Wheaton’s annual town hall chapel took a surprising turn Monday morning when senior Philip Fillion took the microphone to ask President Philip Ryken a question about the college’s stance on LGBT issues and sexual ethics. Midway through his question, Fillion was hit on his left shoulder by an apple thrown from the back of the balcony.
Students nearby confirmed that the fruit was thrown by senior Roland Hesse, who quickly left chapel after the incident.
In his remarks, Fillion challenged the school’s perspective on sexuality and sacraments, charging that Wheaton’s stance “is not at all universal and depends on a reading of scripture that is incredibly narrow and ignores history, culture and science.”
“Why is it the case that our college…insists on formally condemning and denying equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, on spurious theological grounds, yet completely leaves behind baptism and eucharist, which Jesus Christ himself instituted to grow and strengthen the Christian community?” asked Fillion.
Some students speculate that Fillion was targeted due to the controversial nature of his question.
“In a way it was almost expected,” said senior Isaac Butler, who came out as gay his sophomore year. “That’s just the sort of thing that happens when people try to talk about the LGBT community here.”
A few minutes after the incident, junior Sammy Mallow defended Fillion in front of the student body, denouncing the student’s decision to throw the fruit
“When it happened, I was really just in shock for a couple of seconds, and then I was really pissed off,” Mallow said. “We’re college students — we should be able to talk about stuff without throwing things at each other. I was afraid that no one would say anything — if no one was going to say anything, that would’ve been so much worse. It would be like everybody condoned what he did. I just really wanted (Fillion’s) voice to be heard.”
“Unfortunately, I did not see the incident,” Ryken said in an email, “When (Mallow) called out a student for throwing a piece of fruit, I knew that something had happened. But I didn’t really understand what transpired — or realize that it involved (Fillion) — until after chapel. Throwing anything at anyone for any reason is against the spirit of open dialogue that we want to set for Town Hall Chapel.”
While Fillion said he was “nonplussed” when the apple hit him, he took the blow in stride. “I have eleven younger siblings, so I’m used to things flying around,” Fillion said, “I’m a big guy; a pumpkin or a melon might have been more effective.”
“I didn’t really see what happened … (but) all the sudden I felt some juice hit the (side) of my face,” said senior Matt Warren, who was standing near Fillion during the episode, “I turned and looked over and saw the apple laying on the ground.
“It definitely seems like the sensitive nature of what (Fillion) was saying is what led the kid to throw it,” added Warren.
After chapel, Fillion expressed that he felt Ryken’s response to his question was “inadequate,” saying that any policy that excludes individuals based on competing notions of sexuality or gender is a form of condemnation. Likewise, Fillion highlighted the importance of sacraments: “Christianity without sacraments is nothing but a non-substantial profession, begun on one’s own and lived on one’s own,” Fillion said.
While Ryken agreed “that the sacraments are a crucial part of Christian experience,” he explained that “the primary locus for sacramental experience and theology is the local church.”
“The various traditions represented on our campus have fundamental differences about the sacraments; it’s one of the areas where we agree to disagree rather than expressing agreement in our ‘Statement of Faith,’” Ryken said.
In response to Fillion’s point on how Wheaton addresses issues of sexuality, Ryken said, “Every college — indeed, every community — has standards for conduct and membership. In the case of Wheaton College, these standards include shared convictions about human sexuality.”
On Tuesday evening, a typed letter signed with Hesse’s name was posted to the forum wall addressing the controversy around Monday’s chapel.
“Dear Enemy,” the letter begins, “I will be the first to admit that I am a sinner. By my sin does not define me. Truth judges me. The righteousness of Jesus Christ defines us.”
“You would be mistaken to think that I threw the apple out of hatred,” the letter goes on to say, “I have a strong aim and could hit a head at fifteen meters if I wanted to. No, I threw it purposefully as a warning against insulting the spirit of grace. Because truth itself was maligned.”
Hesse deferred to comment on the issue for The Record.
According to student body vice president Wyatt Harms, Hesse was involved in a similar incident earlier this semester. After a number of pamphlets in lower beamer advertising “The Living Room Series” went missing, Harms discovered a handwritten note signed by Hesse with a 20 dollar bill.
“Here is $20 to cover your ‘losses,’” the note read, “You should actually be thanking me for doing the dirty work. Read I and II Kings for proper perspective. Not ashamed of God’s law.”
“The Living Room Series” is a sequence of discussions addressing issues of sexuality and LGBT issues on campus.
According to senior Justin Massey, who met with administration on Wednesday morning along with other LGBT students, Hesse is no longer on campus, and disciplinary measures are ongoing.
“I’m incredibly impressed at how the administration is responding — I’m very pleased to know they are taking this seriously,” said Massey for Time magazine.
While Massey still does not think Wheaton’s care for LGBT students is “adequate,” he expressed that Wheaton has “moved forward in tremendous ways over the past few years. “
“I’m thankful for the steps that we have taken,” he said.
For students like Butler, the reaction to Fillion’s question on Monday illustrates a broader problem among students and faculty: a “focus on being right more than loving people.”
“It’s not my goal for Wheaton to change its code of ethics or change its biblical views,” Butler said. “My goal now is to remember the people who are in these conversations that are happening and recognize that these aren’t just conversations — they’re real lives that are being affected. You can be a completely celibate, traditional biblical ethics-viewing gay Christian and you would still be treated poorly here. That’s why we’re (nationally ranked as the) number three least friendly (college) to LGBT people — not because of our biblical stance as a college, but because of the way we treat people. And that was what I was referencing with my question. Not any sort of rule change that needs to happen.”
For Fillion, “four years of witnessing the oppression and estrangement experienced by (his) LGBTQ classmates,” inspired him to advocate on behalf of these students on campus. “We (must) open our hearts and community and welcome anyone Jesus would welcome,” Fillion said.
Ryken said: “What happened at Town Hall Chapel is an opportunity for God to work in a redemptive way. As our Student Development team follows up with the students involved, I hope and pray that this is what happens.”