Last fall, shocking events at Hillsdale College, a small but renowned college in Michigan, rocked the conservative community in North America. The president’s daughter-in-law committed suicide. Her husband informed the public that just before she killed herself she had confessed to adultery with her father-in-law over a period of some nineteen years. She made the confession in the presence of the father-in-law. The board of trustees of the college quickly arranged the president’s early retirement and appointed a high-powered committee to find a successor. The committee included famous and influential conservatives William J. Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, and William F. Buckley Jr., editor of National Review.
Hillsdale College came into national prominence over the past thirty years because of its resistance to the encroachments by the federal government. This entailed the college’s refusal of federal subsidies and grants. To compensate, the college needed hundreds of millions of dollars from rich donors who share the conservative political, economic, and moral views of the college. The recently retired president raised these millions.
Both the college and its president were well-known and highly regarded for their aggressive advocacy of moral rectitude in our decadent society. Parents thankfully gave their young people; the wealthy gladly gave their money.
The suicide of the president’s daughter-in-law, the report by her husband of her admission of adultery with the president, her father-in-law, and the quick retirement of the president by the board of trustees (with a retirement package of between two and four million dollars) have shaken that bastion of conservatism to its foundations.
The national media reported the Hillsdale happenings as a scandal.
But the governing board and administration of the college deny the charge. Nothing can be proved. The president denies adultery with his daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law is dead. Nor does the board acknowledge any cover-up. They acted responsibly, they insist, retiring the president only because the unfortunate events have made it impossible for him to continue.
William F. Buckley Jr. backs the board. In an article in the December 20, 1999 issue of his National Review, Buckley argued that grounds are lacking for judging the former president of the college guilty without reasonable doubt. In addition, the board of trustees did what was best for Hillsdale.
In its February 5, 2000 issue, World magazine, the Christian answer to Time, Newsweek, and U. S. News & World Report, published the sober results of its own investigation of the events at Hillsdale. The title of the article is “The Truth is Buried.” World concludes that no scandal can be confirmed. No one can prove that the president of Hillsdale college fornicated with his daughter-in-law over many years. Nor can any cover-up by the Hillsdale board and administration be substantiated.
People may suspect. The media may play up the suggestive circumstances. But even colleges and their presidents must be presumed innocent until proved guilty.
There was no Hillsdale scandal, but only a Hillsdale tragedy.
Why then an editorial on the Hillsdale scandal in the Standard Bearer?
Because there is a Hillsdale scandal. It is a despicable, sexual iniquity committed by the college president, recently retired. The administration and board of the college connived at it, indeed approved and celebrated it. Vast and wide, the scandal implicates virtually the whole of political conservatism in North America, as it does almost all the supposedly conservative churches. In it is an urgent warning to the readers of the SB.
The Hillsdale scandal is a fact. All acknowledge the fact, although none, from William J. Bennett to World magazine, recognizes the fact as scandalous.
Only, the scandal is not what is universally suggested and supposed. It is not that the president of a conservative college, avowed defender of moral rectitude in Western society and professing Christian, slept with his own son’s wife on and off for 19 years. Nor is it that the governors of the college looked through their fingers at this unseemly behavior, or even that they tried to cover up the wickedness when it came to light.
The scandal is that a few months before the suicide of his daughter-in-law and the report by her husband of her confession of incest, the president of Hillsdale College divorced his wife of 44 years and married another woman. He did this in a very public manner, the only manner in which one can divorce his wife and remarry. The college community, including its high-powered conservative backers, celebrated the remarriage with a very public banquet on the college campus. It is not at all impossible that William J. Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, and William F. Buckley Jr., champion of the right, were among the celebrants.
Conservative Hillsdale College saw no scandal.
William J. Bennett did not decline to serve on the search committee for a new president on the ground that the board of trustees had attempted to cover up the former president’s divorce and remarriage.
Bennett saw no scandal in the president’s divorce and remarriage.
