Julie Rodgers, the former ministry associate for spiritual care at Wheaton College’s chaplain’s office, wrote an article for Time Ideas, published online on Feb. 23, in which she reflected on her resignation from the college.
This marked the first time that Rodgers spoke openly about her decision to resign, a story that Wheaton media relations announced last summer. Rodgers is openly gay.
In her article, Rodgers brings forward themes including the fact that President Philip Ryken in January 2015 suggested the possibility of her resignation before she had thought about leaving. The article also included recollections of her “exhaustive attempts to be a submissive staff member” in a college that she claims consistently monitored her.
Wheaton media relations responded to her statements, saying in an editor’s note at the end of the Time article, that Rodgers’ resignation was a “surprise” for Ryken, and added that she was not “asked, encouraged, or pressured to resign.”
Rodgers told The Record on Wednesday, Feb. 24, that the news may have come as a surprise for Ryken because the two had not been in conversation since campus office activities ceased for the summer — classes ended in early May and Rodgers resigned on July 13.
When Ryken put resignation forward as an option, Rodgers says it was something “he wanted to put on my radar to consider in the future.” She also called that conversation “one moment (among many) that made me feel like they thought I was a PR problem — the kind of PR problem that would resolve if I disappeared.”
Ryken did not respond to The Record’s request for a response by this week’s production deadline. The Chaplain’s Office ministry associate for care and administration Marilyn Brenner also declined to comment for this article.
On July 13, 2015, Rodgers posted a piece on her personal blog which addressed her ideological shift from supporting celibacy for those experiencing same-sex attraction to supporting same-sex relationships. In Time Ideas, Wheaton media relations called her shift a “significant change in her views on integrating Christian beliefs and same-sex issues.”
Rodgers said that her main reason for leaving the college was the scrutiny she was subjected to. “It took a toll on me emotionally and spiritually,” she said, “and I couldn’t imagine a way for me to flourish under so much pressure.”
In her Time article, Rodgers recalled the external pressure she encountered on social media, from figures like Eric Teetsel ’06, a Wheaton alumnus who works in politics, who “relentlessly monitored” her online activity.
Rodgers mentioned a conversation she held with director of media relations LaTonya Taylor, while she was deliberating whether to write a personal article in a national publication. She said that Taylor relayed personal concerns that the school might make a “public display” of the controversy the article would create by letting her go.
Taylor told The Record on Wednesday night that the conversation in question took place after a “major evangelical publication” published an article focusing on Rodgers that put her under a “great deal of public scrutiny.”
“Because I hoped to help her succeed in her work at Wheaton,” Taylor said, “I privately shared my opinion that publishing an article in a second major publication would not be helpful.”
While she was employed at Wheaton, Rodgers said that she was a safe place for many students who were “sexual minorities.” She told The Record that students on campus still reach out to her, and that they rendezvous to “chat about all things life, angst, Jesus and Wheaton.”
“They often text for prayer,” Rodgers said, “because it’s a real struggle to be a gay at Wheaton and they know my love for them didn’t end when my job did.”
Though he is not personally close to Rodgers, senior Jeremiah Brown, who represents one view of the queer demographic at Wheaton, said that among his friends who know Rodgers, she is “greatly beloved.”
Both Brown and Rodgers cited Wheaton’s “conservative constituents” as major players in the events that unfolded around Rodgers’ resignation.
Brown told The Record, “The majority of people who support Wheaton financially are not supportive of LGBTQ persons. I certainly expect this to change in a few generations, but because Wheaton is dependent on those donors, it will continue to be several steps behind on that issue.”
He added, “That doesn’t mean it isn’t making progress, or that it is not trying to care for LGBTQ students. It does mean that it cannot publicly do so.”
According to Brown, Wheaton provides spiritual and counseling resources for LGBTQ students. At the same time, LGBTQ students felt the loss of Rodgers and associate professor of political science Larycia Hawkins, who were advocates.
He said that while he felt that Ryken was “truly committed” to the growth of those resources for LGTBQ students, the administration “could do more in terms of publicly having support available.”
The Record asked Rodgers what she wanted to tell the student body. She replied:
“We are one body. We are united in our pursuit of doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. We’re all part of the same story: a story of knowing we messed it all up and then Jesus showed up and said something like this: ‘There’s room for you in my family. You’re lost and ruined and all out of hope? There’s always more grace––more grace for you, too.’
“This is what holds us together. The Gospel and the creeds (and even the various definitions of Evangelicalism) have nothing to say about sex or marriage. Somehow we’ve allowed disagreements about marriage to divide us in ways they need not and should not. Christians have always disagreed about how to interpret various passages in Scripture, but we’ve been united by the core tenets of our faith.”
“Conversations about marriage and sexuality are important because they impact real human lives, but they’re just that –– conversations among Christians. They do not define who’s in and who’s out because all of us share in the Gospel of Jesus and all of us rest on God’s mercy alone. Let’s continue to wrestle with what these questions mean for everyone in the family, but let’s never forget that we’re family.”