Every now and then you encounter a story that is more than sad or depressing – its a punch to the gut. This is one of them:
Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.
Wheaton has been considered the most prominent Evangelical institution of higher learning in the nation for some time. It was high in the running for places I might attend. I have countless friends that attended Wheaton – all of them good, solid Christian people. But most of all, Wheaton’s Football Coach Emeritus was my high school football coach, a man I still call friend and that I admire more than most. I know J.R. Bishop had nothing whatsoever to do with this, his current state of health, and an issue he has struggled with for some years now, would not permit it. At any rate, some years ago, his retirement took him several states south. J.R., more than any other Christian leader in my life, taught me that you can be highly successful in your earthly endeavors and remain deeply committed to your faith. This news dishonors his legacy which is something that I hold very dear.
But moreover, as a prominent institution of faith, this dishonors Christ and His church. Of course, Wheaton is distancing themselves as fast as possible, but that is PR. They are an institution responsible for first screening who they let in their school and then for shaping them into people of God. They failed in both efforts with these kids and that does not reflect well on any of us that call Jesus Lord.
While this story is personal with me, it is hardly unique…
Much national attention has been paid to the failing of the Roman Catholic Church, but the thousands of stories like this one in other churches remain primarily local stories and outnumber the Catholic stories by orders of magnitude. They reflect a church more interested in earthly success than the mission around which they were formed.
When I was in high school, Coach Bishop sent packing several of the most talented players in our school due to character issues. He simply would not allow boys like that to represent his program. There were a lot of people afraid that we lost games when those kids went away. J.R responded by leading us to an undefeated season. He knew that if he remained true to God, God would honor that – a lesson I have never forgotten. That did not mean he knew we were going to be undefeated, but he was most confident that good things would happen, whatever our record.
When things like what has happened at Wheaton happen, when God’s institutions fail on that level, it is a lack of faith. It is a failure to believe God’s promises. Their failures reflect a focus on something other than God’s glory.
And we wonder why our nation is in the state it is in. Oh, we are materially successful far beyond our dreams of avarice. But anybody that takes a serious look knows we are also a nation sick in the soul. It is not that surprising when we consider the shape our religious institutions are in.