Thursday, February 11, 2016

When All You Need is (More Than) Love

I wrote this as a comment to a recent post from AndrewDeCort, a Wheaton alumnus, sometimes faculty, theologian and all-around mensch I’ve come to hold in high regard. His post asked questions I’ve heard from numerous colleagues, students and alumni in the days following the "reconciliation service" held Tuesday at Wheaton College, essentially asking, “What don’t we know?”  and “What the hell just happened here?” 
I'm still thinking and sorting out feelings about all this myself. There is a lot that I don't know, which I hope I will at some point in the future (possible non-disclosure agreements notwithstanding), but I think I can imagine a way that everything we’re hearing is true. There could have been a mutuality to the split between Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College. There could be sincere apology, forgiveness, love, and even nascent reconciliation. The gestures of good will (endowed scholarships and gracious words of peace) can be real, even as we say good bye to a beloved friend, professor, mentor and sister in Christ. Sometimes love is not all you need.

My sense is that this comes down to the lack of trust: Wheaton’s leadership for Larycia and Larycia for the leadership.
 Let’s imagine that it was true that when President Ryken met with Larycia for what would be the final negotiations, that "all options were on the table,” including Larycia coming back to teach at Wheaton. (This is a bit of rumor mill here, but at this point, I’m just trying to imagine how this could be.) If this were true, I can only imagine that her coming back would be with all sorts of strings designed for her to prove her trustworthiness to Wheaton.  After all, in addition to her December post, there was her press conference with Jesse Jackson, her multifaith supporters, even her close associations with known campus reprobates and regalia-sashaying liberals.  There would, undoubtedly, be requirements for “ongoing discussion” around these and future concerns the administration would expect.  On one level, they administration might say, is something that every faculty member agrees to. We all can be called into the Dean/Provost/President/Trustee presence at any time to give explanations of our work and a defense of our faith. My senior colleagues have some pretty amazing stories of past Presidential Summons in earlier regimes (including, apropos recent news, accusations of failure to care for vulnerable student faith, metaphorically "clubbing baby seals.") So Wheaton may have wanted assurances from Larycia that she would accept this oversight going forward.

Larycia, of course, wants THEM to prove themselves trustworthy to her. For years, Larycia was subject to a level of scrutiny that was manifestly different than what I - a known troublemaker, but married White man - have experienced. To sign on to a process that might seem, in the College’s eyes, to be a ‘normal’ oversight, could easily appear to Larycia as a lifetime of sanctioned discriminatory suspicion and scrutiny, to which she now becomes an agreeable partner. Particularly given these past two months, I can only imagine what it would feel like to face this idea of ongoing “discussion” about faith, teaching, and life as a single black woman at Wheaton. 

In this scenario, I can believe that there truly was this agreement to "part ways" and that it was, sort of, mutual. That is, I think there is real love and a kind of deep Christian unity between Phil, Stan, Larycia and us all.  But there is not trust. The relationship cannot go forward without trust. Perhaps it's like when, in a marriage, both partners feel betrayed by the other, and while there is a kind of love, and fondness for what once was, it's impossible to see a way forward together, as both people want the other to prove fidelity.
I'm heartbroken in all this. I know we all are. But we must not stop here. Our sin has been exposed; there are deep systemic things to be unraveled and examined.  Andrew DeCort compared it to an experience he had of a falling out with a church that he continues to love and support, even as he is painfully aware of its pathologies and weaknesses. I think this is where I (and perhaps Larycia) stand with Wheaton right now. Its pathologies (many of which we have all seen for years) are not new, nor necessarily worse, than they’ve ever been, but this has brought them out in powerful and significant ways. Those of us who remain, even with a sense of great injustice having been done to our sister, don’t hate Wheaton; we love it so much that we don’t want it to remain stuck in sinful and hurtful patterns. We must address them head on, with clarity and transparency. It will be painful. I hope it is, or I don't think we're doing it right, but I have hope we can do it. Mistakes notwithstanding, I believe that with God's help we are all up to the task.  

I just wish Larycia could be here to help us.