But How Biblical is the Divorce?

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:

Sigh.

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.


[tags]atheism, atheism[/tags]

  • Eliza

    Oh, but Wheaton College is on solid theological grounds here.

    Don’t you remember that part in the Bible where Jesus challenges his disciples to explain their personal lives, including the circumstance of their divorces, to Him lest He ask them to skedaddle?

  • Darryl

    Goes with the territory. Maybe these Christians that are not completely gone will begin to figure this out.

  • Timothy

    Yes, Jesus does speak on divorce and does have standards of holiness, because the Father is holy. God hates divorce, and so should we. It tears up endless lives. That doesn’t mean we reject people based on it. But there are standards within the church. You don’t have to join the church that holds to such standards, or go to such colleges. That is between them and God, not those on the sideline. As for Wheaton in this case, I think they did the right thing as well as Gramm. He did the honorable thing by resigning with grace. Sorry that there are those who can’t understand that.

  • Gabriel

    It seems that the more conservative the religious institution the less likely that institution is to practice forgiveness or understanding. I am an atheist but my reading of the new testament would seem to suggest that Wheaton college is an institution of Pharasees and Sadgucees. (I probably misspelled those.)

  • Allison

    As a Wheaton College student presently in one of Dr. Gramm’s classes, I am saddened to see this situation smeared all over the national media and blogs of people entirely removed from the situation and its context. I will say that Dr. Gramm is completely in the right here, as is the college.

    Jesus’ disciples were a rag-tag bunch, yes Eliza, but He consistently called them to be “salt and light” to a depraved world, set apart for God. If then, Jesus himself said of marriage that man is not to separate what God has joined (Mark 10:5), then the Wheaton College is not playing the legalistic role of the Sadducees or Pharisees, Gabriel, but rather trying to follow the teachings of Christ as a community.

    That being said, we are not Jesus, so as we attempt to walk in His steps and show His grace, as individuals and as a community, we will do so imperfectly at times. It is unfortunate that those times draw more attention from the world than our faithful attempts to show daily obedience to the Lord.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    If the rules say he’s got to go, then he’s got to go. I think religion is a bunch of BS, but that’s the horse he chose to ride. It looks like the rules are being applied consistently.

    My aunt told me that when my cousin got pregnant in college, the parish priest would not marry my cousin and her boyfriend because “they committed a grave sin.” My aunt thought, “I know, jerk, that’s why we came to you.”

    Later, the teenage daughter of one of the church’s big donors got pregnant, all of a sudden there was forgiveness to be found. This was one of many incidents that soured my aunt and uncle on religion.

    If you have one set of rules for the big spenders and another for the little folk, that is when there is a problem.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Allison said,

    As a Wheaton College student presently in one of Dr. Gramm’s classes, I am saddened to see this situation smeared all over the national media and blogs of people entirely removed from the situation and its context.

    Smearing out of context seems like standard operating procedure for a lot of Christians in this country. Welcome to reality, Allison.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’m a Wheaton Alumni who lives less than an hour from campus and maintains several ties there (so not “entirely removed from the situation” Allison), and I have to say that I’m pissed at the college. This is absolutely absurd. Yes, the Bible speaks against divorce, but it doesn’t say anything about people being fired for it. For the college to set itself up as some sort of ecclesiastical authority that has the right to morally judge its faculty in this way is entirely out of line. Hell, with some of the deceitfulness I happen to know about the administration there, perhaps they ought to be the ones stepping down.

    Wheaton’s administration has gotten progressively more draconian and legalistic and narrowly dogmatic even since I was there just over six years ago. I’m sad to see that things are still getting worse, and it’s even more disheartening to see even the student body president siding with the administration on this. I can only hope that with Dr. Litfin’s (the college president) imminent retirement, perhaps things will eventually turn around.

  • Richard Wade

    Ah college days, what fond memories. Sit-ins, love-ins, protests, tear gas. Even studying once in a while. And the slogans. “Hell no, we won’t go.” “Make love, not war.” “What goes around comes around.”

    And my all time favorite,

    “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

  • Christophe Thill

    What’s theology got to do with it? What about labor laws? What if I create my business and begin hiring workers, but I have some sort of stupid religion that forbids me to hire people of a specific skin color? I don’t know about the US. It’s true that many things are possible there. But here (in France) and in a few other countries, this kind of behavior will land you in court in no time with a charge of illegal discrimination. Plus, the media with point their finger at you.

  • c.darrows

    “It is unfortunate that those times draw more attention from the world than our faithful attempts to show daily obedience to the Lord.”

    i don’t get it: why should I care if you are daily obedient to your lord? do you think the world at large should care if I show obedience to the flying spaghetti monster?

