Buechner accepted an invitation to teach at Wheaton College (Illinois) during the Fall semester, 1985.
I KNEW WHEATON was Billy Graham's alma mater. I knew it was evangelical though without any clear idea as to what that meant. I knew that, although as only a visiting professor I would myself be exempt from it, everyone had to sign a pledge not to smoke or drink for as long as they either taught or studied there. If I had known that they had to pledge also not to dance, of all things, I think that I would probably have been horrified enough to turn down the invitation on principle. The irony is that if I had done so, my life would have been immeasurably impoverished.
The famous pledge sends out highly misleading signals not only as to what Christianity is all about but also as to what Wheaton College is all about. Because of those signals I was apprehensive about having my students read The Brothers Karamazov as I had planned. I was afraid that Ivan's devastating attack on belief in a loving God might constitute a heresy that the administration would not tolerate, and then I discovered that it was one of the standard texts used in the English Department. Whatever evangelical meant, in other words, it did not mean closed-minded. On the contrary I found the college as open to what was going on in the world and as generally sophisticated as any I have known. What made it different from any I have known can perhaps best be suggested by the college motto, which is more in evidence there than such mottos usually are. It is not in Latin like most of the other mottos I can think of but in English plain enough for anybody to read and understand. "For Christ and his Kingdom" is the way it goes—as plain as that.
- Originally published in Telling Secrets