(Sixteenth in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)

NOTE from TB: Wheaton alums have emailed a number of responses to this series. Here’s one received from the son of a nationally-prominent Evangelical leader who was a Wheaton alum from the time of Buswell’s presidency:

As I read this last post I was reminded of my father saying the trustees chose Edman for his malleability and lack of courage. They were never again going to permit a president like Buswell to lead Wheaton….

At their January 1940 meeting, the trustees of Wheaton College asked for the resignation of their president, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. He declined to resign, so they fired him. Eighty-three years later, Wheaton’s Trustees piled on, denouncing President Buswell as racist and purging his name from Wheaton’s campus.

What is it about this man that elicits such public displays of disdain or hostility from two separate Wheaton boards of trustees almost a century apart? Isn’t it safe to assume the guy himself was the problem, and not the trustees?

Wheaton’s Trustees depend on their constituents thinking this way. It seems safe to denounce a man who left campus eighty years ago, dictating and signing his final letters “Ex-President” as he cleaned out his office. Who’s going to stand up for a man whose departure was so ignominious?

These former things provide Dave Gieser, his fellow Trustees, and their President Phil Ryken1 good cover for bashing Buswell yet again, proving themselves sons of their 1940 fathers.

Appeasing their students, Gieser and his Trustees called on the more malleable among their faculty members and staff for scholarly assistance. Dignifying their conscripts with the name “Historical Review Task Force,” they mandated the production of a document that would justify their planned surrogate repentance in President Buswell’s behalf, all to pacify their black, indigenous, and other collegians of color.

It took two years but finally, September of last year (2023), the Task Force issued their Historical Review Task Force Report.

Since the Report was researched and put together by college profs, one would expect careful scholarship. But no. Thoughtful readers of the Report are struck by two things.

First, the report’s preciousness. No opportunity is missed to signal liberal colleagues that Wheaton’s best and brightest are finally getting it. Racism. Reparations. Land rights. I was surprised to find no mention of St. Greta Thunberg or single use plastic bags. The Task Force is so desperate to please.

Second, the report’s tendentiousness. It’s been amazing to spend months and months collecting all the historical facts these Wheaton profs excluded. After a while, it became undeniable the exclusions were intentional. All of them flowed in one direction.

It’s clear the Trustees got what they paid for: “Pay no attention to the rest of the story.” The previous fifteen articles in this series document much of this “rest of the story,” but there’s more.

Before we return to this theme of the rest of the story, though, let’s stop to consider our cultural moment and the significance of what Wheaton’s Trustees and administration have been doing since the release of the Report last September.

Our patricidal culture

Wheaton’s administration under the authority of their Trustees have been making a shambles of their authority for decades. We’ve documented some of the more scandalous episodes, but none so thoroughly as this latest. Why spend so much time on this one?

Lies told by religious leaders in order to avoid threats to their power and money should be exposed—particularly when they chatter about repentance as cover for their slander. Beyond slander and hypocrisy, their lies are assaults upon the character and reputation of a godly father.

For decades, now, Western society has given itself to a virulent display of hatred for our fathers. In their much-ballyhooed Report, Ryken and his Trustees are placating this hatred.

As I write, Ryken and his fellow administrators have been announcing several campus celebrations of their Report’s spiritual accomplishments, congratulating themselves publicly and issuing invitations to join them in their joy. Recently they publicized their latest one, announcing they had issued an invitation to the Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates to come and bless them for their surrogate repentance:

Dear Wheaton College Community,

On behalf of the Historical Review Implementation Task Force, you are invited to attend the Historical Review Symposium on Tuesday, March 12.

Repentance, Responsibility, and Renewal
March 12, 7:00-8:30 pm
Barrows Auditorium

This Symposium will feature Reverend Dr. Charlie E. Dates on the topic of biblical repentance, institutional responsibility, and communal renewal.

Dr. Dates is the Senior Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, as well as Pastor of Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago. Dr. Dates serves as an Affiliate Professor at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Wheaton College. He earned a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Dr. Dates is a contributing author to Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Say It!: Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition.

This is an important event for our campus community. It follows the Fall Symposium, which featured a multidisciplinary faculty discussion of the Historical Review. This evening with Dr. Dates will benefit faculty, staff, students, and alumni as we continue to engage together the findings of the Historical Review.

Philip Ryken
President

So what was the Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates’s blessing?

The student paper reports:

Charlie Dates, senior pastor at Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church and Salem Baptist Church – two predominantly Black churches – delivered a message about how the college can continue to strive toward these virtues, especially on racial justice issues.

“Maybe Wheaton will seek not just to be the Ivy League of Christian institutions but the kind of institution that raises up relevant Christian leaders,” he said. “Leaders who are not so addicted to old white male theology, so drunk on the commentaries of slaveholders that they can break away from white supremacy in our Scripture reading and preach the truth…”

Dates’s animus

The Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates has a dream, doesn’t he?

