Why are evangelical universities adopting secular strategies to address a spiritual problem? As one professor put it, administrators are “risk-averse” and hope this will save them from being called racists. But what if their anti-racist solution to racism is itself racist? And what if, in their attempts to avoid criticism, evangelical colleges embrace a secular gospel that has nothing to do with true kingdom diversity?
Parents from Biden-voting areas such as Westchester County (NY), Maricopa County (AZ), and northern Virginia have been protesting the teaching of critical race theory in their public schools. They object that it divides students by race and intimates that skin color denotes either guilt or innocence.
Christian parents often assume that evangelical institutions are free from such secular ideologies. But recent developments at three leading evangelical schools suggest they need to look more carefully.
Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater in Illinois, is famous as a premier center for evangelical learning. But Wheaton has recently adopted harmful strategies in its approach to race. According to one professor who wrote me anonymously, only a few Wheaton professors are woke, but many critics of their agenda are “hesitant” to speak up. The beliefs of Wheaton’s Office of Multicultural Development, led by a cabinet-level chief intercultural engagement officer, were on display last April at Wheaton’s first annual “Racialized Minorities Recognition Ceremony.” Sheila Caldwell, Wheaton’s chief diversity officer until just a few weeks before the event, was the main speaker. Caldwell complained that she had been “imprisoned by a racialized caste system . . . and was expected to be deferential to the patriarchy” around her. She implied that Wheaton was also part of this racialized system. She added that Larycia Hawkins (the political science professor Wheaton fired for refusing to uphold the college’s statement of faith on the uniqueness of Christ’s salvation) had been “pressured to stay in her place in the American caste system.”
At an evangelical college, the approach to all issues—including race—should be grounded in the gospel. Yet Caldwell’s message was not the beauty of salvation by the Trinitarian God, but the need for people of color to exercise power in a racist society. In a letter to students, faculty, and staff, the president of Baylor University recommended a resource on race that encourages readers to assess their thoughts and feelings using Tema Okun’s “characteristics of white supremacy culture”—characteristics that include individualism, objectivity, linear thinking, and logic.
One professor at Baylor told me he is “infuriated” that the university has not used this country’s race debate to show how Christian faith can transform the conversation.