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There’s a quite interesting piece in the WSJ today about professor’s faith and religious colleges and universities.

The general point concerns some institutions’ determination to beef up their particular religious identity. Notre Dame is mentioned as committed and succeeding in this regard, and Boston College is noted:

At another Catholic school, Boston College, some administrators would like to hire more people committed to its religious mission, but its faculty has proved "particularly resistant," says a 2004 report by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. To achieve its goals, the college is contemplating establishing research centers on Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic education. Georgetown University, also a prominent Catholic school, appointed its first vice president for mission and ministry, a Jesuit priest, in 2003.

Now, giving us Catholics an especially interesting portion to chew on here is the central story of the piece, which concerns a Wheaton professor who converted to Catholicism and…was fired.

Wheaton, like many evangelical colleges, requires full-time faculty members to be Protestants and sign a statement of belief in "biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity." In a letter notifying Mr. Hochschild of the college’s decision, Wheaton’s president said his "personal desire" to retain "a gifted brother in Christ" was outweighed by his duty to employ "faculty who embody the institution’s evangelical Protestant convictions."

Mr. Hochschild, 33 years old, who was considered by his department a shoo-in for tenure, says he’s still willing to sign the Wheaton faith statement. He left last spring, taking a 10% pay cut and roiling his family life, to move to a less-renowned Catholic college.

It is worth noting that before coming into full communion, this professor was Episcopalian, signed the statement, and had no problem. Are Episcopalians sola Scriptura? I didn’t think so.

When he got his doctorate, Mr. Hochschild was offered jobs by Wheaton and a Catholic school — Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. Says Carol Hinds, a former Mount St. Mary’s provost: "He was a Protestant, but he was a faithful person. He could contribute to the mission." Feeling "in between" the two schools’ spiritual traditions, Mr. Hochschild chose Wheaton.

He signed Wheaton’s faith statement, which asserts that the Bible is "inerrant," meaning without error, and "of supreme and final authority." Wheaton President Mr. Litfin asked in a job interview how Mr. Hochschild understood that passage, according to their later correspondence. Mr. Hochschild said he agreed, but added that the Bible should be read in light of "authoritative traditions," an example of which would be church councils. Although that view is closer to Catholicism than evangelical Protestantism, the president approved the appointment.

Mr. Hochschild got on well with colleagues and students, and University of Notre Dame Press agreed to publish his revised dissertation. "He was excellent on every score," says Wheaton’s philosophy department chairman, Robert O’Connor.

Yet a question nagged Mr. Hochschild: Why am I not a Catholic? As he saw it, evangelical Protestantism was vaguely defined and had a weak scholarly tradition, which sharpened his admiration for Catholicism’s self-assurance and intellectual history. "I even had students who asked me why I wasn’t Catholic," he says. "I didn’t have a decent answer."

His wife, Paige, said her husband’s distaste for the "evangelical suspicion of philosophy" at the school might have contributed to his ultimate conversion. The Hochschilds say some evangelicals worry that learning about philosophy undermines students’ religious convictions.

During a 2003 academic conference at Notre Dame, Mr. Hochschild revealed his anguish to another attendee, a priest. The priest replied that Mr. Hochschild seemed, in his heart, to have already embraced Catholicism. Although he had taken Communion in the Episcopalian church, Mr. Hochschild realized after the conversation that he longed to "obey the Gospel commands to eat the flesh of Christ [as a Catholic]." Returning home, he signed up for a Catholic initiation class.

Aware of Wheaton’s Protestants-only policy, Mr. Hochschild recalls thinking he would probably lose his job. In September 2003, he told the philosophy chairman, Mr. O’Connor, of his intention to convert. Hoping Mr. Hochschild could stay, Mr. O’Connor notified the administration.

In general, Catholics believe the Pope is the final authority on religious matters. Protestants reject that authority and generally profess a direct relationship between the individual and the Almighty.

A months-long debate followed between President Litfin and Mr. Hochschild. They argued over whether the professor could subscribe to Wheaton’s faith statement, which faculty must reaffirm annually. Like most evangelical colleges, Wheaton bases its employment practices on such a document.

Wheaton’s 12-point statement doesn’t explicitly exclude Catholics. But its emphasis on Scripture as the "supreme and final authority" and its aligning of Wheaton with "evangelical Christianity" were unmistakably Protestant, Mr. Litfin wrote to Mr. Hochschild in late 2003. Because Catholics regard the Bible and the pope as equally authoritative, a Catholic "cannot faithfully affirm" the Wheaton statement, he continued.

Now, those of us who spend time kvetching about Catholic universities being drained of Catholic identity are obliged, it seems, to give Wheaton due props for seeking to maintain its identity. However, the move still grates, mostly because the fellow was teaching medieval philosophy, for pete’s sake.  I’m not saying that an evangelical Christian cannot teach this material, or that a Roman Catholic is automatically more suited simply because of his or her faith, but it seems to me that if you’ve bent enough to include courses that touch on, you know, Catholicism…how do you justify excluding Catholics from teaching?

Meanwhile, Wheaton hasn’t replaced Mr. Hochschild. One obstacle: Most scholars of medieval philosophy are Catholics.

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