peerage degree granted by any of the pathetic private institutions presently inflicting upon America a new generation of young people so stupid that they think that “proactive” is a word.

  5. the chaplain :

    Date: May 4, 2008 @ 8:00 am

    As a foolish youth, I attended (and graduated from) a college much like Wheaton. As a foolish evangelical minister, I spent several years on the faculty of a small Bible college. As a middle-ager, I’ve finally grown up and renounced Christianity completely.

    First thing to consider: Wheaton College is within its legal rights to take this action. That does not negate the fact that, in my view, they are behaving very immorally. They are pronouncing condemnation when they should be offering grace, if they take seriously what they say “the gospel” means and continuing to live by archaic standards.

    Second thing: I respect Gramm for refusing to slander his wife and discuss his personal life in public. I wish the best for him in the future and hope he learns a lot from this experience. Whether his lessons will lead to renunciation of faith remains to be seen. It’s happened before with others who have gone through similar circumstances.

    Third thing: Many Christian colleges are quite good academically, but most of what they teach happens outside of the classroom. The extra-curricular teaching that goes on in chapel services (attendance is usually required and monitored religiously), dorm Bible studies and prayer meetings, student fellowship groups, etc., is where most of the heavy religious teaching takes place. And that stuff sticks a lot more than the academic material. Attending a religious college is a total life experience; students are often required to live on campus for at least part of the period in which they are enrolled, and, if space allows, sometimes for all four years. They are also required to live by a strict social and moral code, similar to that undertaken by the faculty. Students (and faculty) are immersed in a total environment that facilitates and reinforces deep indoctrination intellectually and socially. Christian colleges pride themselves on being set apart and distinct from the world and they are frequently successful at setting up the clear Us vs. Them mentality that public religious figures in the USA exhibit.

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