Sunday, August 2, 2015

Upheavals at Wheaton College

Wheaton College, a Christian school in Wheaton, Illinois, made headlines twice in July over matters of LGBTQ advocacy and reproductive rights. The two stories serve as a reminder that some conservative Christian institutions are still out of step with the 21st century in terms of equality and reproductive justice.

First, Julie Rodgers, a member of the chaplaincy staff at Wheaton College, recently drew both praise and criticism after blogging about her support for same-sex relationships. Rodgers, as you may recall, spoke at ex-gay events hosted by the defunct Exodus International several years ago, but now identifies as a celibate gay Christian. In her July 13th blog post, Rodgers expressed doubt as to whether celibacy was appropriate for all gay Christians and admitted that calls for celibacy can make gay believers feel ashamed and ostracized.
"While I struggle to understand how to apply Scripture to the marriage debate today (just like we all struggle to know how to interpret Scripture on countless controversial topics), I’ve become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy. No matter how graciously it’s framed, that message tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians. It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-love. When that’s the case—when communion is contingent upon gays holding very narrow beliefs and making extraordinary sacrifices to live up to a standard that demands everything from an individual with little help from the community—it’s hard to believe our bodies might be an occasion for joy. It’s hard to believe we’re actually wanted in our churches. It’s hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us."
Shortly thereafter, Rodgers resigned from her position at Wheaton College, according to Christian Today. Wheaton College posted a terse press release on its website which provided few details about Rodgers' reasons for leaving.

I wish I knew more about Rodgers' departure. Did she leave of her own volition, or did the college pressure her to resign? Why was the press release so terse and devoid of praise for Rodgers? What message does this send to LGBTQ Christians? What does this say about Wheaton?

Second, UPI and the Associated Press report that Wheaton College is dropping student health insurance coverage so as to avoid covering birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. This news comes amidst a pending lawsuit filed by Wheaton College against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (more here). The school argues that its religious beliefs "prevent it from providing its employees with access to abortion-causing drugs as mandated by the federal government" under the ACA. The school's complaint incorrectly claims that emergency contraception methods such as Plan B and Ella are "abortion-causing drugs", despite the fact that emergency contraception does not induce abortion. (A certain misguided Hobby Lobby case over the same issue comes to mind.)

In other words, Wheaton is so adamant about refusing emergency contraception coverage that it's willing to deny health insurance to hundreds of its students. If an institution cares so much about preserving human life, shouldn't it ensure the health and well-being of its students? Furthermore, unless female students can find similar health insurance plans quickly, Wheaton's decision will make it more difficult for them to acquire emergency contraception and prevent unwanted pregnancy. Once again, a conservative Christian institution has failed to grasp the importance of reproductive justice, throwing women under the bus in the name of "religious freedom".

To be considered fair and humane in the 21st century, institutions of higher education must welcome LGBTQ students and respect the reproductive rights of their students. Recent events make me question whether Wheaton College is ready to do so.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Think Progress: Evangelical College Ends Students’ Health Insurance Altogether To Avoid Covering Birth Control

Friendly Atheist: To Stop Women from Getting Birth Control, Wheaton College Won’t Offer Students Any Health Insurance At All


  1. The Wheaton leadership could not be more clear about how little they respect their students. But aside from that their refusal to provide health insurance for all students is incredibly stupid.

    1. Agi Tater -- Wheaton cut off its nose to spite its face. They were so adamant about denying emergency contraception access that they did a huge disservice to their students. Their priorities are a mess!


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