Wheaton College, one of the nation’s leading Christian universities, is under scrutiny for its treatment of two very different presentations about race. While a pro-life talk was deemed “offensive rhetoric” by student leaders, another secular address riddled with explicit language and identity politics received little critique.
In a revealing Townhall column, pro-life activist Ryan Bomberger lets alum, parents, students, and the general public in on an unexpected controversy surrounding Wheaton College, race, and abortion.
For Bomberger, the controversy started after Wheaton College Republicans invited him to offer an address to students on campus in November 2018. His talk, titled “Black Lives Matter In and Out of the Womb,” examined the link between racism and the abortion industry. But he also focused heavily on his personal testimony incorporating Christian foundations, making the consequent backlash astonishing.
Bomberger is biracial. He was conceived in rape and then adopted. He himself is an adoptive father and is a well-respected pro-life advocate and author of the book Not Equal: Civil Rights Gone Wrong. He is also a Christian who uses his testimony to affirm that all life is created by God and bears his image, despite worldly circumstances and “unwanted” labels.
“As an adoptee and adoptive father who was conceived in rape, I challenged [Wheaton] students to see the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and the most powerless among us as having equal intrinsic worth and God-given Purpose,” wrote Bomberger.
Much of Bomberger’s discussion aimed to expose abortion’s targeted assault on the black community. “In New York City, for every 1,000 [black babies] born alive, 1,101 are aborted, and they call this reproductive justice,” Bomberger explained to his young audience. He also went on to criticize the #BlackLivesMatters movement’s failure to address abortion’s genocide on unborn black lives. (You can watch his entire address here on YouTube.)
It seems a bit scandalous then, that within a week after his talk, a campus-wide email was sent out via the Student Activities Office calling Bomberger’s talk “offensive rhetoric.” The email said that his talk left “many students, staff, and faculty of color feel unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe on our campus.” The letter was signed by three student body representatives who promised to organize a safe space for continued dialogue on the topic. (Bomberger made the email available here in its entirety.)
Bomberger has been vocal since the bewildering claims came to his attention, suggesting the involvement of two Wheaton administrators in the Student Activities Office and writing, “I wish the school would have responded by encouraging students to think critically, discuss the message from both sides, and challenge themselves on the content presented.”
However, it is a newly discovered, expletive-laden presentation on race from back in September 2017 that has spurred on Bomberger’s insistence that something is off with Wheaton’s approach.
In his column, Bomberger shared clips from a presentation given by Dr. George Yancy, a philosophy professor at Emory University, who was invited by Wheaton College’s philosophy department and held in the famed Billy Graham Center. Yancy’s talk is starkly different from Bomberger’s Biblically-grounded presentation.
You can listen to a portion of Yancy’s campus presentation, here. A lengthier version is available here. Be warned that Yancy’s remarks include profanity and some graphic descriptions. Honestly, it is tough to listen to his presentation for all the foul language and secular reproaches, seemingly equating white supremacists with all white people. For example, Yancy tells students “If you’re black, you should be scared as hell here at Wheaton College” and “I feel like I won’t leave you with much hope after this talk. It’s not about leaving people with hope. That’s not my job.”
One attendee noted during a Q&A clip that there was no mention of God during Yancey’s discussion. In fact, the philosophy professor’s presentation lacked a focus on forgiveness and reconciliation, as one might expect to hear on a Christian campus.
Now, even Christian colleges should expose students to varying viewpoints. But it seems odd that Bomberger’s talk, which closely aligns with Wheaton’s Christian worldview would be labeled “offensive rhetoric” in a campus-wide email by student leaders. Meanwhile, Yancy’s talk which seemed to lack any Christian foundation received zero backlash from student body representatives. No campus-wide emails sent comforting any discomfort among the student body — no safe spaces created for further processing and dialogue. At least, none to my knowledge or Bomberger’s knowledge for that matter.
Bomberger does not hold back in his refutations of Yancy’s talk and the school’s overall attitude, sharing:
We must fight the sin of racism and work toward understanding and loving one another in intentional and tangible ways. Yancy’s approach isn’t it. He’s stuck in 1860. He admits he has no practical or spiritual solution to offer: “It’s not about leaving white people with hope. That’s not my job. White America sees me as a n***er. White America sees you, if you are black, as a n***er. And I don’t want you to forget that.”
Christianity offers a completely different perspective. It’s called love (a word never mentioned by Yancy). It transforms everything, makes us new creations, compels us toward forgiveness, and creates real and lasting unity. If preaching that message gets me, students, or faculty smeared on a Christian college campus, then smear away. Someone will be set free.
I agree with Bomberger on this one. Yancy presented no tangible solutions to America’s deep racial tensions, only a heap of contempt and shaming. There are better ways to address America’s race problems. According to IRD President Mark Tooley, there is a “very needed initiative for racial reconciliation that uniquely rediscovers a venerable tradition of understanding the nation under both divine judgment and mercy.” Christian students especially need exposure to this unique approach to racial reconciliation.
As Tooley explains, “This message is unfashionable in much of American Christianity that now rejects or minimizes the providential role of nations. But Christians cannot help our nation heal unless they also understand the nation’s purpose under God.”
For this reason, the Institute on Religion and Democracy is partnering with the Institute of Anglican Students at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University to host a “Racial Reconciliation and the National Covenant” conference February 12-13 in Birmingham, Alabama. Leading scholars and clergy will examine the United States’ racial problem with the conviction that it cannot be solved by politics alone, but by considering the religious roots of the nation and its sins. To learn more about participating in IRD’s upcoming conference, please visit www.TheIRD.org/racial-reconciliation/
“Boy is it needed!,” as one of my IRD collegues plainly put it.