  • Cindy

    While I don’t agree with Wheaton’s position, at least they’re focusing on divorce before they complain about gay marriage.

  • Jen

    The simple fact is this: you may be behaving more Biblically than the rest of us by firing people over their personal lives. You may have all the Biblical justification in the world. But you are going to look goofy to the rest of us. No way around that.

    I am saddened to see this situation smeared all over the national media and blogs of people entirely removed from the situation and its context.

    So, then, what is the context that makes this ok?

  • cipher

    I bear in mind while reading this that in the evangelical world, Wheaton is seen as being on the left. There are evangelicals and fundamentalists who won’t send their kids to Wheaton because it’s too liberal! They actually teach evolution! (At least, they used to.)

    He did the honorable thing by resigning with grace. Sorry that there are those who can’t understand that.

    Right – because only Christians can understand these things. What is the “honorable thing”? He threw himself on the grenade so that you don’t have to question your faith?

    I will say that Dr. Gramm is completely in the right here, as is the college.

    How in the world is that even possible?

    when my cousin got pregnant in college, the parish priest would not marry my cousin and her boyfriend because “they committed a grave sin.”… Later, the teenage daughter of one of the church’s big donors got pregnant, all of a sudden there was forgiveness to be found.

    Does Wheaton accept checks from divorced alumni?

    This is what it ALWAYS comes down to in the end – money and control.

  • stogoe

    Yet more evidence that christianity as most people practice it is more about winnowing the flock down to the ‘right’ group of people than actually giving a damn about one another.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    God hates divorce, and so should we. It tears up endless lives.

    Not necessarily. Sometimes staying in a bad marriage is much worse than getting a divorce. Divorce has undoubtedly saved countless women, men, and children from enduring misery.

  • SarahH

    My mom got her Master’s degree from Wheaton in the early 80s and (until very recently) has always taken a very harsh stance on divorce. I remember not being allowed to read the Babysitters Club books because one of my mom’s friends had mentioned to her that a main character had divorced parents.

    She also didn’t approve of my first (and longtime) boyfriend or his family because his parents had been separated and considered divorce.

    I don’t care what Wheaton, as a private institution, does, but I don’t think they should be surprised or angry about the press coverage of the situation. Like it or not, divorce is really common today and the stigma is almost completely gone for mainstream Christians. It’s going to attract attention to take such an old-school, legalist approach in a case like this.

  • http://www.madnessletters.com Bradyn

    No not divorce, say it ain’t so. Hey man everyone is human, except for things that are not human, people make mistakes marry the wrong people and then realize it 30 years later. It’s all madness! http://www.madnessletters.com

  • Karen

    Man, talk about hard liners – really shocking. Where is the compassion or understanding? Where’s the “humanism”? Oh wait. I guess this administration is above mere human foibles. What’s sad is that they’ve even gotten many of the students buying into this meanness. Good for those who recognize how absurd it is and are speaking out about it.

    It seems that the more conservative the religious institution the less likely that institution is to practice forgiveness or understanding.

    When I was a Christian, I was involved for several years with a group called Bible Study Fellowship. They had a strictly enforced policy against divorce among the lay leaders, who devote thousands of hours to this group without any compensation. If a group leader got divorced, s/he had to step down even if the person’s spouse left them through no fault of their own!

    I knew a leader whose wife had an affair and ran off, divorcing him. The next year this man, who loved serving the group and put tons of energy into, was told he could no longer be a leader. His wife hurt him, and then the group threw him under the train. It was so sad.

    What’s theology got to do with it? What about labor laws? What if I create my business and begin hiring workers, but I have some sort of stupid religion that forbids me to hire people of a specific skin color? I don’t know about the US. It’s true that many things are possible there. But here (in France) and in a few other countries, this kind of behavior will land you in court in no time with a charge of illegal discrimination. Plus, the media with point their finger at you.

    The labor laws in the U.S. are very different from those in Europe, as I understand it. There are protections against discriminating on the basis of age, gender, race and religion, but other than that, a private employer can terminate an employee any time he wants and doesn’t have to make a legal justification. Of course, if the employee can prove discrimination, s/he can sue, but they’d have to be a member of a protected category: “divorcee” wouldn’t be one of those.

    As for media attention, I hope Wheaton gets a lot of negative publicity out of this. I’m sure that will only make the administration dig its heels in harder, but it will expose the craziness to the rest of the country.

  • mikespeir

    This reminds me of a situation many years ago when I was a Pentecostal Christian (Assembly of God). We had an itinerant evangelist come through to hold a revival. His wife had left him and had sued for divorce. We were made to understand that as soon as the divorce was final he would have to surrender his ministerial credentials. That struck me as grossly unfair. Here he was holding a revival for us, clearly as a “man of God.” How was it that in a few weeks’ time he was somehow, magically going to be spiritually unfit for the job?

