Wheaton is an imperfect place. Though we strive to do all things for Christ and His Kingdom, we sometimes fail. As a community we hurt one another–both intentionally and unintentionally–at times even claiming righteous motivation. Some members of our community have received the message that they don’t belong here. One medium of communication that can be particularly forthright in carrying this message is chapel.
Last Monday, Chaplain Tim Blackmon presented a message titled “The Cross and Sexuality”. He began with an explanation of the human body that echoed teachings of Pope John Paul II in his lectures on the Theology of the Body. The majority of the message was completely agreeable (to a contemporary Evangelical audience). Chaplain Blackmon’s reflection on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 was convicting and heartfelt, especially from such a charismatic and direct speaker. I agree on these points specifically: (1) Our bodies are not our own because they belong to the Lord. We are to honor the Lord with our bodies. (2) Sex is extremely bonding. You become “one” with your spouse. (3) We need to flee from sexual immorality (pornea, in Koine Greek).
I have a deep love for Wheaton College. I support the institution, those in administration, and my fellow students. My desire to see Wheaton thrive is manifested in my critique.
So without further ado, here are are my critiques:
Altar Call for Sexual Purity
When Chaplain Blackmon mentioned the common experience of an altar call, I thought he would make some point critiquing the rhetoric of “inviting Jesus into [our hearts]” or something along those lines. Instead, the entire student body was called into an altar call for sexual purity. I have a couple issues with this.
1. No matter how emphasized it is that people’s eyes are closed and heads bowed, there is still a very real and present pressure. Dr. Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, would refer to this as Social Proof. In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he discusses six principles of persuasion. Social proof is akin to peer pressure. A person will look to the behavior of those around them and will be moved to act in similar ways.
Feeling the movement of my neighbor’s arms as we were called to raise our hands if we wanted “Jesus Christ to be the Lord of [our bodies]”, I sensed an immense pressure to join in. I also sit in the front of chapel, which makes my proclamation of commitment subject to possible perceived scrutiny from Chaplain Blackmon and President Ryken. And so, I raised my hand. My motivation was not conviction, but rather, pressure. I made a hasty decision without considering the implications or if I agreed with the message, which brings me to my second point…
2. Dr. Richard Petty and Dr. John Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model is a communication theory that claims that persuasion occurs through one of two routes (or a combination of the two): Central and peripheral processing. Central processing is done through issue-relevant thinking, meaning that a person will evaluate both the speaker and the message in a way that focuses on the issue at hand. Peripheral processing occurs when there is little interest or the individual has a lesser ability to process the message. Individuals will be attentive to peripheral cues, such as the perceived credibility of the speaker or simply the likability of the speaker. A person cannot always centrally process, which is why we rely on peripheral cues. However, a blind adherence to these cues can be harmful.In asking us to raise our hands immediately after hearing the message, we were left with little room to do issue-relevant thinking. Instead, we were asked to directly adhere to the presented definition of sexual purity. If we did not, we would be subject to the guilt of being the deviant few. I do not doubt Chaplain Blackmon’s intent to call us to count the cost of being disciples of Christ. But I do have qualms with what exactly that discipleship is supposed to look like.
Lack of sensitivity toward LGBTQ/SSA students
If you are not in the LGBTQ/SSA community (I use these terms together to represent the varied ways that Wheaton students identify and describe their sexuality; I will not discuss the controversy of term-usage in this article), or are not close with anyone in that community, then you will likely have missed the offensiveness of Monday’s chapel. Let me explain how LGBTQ people could have been hurt by the message.
1. There was never an explicit reference to the LGBTQ community. Instead, various terms were interwoven in the message, such as “disordered loves” (which is used to describe all sin, but frequently to describe same-sex attraction), “[sexual] confusion” and a continual emphasis of “man and woman”. These terms seem harmless enough, but they pack a punch. It is precisely this coded language that disguises the offense from the majority and directs it pointedly at the sexual minority. If you’re straight, there’s a high likelihood that you didn’t pick up on this word choice, or that Chaplain Blackmon even referenced same-sex attraction. However, most LGBTQ students recognized the implications.
2. If you’re questioning your sexuality at Wheaton, it seems as though you are encouraged to go on a journey. There is an implied freedom. However, once you’ve traversed the forests and mountains of sexual identity, it is imperative that you land in one place. The institution almost mockingly tells us: Take a journey, sure! Just be home in time for dinner. Is that truly a journey? Are we actually allowed to explore our sexual identity? Or is it assumed and required that our end beliefs be in exact conjunction with Wheaton’s statement of faith?
For clarity’s sake, I repeat: I love Wheaton. I love the people of Wheaton.
Chaplain Blackmon’s message was hurtful in various ways, but it was also well-received and convicting to many. There are matters that I disagree with and want to challenge, and I believe there should be room for that. As an institution that has such a strong commitment to critical thinking, there has to be room for that. More than thinking critically, however, we need to be willing to individually and communally listen to and discern the voice of our Good Shepherd.
Wheaton College, do not adhere to anything blindly. Seek the Lord. Consider what I have said in this article and test it. Hold it up against Scripture and see if it stands. If it doesn’t, then please don’t agree with me. It doesn’t matter if ten people or ten thousand people agree with what I’m saying and where I land. Ultimately, the Lord is my judge. I am on my own journey and have not yet landed definitively. As I and many others take that journey, I ask that students, faculty and administration make room for dialogue.
I care about this school, and I want it to grow. In as much as I ask for grace, I need to be willing to give it. May we continue to seek Christ and His Kingdom.