An open letter to the president of Wheaton College

From: James Ernest
Date: Tue, Jan 12, 2021 at 9:32 AM
Subject: Statement from Wheaton College Faculty and Staff
To: Philip Ryken

Dear President Ryken,

As a grateful alumnus of Wheaton College (BA, 1981), I am heartened to see the simple, clear, truthful, and courageous statement regarding the January 6 insurrection that has now been signed by 223 faculty and staff members and former members.

I would be more heartened if I saw your name among the signers.

I expect (I certainly hope!) that your signature is not missing because you disagree with the statement. I expect you might say it is not your place to make or subscribe to statements on matters of public concern. I suspect you are afraid that wealthy donors would object and would react adversely.

But in my view (informed by analyses by leading historians like Timothy Snyder) we are at a point of crisis (krisis, decision and judgment) both as a nation and as a Christian movement within the nation. The thoroughgoing polarization of our society is lamentable, but on some questions, there is a right side and a wrong side and no middle ground. President Trump’s attempt to subvert American democracy with the support of millions of people identifying as evangelical Christians is such a question. The statement referenced above expresses the right answer to that question. Silence conveys willingness to tolerate, and unwillingness to condemn, the wrong side.

Authentic Christian leadership cannot remain silent on this question. What will you do?

Yours in Christ,

James Ernest

James D. Ernest, PhD
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing


1/12/2021, 1 PM

President Ryken replied, thanking me for  for sharing my concern and for my ongoing interest in the college. He also referred me to an official statement posted yesterday by the college. That official statement, which I encourage you to read, embeds links to statements from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and from the National Association of Evangelicals. It also links to a call for prayer and fasting from the NAE. I encourage you to read all of these statements. I appreciate his reply.

My own assessment: the unofficial statement by Wheaton faculty and staff is the most forthright and valuable of them all. The NAE statement calls President Trump by name and truthfully names his own responsibility for spreading lies and conspiracy theories. The statement by Wheaton faculty truthfully and courageously names the “vicious lies, deplorable violence, white supremacy, white nationalism, and wicked leadership” represented in the January 6 attach and “especially by President Trump” along with “idolatrous and blasphemous abuses of Christian symbols.”

By contrast, the official Wheaton statement is careful and moderate. It refers to anonymous “perpetrators,” conspicuously failing to name either the Perpetrator-in-Chief, specific components of Trumpist ideology, or the specific sins of idolatry and blasphemy in the way that the unofficial statement does. So to me it seems a bit milquetoast. This is not a moment for a careful, moderate statement.

One could answer that the Theological Declaration of Barmen did not name either Hitler or the Nazi Party. True enough.

President Ryken is in a difficult spot. I am not in that spot and so perhaps should not say with much confidence what I would do if I were. But I hope I would have both the courage and the humility to sign the statement drafted and subscribed by my colleagues.

The fear of wealthy alumni and donors is real. But let me say this: my awareness of the way in which the college has for decades pandered to the desires and demands of donors who possess more money than theological acuity is one of the reasons (in addition to my lack of great wealth) why my donations to alma mater have always been careful and moderate, i.e., small. How I would love to be able to admire alma mater’s steadfast and fearless commitment to speaking and enacting gospel truth in adverse circumstances, and to feel impelled to give accordingly. I wonder whether there aren’t substantial numbers of alumni, some of them considerably wealthier than I, who feel the same.

So, again: my congratulations and thanks to the Wheaton faculty members who signed the courageously truthful statement. And my muted thanks to President Ryken and the others responsible for the careful, inoffensive statement.

Further Update: A Letter to the Provost of Wheaton College

———- Forwarded message ———
From: James Ernest
Date: Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 9:46 PM
Subject: thanks
To: <>

Dear Dr. Lee,

Thank you for your signature on the Capitol Hill Attack statement by Wheaton College faculty and staff members.

In a context in which white evangelical Christianity is grievously implicated in the acceptance and endorsement of lies, an evangelical institution of higher education like Wheaton College absolutely must, for the good of the larger evangelical community and for the preservation of its own integrity, not only stand for truth but also, without equivocation or evasion, stand against lies and notorious liars. That means naming names and enumerating sins, which the statement to which you have signed your name does.

Having graduated from Wheaton College in 1981, I have waited four decades to see a high-ranking officer of my alma mater exercise the courage that you have shown in this matter.

God bless you, and God bless Wheaton Colllege.

Yours in Christ,

James D. Ernest
BA, 1981

James D. Ernest, PhD
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

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