Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Caliphate of Illinois

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College is named after the first President and houses both that office and the Political Science Department.  It has always been rumored that the basement was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

There’s nothing like controversy over Islam to commemorate Christmas.

I have tried to avoid commenting about the situation involving Professor Larycia Hawkins, Ph.D. up at my alma mater, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  I have no inside knowledge of whatever communication may be occurring between all the parties involved.  I do not know Dr. Hawkins at all, neither am I acquainted with the College President, Dr. Philip Ryken.  I only know the Provost, Dr. Stan Jones, from hearing him lecture a few times during my years on campus in the early Nineties (Dr. Jones is a psychology professor; I pretty much only hung out in the History Department, with Student Government or over at Arena Theater).  

What I am somewhat more aware of is the long progression of the small Wheaton College Political Science Department from a theory, international studies-oriented unit toward one that is more policy-oriented (this has become so in spite of the official department name).  Much of this change was needed.  For decades, Wheaton Poly Sci was kind of an unwanted step child that reflected the larger missions-oriented, evangelical view of politics generally, which was that it was a dirty business in which the Christian is not called to serve.  For example, the department was forced to share office space with other small humanities divisions.  More opinionated or activist professors found things awkward and tended not to stay long.  But in the past dozen years or so, a younger breed of instructor has been hired and helped shepherd the student body to think more about the practical application of their principles in the public arena.  This trajectory was aided by the rise of Wheaton alumnus, and the campus’ congressman, J. Dennis Hastert to the Speakership of the U.S. House.

Yet like the recent bizarre scandal involving the former Speaker, the unseemly sludge of bad decisions made in the past has erupted from beneath the surface of the Chicago West Suburbs with the Hawkins case.  The spillage has introduced toxins into the evangelical community on a national stage and is right square in the middle of the centuries-long War between the West and Islam, version 2.0.

I’m not going to comment on Dr. Hawkins and her views per se, here.  As I’ve read all the news articles and Facebook posts and considered what’s going on with her, the campus, liberation theology, universal salvation, etc., I’ve just gotten upset and unsettled and wrathful, and I am not going to write out of that place.  I think it’s more important to explain why this has happened.  The school leadership is to blame and is certainly guilty of high hypocrisy, but not for the reasons upon which leftist evangelicals and the secular media want to insist.

Twenty-four years ago in Jenks Hall I completed a political science course to satisfy my liberal arts requirement.  The professor was a gifted communicator who truly understood her field, but she was new both to being a full-time instructor and, by her own admission, the Christian faith.  I will never forget a comment she made one day in class which was telling to me about why she had been hired.  I forget the general discussion, but she made the remark that her hiring committee, which consisted of both board members and faculty, called her a “neophyte” when it came to understanding the traditions and doctrine of conservative evangelical faith.

The professor didn’t seem to take umbrage at this label, and she was quite respectful of her new community of believers.  She listened with fascination to her students when we would explain the political foundations and policy positions upon which we had been reared.  But subsequent to her remark about being considered a neophyte, I found out one of her prominent qualifications was that she brought a feminist perspective to her academic work.  For the Wheaton powers-that-were at the time, she filled the quota; her theological maturity was secondary to academic freedom and gender diversity.

This hire was made toward the end of a very centrist period in Wheaton’s history, during the presidency of J. Richard Chase – the only Wheaton President ever not to have had a Ph.D. in theology or Biblical studies (his was in Speech and Rhetoric).  The fact that two significantly more conservative former pastors have been hiring the faculty since then – Duane Litfin (came from the First Evangelical Church of Memphis) and Ryken (came from Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia) -- reveals just how much the Marxist-centered quest for multicultural diversity has infected American academia, statement of principles or no statement of principles.

The people teaching us after high school have become so conditioned by the multicultural mindset – it is seen throughout corporate America, to say nothing of both political parties (Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina reflect this in the GOP) – that it might be the left’s single greatest achievement today.  Forget untrinitarian monotheism, hijabs, burqas or beheadings; the intellect of our society has now become enslaved to a caliphate of thought.

Accordingly, Dr. Hawkins (hired in 2007) shouldn’t be blamed for the current controversy and standoff over her job, any more than the ocean should be impugned for being salty.  Upholding theological truth, as well as just sticking with plain ol’ principles, requires more than just an annual signature.

Merry Christmas.