Dates’s dream is that one day “Relevant Christian leaders” will once and for all repudiate:

  • the “old theology.”
  • the “white theology.”
  • the “male theology.”

I do hope you didn’t bother getting in a huff about this. Such blowhard rhetoric is merely the required response of a Black spokesman to White self-abnegation. It’s banal and should anger no one. Who takes offense at a cliché?

Dates should get a grip. Black men have won nothing at Wheaton. They shouldn’t mistake surrogate repentance for the real thing. He might also realize that racism is racism, whether White or Black.

Beyond haranguing Whites, Dates appealed to the conceit of youth and the hatred of men—dissing the “old” and the “male.”

Being pronounced by a Black man, all of it was perfectly scripted to provide a catharsis for Wheaton’s President, trustees, and faculty. Spiritual dramaturgy.

We must recognize and expose this spiritual hypocrisy clothed in the Name of God. Keep in mind the similar charade put on by the false prophets of the time of Judah’s King Jehoshapat:

Zedekiah prophesying with horns

Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting each on his throne, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them. Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made horns of iron for himself and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are consumed.’”

All the prophets were prophesying thus, saying, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper, for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” (1Kings 22:10-12)

Prophets appeasing the kings by dancing with horns on their heads are not true prophets. Appeasement is always flattery, and flattery is the tool which identifies the false prophet.

Stop for a moment to consider the students’ parents who are paying these men to educate their sons and daughters “for Christ and His Kingdom.” Slandering a godly father, then defending that slander by claiming it is godly repentance before God, betrays not only that father, but the students’ fathers; and, finally, God the Father Almighty from Whom all fatherhood is named:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father (πατέρα) from whom all fatherhood (πᾶσα πατριὰ) in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14-15)

When we strike and curse our godly fathers, we strike and curse our Heavenly Father from Whom our fathers received their calling and honor.

Readers may ask, “How can we call J. Oliver Buswell a ‘godly father?’ He was a racist, wasn’t he?”

No, there is no sense of the word “racist” used rationally that is properly applied to President Buswell. Reading the articles published here in this series makes it clear that those who denounce this father as racist are deceivers.

President Buswell systematically opposed racism. He was a reformer whose fruit on the campus of Wheaton, as well as among his children, was a Biblically prophetic witness against the racism so prevalent at Wheaton at the time. He left a lasting legacy that opposed segregation and defended interracial marriage, particularly through the discipline and professors of Anthropology he brought and institutionalized there.

The truth is J. Oliver Buswell was a reformer. Nail that one down. Without coming to recognize this fundamental truth about this father in the faith, it is impossible to understand why Wheaton’s religious leaders have despised, terminated, denounced, and scrubbed the man’s name from their campus.

Ryken and his hired writers could easily have spent much of their pages and 400 footnotes documenting Buswell’s work of reform, but this is the witness, evidence, and history they gagged.

Why?

Sheep don’t have patience for much beyond who wears the white and who the black hat, so President Buswell had to be unambiguously staged as the villain.

In truth though, prophets are complicated. Because their warnings and condemnations are spoken to the people of God—not the media, politicians, or Marxists—we find them hard to love. Within the Church, the best of us have an ambivalent relationship with God’s prophets and reformers.

And the worst of us?

Wheaton has lots of churches of the wealthy for whom the profitability of the godly life must be guarded. No one who grew up in Wheaton or has lived there is confused over why Wheaton hasn’t allowed a single man to bear prophetic witness to the people of God over the course of the 80 years since they rid themselves of J. Oliver Buswell.

His prophetic witness is the reason Wheaton fired President Buswell, and every man hired since Buswell has understood the terms of his employment. The supreme qualification for the successful candidate for religious leadership positions controlled by Wheaton’s men remains malleability.

The history Wheaton’s best and brightest2 have assembled mentions only in passing President Buswell’s commitment and work of church reform, yet this work stood at the center of his Trustees’ decision to rid themselves of him. He had become a noxious presence in their lives.

Our next article will open up this matter of why President J. Oliver Buswell Jr. elicited such hostility from Wheaton’s Trustees yesterday and today.

(Sixteenth in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)


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References
1Ryken is former pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America’s Tenth Presbyterian Church and son of Leland Ryken, author of Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were.
2Readers may think it unseemly to refer to Ryken and his trustees and faculty in this way, but Wheaton loves to be referred to as “the Harvard of Christian schools.” A few years ago, an article in the campus paper, The Wheaton Record, began: “Wheaton College has often been described as the Harvard of Christian schools due to its academic and spiritual disciplines. In keeping with this unofficial title, students at Wheaton experience a challenging educational environment within the context of faith…”

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