Philip Ryken, president of the evangelical flagship school, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, is contesting a recent Fox News op-ed, claiming the school has gone “woke.”
While the Fox News article claims the college is straying from its “orthodox, Christian moorings,” Ryken said in a statement that the school remains fully committed “to biblical orthodoxy and Christ-centered education, including in matters of human sexuality, gender identity, and race relations.”
Ryken also took aim at the author’s journalism, saying the “mischaracterizing post seems to be cobbled from out-of-context items found on the Internet. The author does not name any sources or give any citations for his many contentions.”
However, the author of the article, Tim Scheiderer defended himself on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“The Fox News Opinion team reviewed my sources and vetted them for accuracy,” Sheiderer wrote. He added that Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, was one of his sources.
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And in another post, Scheiderer stated: “Writing this article was not a pleasurable experience. When pointing out how a group or a person has veered from Christian orthodoxy, it is quite saddening. I care deeply about higher education and its impact on today’s young people and even more so when it is a Christian institution. Hence, it was an article I had to write.
Has Wheaton gone ‘woke’?
Established in 1860 by Evangelical abolitionists, Wheaton College is known for its notable evangelical alumni, including Billy Graham, author and pastor John Piper, and apologist William Lane Craig. Currently, around 2,300 undergraduates and 600 graduate students attend the school, according to Wheaton’s website.
Scheiderer argued in his piece that Wheaton has become “woke” by “banning biblical words, teaching critical race theory, and psychologizing gender identity issues.”
Scheiderer claimed the school has done this in numerous ways, such as by holding ceremonies to recognize “graduating minority students sans White students.”
Scheiderer is referring to Wheaton’s Minority Senior Recognition Ceremony, which was created in 2021. According to the college’s website, the purpose of the ceremony is to “affirm God’s image in ethnic and cultural minority students and their families, to acknowledge their unique challenges at the College as well as to express appreciation for their commitment.”
Brian Howell, a Wheaton Professor of Anthropology, told The Roys Report (TRR) that this is an annual awards event that’s open to the public. He added that the ceremony recognizes people of every race.
While Scheiderer shared concerns that the school teaches critical race theory — a topic that has divided denominations and Christian high education institutions — Howell said Wheaton’s teaching doesn’t equate to advocating.
“To teach something is not to advocate it,” Howell said. “It’s to help students understand. It’s to bring it to their attention. It’s to read it and read about it.”
He added, “We don’t shield our students from what’s going on in the world. . . . We give them the tools to understand it from a Bible perspective.”
Scheiderer also expressed concern that the school is banning “biblical words that are key to the faith’s foundation.”
“In this year’s curriculum for freshmen, students are informed about opportunities to meet the needs of those less fortunate. This is commonly known as the act of service,” Scheiderer wrote.
“Wheaton, however, instructs the students not to use the word, ‘service.’ Instead, they are to use ‘sacrificial co-laboring.’ The reason given is service ‘may invoke power dynamics across socio-economic, racial, and cultural lines.’”
Scheiderer argues the school has banned the use of the word “service.” But Howell said, “that’s just wrong.”
Howell explained the term service is used in many contexts at Wheaton. But in this instance, the term “’sacrificial co-laboring” is used to describe the situation more accurately. In the curriculum, freshmen join with other groups to learn about opportunities to help others.
Howell said overall he is disappointed that Fox News ran Scheiderer’s op-ed. Howell added that Wheaton isn’t woke, something he defined as promoting and defending a specific political agenda.
“Wheaton College doesn’t do that,” Howell said. “The school is absolutely committed to a Christian identity and a Christian worldview. But we don’t promote a specific political point of view.”
Is Wheaton Marxist?
Scheiderer additionally claimed that in the 2000s, Wheaton’s education department commended the teachings of Marxists.
Wheaton did previously have a foundational document in its education department that embraced “leftist social justice,” according to a 2010 investigation by TRR founder Julie Roys.
Wheaton’s former document stated that the school develops teachers who are “agents of change” for social justice. The college defined justice by citing several radical leftist thinkers, such as Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist thinker, and Bill Ayers, a former terrorist who bombed the Pentagon.
However, after TRR’s report, President Ryken rewrote the document. “This correction is extremely important,” Roys wrote in 2013 article, adding that the revisions show a “heartening return to correct biblical thinking.”
In his op-ed, Scheiderer also cited other examples of “wokeness” at the school. He said that in 2016, 78 Wheaton faculty members voiced support for a fellow professor who stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Scheiderer is referring to the controversy surrounding Professor Larycia Hawkins.
In 2016, the school’s student newspaper, The Wheaton Record, published a letter signed by 78 faculty members calling on the school’s provost to revoke the administrative leave of Hawkins.
The professor was subject to disciplinary action after stating online that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Ultimately she parted ways with the institution after reaching a confidential agreement with the institution.
Freelance journalist Liz Lykins writes for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.