One Wheaton: Wedding at Cana
Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois, has been in the press quite a bit lately due to the controversy surrounding Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins came under fire when she wore a hijab to express solidarity with Muslim Women. Wheaton officials insist that it is not the hijab at issue, but rather statements made in solidarity with Muslims. Now, the the first black female professor to attain tenure at Wheaton faces possible expulsion, and we are once again reminded of the deeply rooted xenophobia that exists in America.
Those of us that are familiar with this evangelical Christian college, however (not to be confused with Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts) are probably not quite as shocked at this development as the rest of the world. After all, evangelical Christians are more often interested in converting others to Christianity than with expressing any solidarity or commonality with other religions. Growing up in such an evangelical Christian household I was taught to believe other religions were misguided at best, but much more likely just plain evil.
Wheaton is also, of course, a school that only loosened up their conservative Christian restrictions on smoking, drinking, and yes, even dancing (think Footloose) in 2003. Certain types of dancing are now acceptable these days, but more risque dance (think Dirty Dancing) is still unacceptable for students
Wheaton has, in fact, long struggled to reconcile both reason academic integrity with its evangelical base. Even today (and after much debate) students at Wheaton are taught a very limited version of evolution. Teachers are allowed to discuss evolutionary changes only within established species. A very literal interpretation of the origin story prevents them from acknowledging the widespread belief that evolution of the human species predated the arrival of Adam and Eve.
And of course Wheaton still refuses to acknowledge that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are fully equal members of society; worthy to love, and worthy to be loved. They choose to ignore the longstanding positions of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association and what is now more than three decades of research on the matter. Despite what most of us now understand not only academically, but as a matter of common sense, Gay students are encouraged to be celibate, or worse yet, to try and convert to heterosexuality.
In the past few years, LGBT alumni of Wheaton have come together to form OneWheaton, offering hope to current Wheaton students. To celebrate their fifth anniversary, OneWheaton commissioned a play written by Rachel Mariner with Lisa Maria Madera.
In this play, Wedding at Cana, a gay man tries to convince his Evangelical mother to attend his wedding with the assistance of his sister who thinks all religion is stupid and dangerous. Many of you know Rachel Mariner is my sister, and an alumni of Wheaton College I am immensely proud to have a sister who is both an amazing person and an amazing playwright.
For all the articles that have appeared in the news about Professor Larycia Hawkins, there has been very little discussion about Wheaton College itself and the prevailing culture of evangelical Christianity.
This play offers tremendous insight into this world. A staged reading of the play took place October 10, 2015 at the Memorial Park Leisure Center in Wheaton, IL. You can listen to the staged reading on SoundCloud:
It is easy to be shocked and appalled by what is going on right now at Wheaton. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to be isolated from people who think differently than we do. Understanding our differences is hard. Finding the humanity in people we so strongly disagree with can be even harder. Art at it’s best has the ability to help us on this journey, and Rachel’s play does exactly that.