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Double Divorce

The end of a marriage may mean the end of employment at a Christian college — but not always.

Despite some public controversy over the resignation of a Wheaton College professor, several Christian colleges insist that divorce is relevant to employment at such institutions.

English professor Kent Gramm resigned this semester because he did not want to share details of his divorce with school administrators. Walworth County (Wisconsin) divorce records show that Gramm filed for the divorce on February 25, and his wife did not jointly petition.

Wheaton's Community Covenant requires the upholding of "the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman." The college's employee handbook states that the college will consider retaining a divorcing employee "when there is reasonable evidence that the circumstances that led to the final dissolution of the marriage related to desertion or adultery on the part of the other partner."

"I signed a mutually agreed upon separation from Wheaton College rather than go through a long and unpleasant firing process," Gramm told Christianity Today in an e-mail. "The reasons for a divorce thoughtfully undertaken are complex and personal, and therefore I would rather not deal with a policy such as Wheaton's." Gramm declined to comment further.

Stanton Jones said he has dealt with about seven cases of divorce in his 12 years as Wheaton's provost.

"Only rarely have we had negative decisions. We see it as a straight extension of the Community Covenant, which calls us to beyond just the narrow qualifications of our job," Jones said. "Wheaton is attempting to embody what it understands is faithful to biblical teaching."

Jones said the college offered Gramm another year at the college while he searches for another position, but he declined.

Wheaton's student newspaper, The Record, found that students are split on the college's policy. Of 920 survey respondents, 38 percent of students said they disagree with the college's divorce policy, 29 percent said they support the policy, and 32 percent said they were not sure.

Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, does not know how many Christian schools have divorce-related policies, but he said that it is not uncommon for them to have different professional standards than public schools.

"I think the vast majority of our schools would either have Covenant-related commitments or behavioral rules that would demonstrate the holistic nature of what it means to be a follower of Christ," Corts said. "There is no notion of bifurcating your personal life and spiritual responsibilities."

Some Christian colleges, like Biola University, Taylor University, and Gordon College have divorce guidelines similar to Wheaton's. Others do not have specific divorce policies but have requirements that could relate to divorce. Calvin College, for example, requires its faculty to be members of a Christian Reformed Church or a church in "ecclesiastical fellowship" with the denomination.

"We leave issues like spiritual discipline in the hands of the churches, so there's less of a need for us to handle these issues," Calvin spokesman Phil de Haan said.

Another Wheaton English professor, Alan Jacobs, wrote in a First Things blog post that it is impossible to teach at Wheaton without giving up a great deal of what most people call their privacy.

"When I count the cost in this way, I am dismayed, and I can't help but wonder whether there's not a better and less threatening way to implement the community's standards of commitment," Jacobs wrote. "But I don't think Wheaton would be improved by a wholesale rejection of its current communal bonds and their replacement by a strict and simplistic division of 'public' and 'private' worlds."

George Marsden, a University of Notre Dame history professor who has studied Christian institutions for several years, said that some religious colleges hold more strictly to lifestyle standards than others.

"It's not surprising for a place like Wheaton … where it's not just an anonymous group of people coming in to do their job at a public institution," Marsden said. "For 100 Christian colleges, there are probably 20 ways of handling these issues."

Related Elsewhere:

Pulliam earlier blogged on the Gramm resignation and media reaction.

Other coverage includes:

At College, a High Standard on Divorce | Kent Gramm is getting divorced, the college demands an explanation, and he refuses to give one. (The New York Times)
Divorce: Grounds for Dismissal | Kent Gramm, a full professor of English at Wheaton College, in Illinois, is amidst two painful separations. (Inside Higher Ed)
Wheaton College professor's divorce costs him his job | College applies standards based on New Testament. (Chicago Tribune)
He got a divorce, now he's out of a job | Prof refuses to discuss details of his split. (Chicago Sun-Times)
Be loving, not legalistic, with divorcing prof | As a Wheaton College alum, I cringed at Monday's news. (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)
Wheaton prof explains divorce policy | Watching from the inside, this situation has abounded in ironies. (Timothy Larsen, World)
The Bonds of Community (Alan Jacobs, First Things)
What's So Odd About Religious Colleges? | Wheaton's standards reflect an Ozzie and Harriet morality in a Sarah Jessica Parker world. (William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal)
Man fired for getting divorce | Professor loses job over marriage breakup (Editorial, The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

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