I thought I was done writing about the Dr. Larycia Hawkins-Wheaton College controversy before Christmas. Alas, Mercer Professor David Gushee has now felt the need to add his extraordinary motive-parsing powers to those of Brian McLaren and Miroslav Volf. Specifically, Dr. Gushee charges that Wheaton was motivated by “fear,” the fear of offending a politically conservative constituency. Like Volf and McLaren before him, Gushee supports his charges with lots of conjecture and no evidence.
But there’s a deftly-executed shift between the penultimate paragraph of Dr. Gushee’s article and his closing lament which ought not pass unnoticed. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of the basketball player who throws sneaky elbows when the ref isn’t looking, and flops when he is.
Here is Dr. Gushee’s penultimate paragraph:
So Wheaton is essentially saying this: Tenure will not protect you if you too visibly offend the conservative political views of our constituency. Whatever conservative politics looks like right now, that also is mandatory for faculty.
False. That is what Gushee (like McLaren before him) is “essentially saying.” The paragraph, and the speculations which lead up to it, are Gushee conjecture. Wheaton has said nothing of the sort, and to the extent its representatives have made any public statement on the matter, they have said Dr. Hawkins’s leave is about a question of theology. And — contra Dr. Miroslav Volf — it isn’t as though there are no conceivable theological objections to the statement that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” Nabeel Qureshi, for example, has carefully described the theological issues in this most elegant, charitable essay, where he concludes that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.
No matter. Wheaton’s motives must be read as small, mean, and political. Tarring a college with accusations of bad motives — when it’s entirely possible that their motives were and are otherwise — is dirty work, but somebody has to do it. And that nasty attribution of craven, politically expedient motives to the Wheaton administrators makes Dr. Gushee’s closing lament all the more astounding:
That’s another victory for culture wars polarization and another loss for higher education — not to mention Christian witness in American culture.
Sorry, Dr. Gushee. You cannot charge a distinguished Christian institution with political cowardice and duplicity, and then lament “culture wars polarization” or “another loss for . . . Christian witness in America.”