Kent Gramm was a popular English professor at Wheaton College (a prominent Christian school) for the past twenty years.
After thirty years of marriage, he and his wife recently got divorced.
He doesn’t want to talk to his bosses about it.
Therefore, he can’t work at Wheaton anymore.
That’s not a non-sequitur.
Though the college has sometimes hired or retained staff employees whose marriages have ended, officials say those employees must talk with a staff member to determine whether the divorce meets Biblical standards. Gramm told administrators about his divorce but declined to discuss the details.
“I think it’s wrong to have to discuss your personal life with your employer,” he said, “and I also don’t want to be in a position of accusing my spouse, so I declined to appeal or discuss the matter in any way with my employer.”
Because he won’t discuss the case, his employers at Wheaton don’t know whether his divorce is “Biblically sound.”
Many theological conservatives say the New Testament permits divorce only in cases of adultery or desertion. Wheaton requires faculty and staff to sign a faith statement and adhere to standards of conduct in areas including marriage, said Provost Stan Jones.
The Chicago Sun-Times adds:
Wheaton is known as a conservative college where smoking, drinking and gambling are not allowed. Dancing became acceptable only four years ago, breaking a ban that had been in place since the Civil War.
Wheaton’s policy acknowledges divorce can occur in a Christian marriage, and it does not consider divorce an “unpardonable sin.” But college officials reserve the right to review the cause of a divorce, something that Gramm refused to discuss.
Gramm had the option of sticking around for another year while he seeks out new employment, but he chose to resign.
Gramm said he understands the policy and recognizes that the college is within its rights to set its standards. Yet he said students are facing the same marital statistics as other Americans, and many will themselves someday divorce.
“And I feel that it’s important for them to know that they’re not somehow rejected by God for having more or less normal lives and for having lives that didn’t work out the way they intended them to turn out,” Gramm said.
Tim George, student body president, said it is a shame that Gramm has to leave, because he is an outstanding teaching professor and a scholar. Although there has been controversy, the majority of students support the college’s decision, he said.
“We just hate to see him go. . . . But we just don’t want to compromise the values that we hold,” George said.
Gramm said the college officials have been individually cordial and compassionate, but he is sorry about how things turned out.
“I would like to see a broader understanding of faithfulness and mercy, and a broader understanding of human weakness and how that plays out in life,” he said.
Obviously, I think the school is wrong, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a private school. It’s a Christian school. It’s their own theology. They play by their own rules, however wacky those rules are.
What’s interesting to me is how the Wheaton students and alumni are responding.
Cathleen Falsani, a Wheaton alum and religion writer for the Sun-Times, shares her own thoughts on the matter:
It would be so refreshing to pick up the newspaper and see a story about my alma mater on the front page that didn’t make me cringe.
I don’t know what the prurient details — if there are any — of Gramm’s divorce are, and frankly, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about is that once again an evangelical Christian institution earns a reputation, deserved or not, for siding with legalism over grace. And for an institution dedicated, as Wheaton is, to “Christ and his kingdom,” communicating grace in a world that so desperately needs it should always be the most important part of its mission.
One of my roommates from Wheaton who, after more than a decade of marriage and two kids, is going through a divorce herself (one that would fall within Wheaton’s “acceptable parameters”), had this to say: “I went to a meditation retreat where we were really challenged to look at ourselves and our pain without our ‘story.’ That was extremely difficult for me — I have quite a story. I’m a saint in my story! But if I let go of that story, what am I? Just some woman with a marriage that didn’t work. Dr. Gramm is showing such grace and courage not to tell the story. It is none of our business.”
Falsani also shares comments left by her classmates on Facebook messages/threads:
Personally, I am grieved that my alma mater is behaving this way. Dr. Gramm is behaving appropriately by choosing to keep his personal life, personal. Frankly, I’m sick of Wheaton ‘shooting their own wounded.’ Wheaton seems to have a list of policies about what students and faculty can’t do without taking into consideration that it is valuable to teach students how to live in this world with real life issues. It would be valuable for students to see that someone can transcend the pain that comes from divorce.
When I was at Wheaton, I would have preferred a great professor who was divorced over a mediocre professor or a good professor who really should get divorced. I don’t think Prof Gramm offers marriage counseling, so I don’t understand how firing him improves the Christian community at Wheaton.
Last question: Does Wheaton accept checks from divorced alumni?
In short, I fear that without being willing to share the truth with his colleagues (i.e. his Christian community, or at least his employers), he is the one cutting himself off, not the other way round. But it is this confusion of roles between brothers and sisters in Christ, and employees and employers, that is ultimately the tangle at the heart of the problem. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but that’s the best that I can see from my standpoint.
A very intriguing position. As a former Wheaton student, and one who did not obey the pledge, I see the campus as having a long tradition of those who do not abide by its rules. It seems the campus needs a sort of healing and correction on the whole “rule” thing.
Conservative writer Leslie Carbone (not a Wheaton alum) says “Good for the students, and good for Wheaton College.” A commenter on her site adds: “This kind of thing is so damaging to the Faith.” (He’s referring to the divorce, not the school’s position.) He goes on to say: “Two of my profs from a Christian college fell disgracefully.”
I’m not too surprised by the comments in favor of the school’s stance — It’s refreshing to hear a few Wheaton voices supporting the professor, though.