    Still, as with the example here, he knew that was the rule when he signed on. He never complained about it–at least, not openly. Still, you’ve got to believe there were times when he questioned the propriety of what was about to happen to him.

  • sabrina

    I knew a leader whose wife had an affair and ran off, divorcing him. The next year this man, who loved serving the group and put tons of energy into, was told he could no longer be a leader. His wife hurt him, and then the group threw him under the train. It was so sad.

    Wow, that is terrible. Right when he needed his faith the most, and his friends, they threw him under the bus. And then Christians wonder why so many people are running to atheism. Its very sad because (disclaimer: I’m not a Christian so I could be wrong) I don’t remember their Christ turning his back on anyone :(

  • Steven Carr

    Jesus said what the circumstances were which allowed a divorce to take place.

    Wheaton are only applying the words of the person they worship. Jesus is important to Christians, you know!

    As I often say, scratch a fundamentalist and you will find Jesus underneath.

    They are making themselves look idiots, but they consider the principles of Jesus to be more important than their public image.

    The rest of us can only be thankful that we do not live by the words of Jesus.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE
    Yes, the Bible speaks against divorce, but it doesn’t say anything about people being fired for it.

    CARR
    The Bible speaks against murder, but it doesn’t say anything about people being fired for it.

    I guess in the eyes of some Christians, some sins are less important than other sins.

    A very commendable attitude, but not a Christian one. Jesus taught that God will punish people for ever for the tiniest of sins.

    Even looking at a woman with lust gets you a free ticket to Hell, in the eyes of Jesus.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I guess in the eyes of some Christians, some sins are less important than other sins.

    uhh, yeah… :roll:

  • Steven Carr

    ‘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.’

    Of course.

    Studying the Bible, praying, being filled with the Holy Spirit, etc, does not transform your life.

    Christians remain ordinary people – appearing to all the world as if they were not filled with Holy Spirit.

    The only real difference is that some of them try to live by the rules that Jesus set his followers – rules about divorce, adultery, feeding the poor, fasting etc.

  • Steve Miraglia

    I am greatly ashamed at my alma mater. I can not but think of Christ’s response to the mob ready to stone the adultoror, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.” Our Lord is a God of grace and each of us an imperfect vessel. We each sin everyday in so many ways; it is only through grace that we can find relationship with God.

    It is irrellevant if Dr. Grahm’s situation meets the standards of a ‘Biblically Sound’ divorce or not (a concept that is hotly debated). The real question is whether Wheaton wants to embrace another sinful human being who needs love, comfort and support at a very difficult time in his life.

    After 15 years of marriage I too found myself in the midst of a very painful divorce (the details are not important). It was the love and support shown by my church, pastors, family and Christian friends that helped me make it through. They each modeled God’s love and mercy. Might Wheaton do the same.

    God bless,
    Stephen, Class of 1990

  • Richard Wade

    To Steve Miraglia,
    Your compassionate nature is very heart warming and I can only hope that many more Christians follow the same path as you.

    Unfortunately Wheaton College is an institution and not an individual. Individuals can draw upon their own personal foibles and difficulties, and so be more forgiving of the foibles and difficulties of others. An institution is run by individuals, but its main focus is to project its agenda and to garner power, money and influence. Very often the individuals who have been running it for a long time gradually lose touch with their perspective as human beings and gradually become more rigid and reactionary. In short they become parts of the institution rather than individuals, mechanically enforcing rules rather than using well considered judgment to achieve the optimum benefit of everyone involved.

    My guess is that Mr. Gramm is probably a popular professor because he has been able to retain his humanity and his individual compassion and passion. Like the popular teachers I encountered in college, often the ones who stood up to the status quo, he probably completely outclasses his employer. I hope he soon finds a better teaching position in a college that will value his humanity rather than banish him for it.

    The purpose of an institution should be to serve people. When the purpose of an institution becomes for people to serve it, it should be torn down.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘ can not but think of Christ’s response to the mob ready to stone the adultoror, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.” ‘

    This is not a story which appears in any text before the 4th century AD.

    It seems to be one of the many legends that Christians fabricated about Jesus.

    We don’t really know what Jesus said about divorce. Christian scribes made many textual alterations to the sayings on divorce. All we do know is that Jesus forbid divorce and possibly remarriage, except in certain circumstances.

  • Pingback: What Has Divorce Got To Do With It? « A Thinking Man

  • http://www.relationshipcrisis.com Lee Horton

    To my mind, a divorce does not happen when you file. That announces the divorce that has already occurred, an emotional, physical, and sexual uncoupling. Does the school routinely interview its faculty to determine that their marriage has not sufferred a divorce because they are not “one” as the Bible describes – I think not.


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