Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wheaton College Hastert Center?

I'm not a frequent letter-to-the-editor author (in fact, I think this is the first one I've ever written). Yet in the recently published alumni quarterly from my alma mater, something caught my eye. And it stuck with me for a few weeks. Eventually, during one the many extended drives to my job site, a response began to formulate in my mind. For whatever reason, as I was laying in bed the morning after my bout with Shea's bug, I felt compelled to write it out and send it in. I imagine the chances of it being published are fairly slim, and being published really wasn't my motivation for writing it in the first place. I think I did it more for myself... for my own clarity as I wrestle with my initial emotions & evolving perspectives and to sort out why I felt the way I did. So I'll share it here as fodder for thought...
Hastert Center Prudent Decision?

As a recent alumnus I count my time at Wheaton an incredibly valuable season in my life. Yet, upon the arrival of the winter 2008 issue, I was struck by the disappointing contrast displayed on page 5. The College’s recent unveiling of the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy subtly promotes to the public a controversial political tone, which does not represent the richness of Wheaton’s heritage or the range of worldviews that currently comprise the college community.

Far from being an attack on Hastert as an individual or on partisan politics in general, my disappointment rises from the ideals that are indirectly advocated by this center’s title: political stature and empire power. Much of my pride in Wheaton as an institution lies in numerous individuals whose progressive actions have humbly shaped the college and the world over the past century and a half: Blanchard & Burr for their abolitionist activism, Elliot & Saint for their radical love, Graham for his tireless voice of a new creation, etc. I fear that the creation of this new center under Hastert’s name undermines the focus of our counter-cultural history in favor of celebrity and endowment.

The issues surrounding government and economics have an ever-important place in a Wheaton education. Yet, in a world where empires are marked by compromise, I hope that wrestling with the interaction between politics and Christ’s teachings is elevated above the status of public office.

Christo et Regno Ejus.
I did my best to be concise and to the point (which is definitely not a strength of mine:-), and hopefully my point comes across.

The concept of a private, Christian educational institution is a difficult one. There is a constant rub between the pursuit of excellence and the humble ways of Christ (my sophomore dorm-floor buddy, Ariah, has written about his struggle with this dichotomy). I went through varying degrees of spiritual crises myself during my time there (some that I am still working through and expect to for the rest of my life). Yet, what I enjoyed about the College was how the community generally welcomed the questioning... that we were frequently directed to prod and inspect our surroundings... to grapple with the things being presented to us, etc. And it's in that spirit that I wrote this editorial piece.

Wheaton's alumni community is peppered with radical lives and powerful minds that embodied sincere efforts to engage the world... the people I speak of were not predisposed to building the empire of a nation, but instead were/are overwhelmed with a compulsion to subvert the status quo and build the Kingdom of God in a multitude of ways. Accordingly, I worry when it appears that the College leadership has embraced political positioning for the added benefit of a bolstered financial endowment.

The irony in all of this to me is that the school's President Litfin (a man whom I respect) writes his closing column in the same issue about the task of a Christian scholar:
"The Christian's intellectual task is, they believe, incomplete until we look along our subject matter, asking in what ways what we're seeing relates to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is essentially what it means to think Christianly about a subject, and it extends into every course, across every discipline, throughout the entire curriculum."
I guess I'm just not convinced that this level of analysis is displayed in the establishment of this new center.

Anywho, as if this post wasn't long enough already, I want to also point those who are interested to a recent article written by Andrew Sullivan at, My Problem with Christianism (HT: Zach Lind). I won't go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that it articulates many of my current sentiments very well. I'll close with this excerpt...
"I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm a Prof at Wheaton. I think what is not well understood by many is that the Hastert Center is not a Republicanism center. The money was raised by Dennis Hastert, so it carries his name. It is not run by him. It will house his papers. He was speaker for longer than almost anyone in history. His papers are and will be important to any study of contemporary American politics. In addition it already houses the papers of others, including democratic senators. It will not be partisan.