Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2006, with the headline: “Wheaton Professor Fired after Converting to Catholicism. Wheaton, Illinois. Wheaton College was delighted to have assistant professor Joshua Hochschild teach students about medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, one of Roman Catholicism's foremost thinkers.
But when the popular teacher converted to Catholicism, the prestigious evangelical college reacted differently. It fired him.
Wheaton, like many evangelical colleges, requires full-time faculty members to be Protestants and sign a statement of belief in ‘biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity.’ In a letter notifying Mr. Hochschild of the college's decision, Wheaton's president Duane Litfin said his ‘personal desire’ to retain ‘a gifted brother in Christ’ was outweighed by his duty to employ ‘faculty who embody the institution's evangelical Protestant convictions.’
Wheaton’s 12-point statement doesn’t explicitly exclude Catholics, but its emphasis on Scriptures as the supreme and final authority, and its aligning of Wheaton with ‘evangelical Christianity’ were unmistakably Protestant, Mr. Litfin wrote to Mr. Hochshild in late 2003. ‘Because Catholics regard the Bible and the pope as equally authoritative, a Catholic cannot faithfully affirm the Wheaton statement,’ he continued. President Litfin’s office is across the street from the Billy Graham Center, named for the famed preacher and Wheaton alumnus, who has sought to reconcile Protestants and Catholics. The president says he has also been a part of this rapprochement, ‘But,’ he maintains, ‘the core doctrinal issues separating Protestants and Catholics have by no means gone away.’”
Tom: Dave, this is a little bit—you know, you say from time to time you get angry. This makes me a little angry. This is schizophrenic at best. As you know, I spent a number of days at the campus of Wheaton College for a conference that was called Evangelicals and Catholics in Conversation. And this was, really, a promotional for evangelicals and Catholics together, the Chuck Colson-led attempt to reconcile differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. Anyway, at that time, I was on campus, I went out and interviewed maybe 100 or so students there, and what I found was this evangelical college, which claims to, as President Litfin wrote, they have certain distinctions or distinctives with regard to what the believe as evangelicals. Dave, I saw all of those things go by the board. These young students, bright, articulate, they had claimed to have an understanding of Catholics, and saw no possible—or had no possible concern that we needed to evangelize Roman Catholics, and so on. Saw that as an embarrassment, really, to Roman Catholics. So what is this?
Dave: Well, Tom, the contradictions are just horrific. They fired a man, but they call him a brother in Christ, “talented brother in Christ.” Now, if he’s a brother in Christ, how can you fire him? If he’s a Christian like you’re a Christian, then to be a Christian he must believe the truth of the gospel. So what could be wrong with that?
And the office of the president is across the street, it says, from the Billy Graham Center. Now, that has a huge museum. It is erected in the honor of Billy Graham. But Billy Graham, for at least 50 years, has said, “My beliefs are basically the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics.” Billy Graham has said that the Catholics preach the same gospel that he preaches.
Billy Graham has said, “The pope and I agree,” speaking of the previous pope, John Paul II, “the pope and I agree on almost everything, and any differences we have are not material as far as the gospel is concerned.”
And you know that the document you referred to, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, it speaks of the “discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Now, then, what’s the problem? As you pointed out, Tom, as you just said, they’ve been in bed with Catholics for a long time. Then suddenly, I don’t know, there must have been some pressure on the president, because they do have in their statement of faith that they adhere to the Bible as the final authority on matters of doctrine, and so forth. Well, the Catholic can’t do that. So that’s a little technicality isn’t it?
Tom, I just ask you a question: How many evangelicals, how many of the professors at Wheaton, how many of the students—and you interviewed many of them—how many of the students at Wheaton really adhere to the Bible as their final authority?
Tom: Dave, this professor who was fired, he needed to sign a document regarding what he needed to believe in order to teach at Wheaton College. Now, he converted to Roman Catholicism. That was a no-no according to the document he signed. On the other hand, they’ve had many short-term professors, those who come, visiting professors for this and that, who were Roman Catholics. Now, isn’t there some hypocrisy here, Dave?
Dave: Tom, I would say there’s a lot of hypocrisy. We’re confused—as you said, schizophrenic. We’re trying to, on the one hand, say, “Oh, we’re evangelicals. We adhere to the Bible.” But on the other hand, they’re putting their arms around Roman Catholics who do not adhere to the Bible, and they’re saying, “We’re going to join with Roman Catholics. We’re going to preach the same gospel.” They call them brothers and sisters in Christ, but they don’t preach the same gospel. For the Roman Catholic, Jesus Christ did not finish the work on the cross. He has to be offered again, immolated over and over in the mass. For the Roman Catholic there’s no salvation outside the Catholic Church, as you know. It’s works; it’s baptism—you’re born again by baptism. This is so anti-evangelical, anti-biblical. And yet that’s overlooked until there is some technicality on which we’ve got to make some decision, and it’s hypocritical. It’s schizophrenic.
Tom: When I was at Wheaton, this conference, they had the archbishop of Chicago, Archbishop George, and he spoke not just to the conference that was there—maybe 500 people in the conference—the president had him speak to the chapel. His talk was a presentation of apostolic succession. This was for about 1,200 people. I mean, what are we doing here?
Dave: Introduced by the president…
Tom: Of course.
Dave: …who now fired this man.
Tom: Well, I mean, he would not only introduce the archbishop, but afterwards he attended a function with the archbishop to raise funds for a Roman Catholic Church that had just burned down.
Dave: Tom, it is just beyond comprehension. I’m sorry.