William F. Buckley Jr., who with his customary verve and logic argues that no scandal can be proved, obviously does not regard the divorce and remarriage as scandalous.
World magazine noted the divorce and remarriage in passing, as one might report that prior to the events that caught the nation’s eye the college president had had an appendectomy. But the conclusion of its careful investigation is that there is no evidence of scandal at Hillsdale. World is blind to the scandal of a conservative, professedly Christian, college president’s divorcing his wife of 44 years, the mother of his four children, and remarrying (within a few months).
What accounts for this scandalous failure to see the Hillsdale scandal?
One of two things, and possibly both.
All of these conservative persons and organizations have become so used to divorce and remarriage that they do not even notice the evil anymore. That a grandfather may have committed adultery with his daughter-in-law still gets their attention. That a grandfather divorces grandmother for another woman is not even noticed. Tolerance of wickedness soon results in blindness to it. American society has reached this point as regards abortion. It is well on the way to reaching this point as regards homosexuality. It is long past this point as regards divorce and remarriage. The Bible describes this spiritual condition as the searing of the conscience with a hot iron (I Tim. 4:2).
The other explanation is that all of the parties are themselves so compromised by unbiblical divorce and remarriage that they are unable to speak out against it. Their mouths are shut. The politically conservative galaxy in which Hillsdale College is a bright and shining star is as rife with divorce and remarriage as are the liberal circles that Hillsdale despises. The reputedly conservative churches to which the editors and writers of World belong are full of unbiblicallydivorced and remarried members. By this time the leaven of marital infidelity has leavened the whole lump of most evangelical, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.
It is not surprising, then, that no one notices the scandal—the real scandal—at Hillsdale, even though it stares them in the face.
The Hillsdale scandal is a classic contemporary illustration and confirmation of the truth of my editorial a few issues ago, “The Scandal and Silence.” The ethical scandal both in our society and in the churches is unbiblical divorce and the remarriage that follows. And all are silent about the scandal. Especially the noisy reformers of society and church are silent about it.
The divorce and remarriage of the president of Hillsdale College is a scandal. It is gross public transgression of the seventh commandment of God’s law: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her” (Mark 10:11).
It disgraces him: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim. 5:8).
It disgraces Hillsdale College and the cause of conservatism that Hillsdale represents, not because it happened, but because the college did not swiftly and decisively expel its president when it happened. Indeed, the college did not even recognize it as a scandal. It celebrated the remarriage.
The Hillsdale scandal—the real and unquestioned Hillsdale scandal—is not neatly confined to a small college in Michigan. It has spread to implicate in the iniquity and disgrace with the shame all who have judged the events at Hillsdale without noticing the scandal. Particularly is this true of those who have solemnly concluded that no scandal is proven or provable at Hillsdale. The Hillsdale scandal is the scandal of William J. Bennett, William F. Buckley Jr., and World magazine.
No one should doubt whether the divorce and remarriage is the real scandal of Hillsdale. The cause of the sexual promiscuity and perversity that now deprave and destroy our nation and that defile the churches is the failure to honor marriage. If the former president of Hillsdale College did, in fact, commit adultery with his daughter-in-law, the greater evil, and the cause, was his unfaithfulness to his wife.
The irony of the Hillsdale scandal is that the college and its supporters are enthusiastic about “worldview.” They war against the lawlessness of liberalism in society and call for conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, to promote a Christian “worldview” in North America. This is also the agenda of World magazine, which could not see any scandal at Hillsdale.
Any “Christian worldview” that has so little regard for marriage and the family that it is unable to notice the scandal of Hillsdale is unworthy of the name Christian. The efforts of such a “Christian worldview” to resist what Robert Bork has called the “slouching towards Gomorrah” of the United States and to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ—the calling and privilege of every true child of God and especially every genuine Reformed Christian—are futile.
The triune God, Creator of the heaven and the earth, has made the family the fundamental institution of earthly life both in the nation and in the church.
The foundation of the family is marriage.
The destroyer is divorce and remarriage.