Thursday, December 08, 2011

Rev. Wells Departs Duke

The Rev. Sam Wells, Duke chaplain, is leaving his post to return to England. Wells was a peripheral player in the lacrosse saga, but his performance was a deeply unfortunate one, given his status as a man of the cloth. Throughout the case, Wells implied that he viewed his ministerial functions as confined to students who conformed to the humanities' faculty preferred race, class, and gender status.

On April 2, 2006, Wells (as he later revealed to the H-S) shelved his planned sermon, and instead talked about the lacrosse case. (Many months later, in an e-mail to me, Wells claimed his sermon in fact wasn't about the case, an assertion that not only contradicted what he told the H-S, but made no sense, given the sermon's contents.) In his sermon, Wells implied that the lacrosse players had broken the “law” of the university, and he placed their actions in a “subculture of reckless ‘entitlement’, sexual acquisitiveness and aggressive arrogance goes against every aspect of this law. It commodifies and consumes the bodies of others, with no generosity, no patience, no searching for truth or beauty, and no regard to its social significance. It undermines the university because it corrupts the imagination on which the whole university rests. It breaks the university's law. It debases desire.”

“The last week,” he contended, “has exposed the reality that sexual practices are an area where some male students are accustomed to manipulating, exploiting and terrorizing women all the time—and that this has been accepted by many as a given.”

Such views got Wells a spot on the wildly biased Campus Culture Initiative; and also appear to have prompted him--after Mike Nifong's case imploded--to invite NAACP head William Barber to give a Sunday sermon at Duke. That invitation came despite (or, perhaps, because of?) the NAACP's flagrant biases against the wrongly accused Duke students, and unsurprisingly led to a sermon that tried to rationalize the NAACP's inexcusable handling of the case.

To my knowledge, the Rev. Wells never apologized for his response to the lacrosse case, either to the wider Duke community or to the specific Duke students whose words he (erroneously) targeted. Indeed, in an e-mail to the blogger John in Carolina, Wells, like Barber, tried to rationalize his behavior.


skwilli said...

England had no comment.

Anonymous said...

Good riddance.

Lois Turner said...

"In 1961 [Nobel laureate Francis] Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, when it proposed to build a chapel. When Winston Churchill wrote to him, pointing out that "none need enter [the chapel] unless they wish", Dr Crick replied that on those grounds, the college should build a brothel, and enclosed a cheque for 10 guineas."

Anonymous said...

Sam Wells disgusted me. Who knew that God was a Pot-Banger? Sam did.

Anonymous said...

I say yet again, it is incredible and tragic that supposedly intelligent people will go to such lengths to avoid admitting wrongdoing.

Anonymous said...

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
2 Timothy 4:3

Whether you believe in God or not this text holds true. Durham and Duke must have a great deal of itching going on because it seems that much is said to please themselves their hearers and nothing is said to present reality.

Anonymous said...

I am sure he felt he was right and on the side of angels in his support of the annoited victim.

William L. Anderson said...

In other words, K.C., Wells lied to you. That is the only explanation. (Unless the guy is so delusional that he really thought when he was talking about the lacrosse team that he was NOT really talking about the lacrosse team.)

To these people, there is only one narrative, and even when it is false, nonetheless it still is true. They tried to fit the lacrosse case into their narrative, not knowing that the REAL narrative in the USA is not about "privileged" lacrosse players raping African-American women, but rather police and prosecutorial misconduct that rarely is punished.

Wells, to put it mildly, is a fraud, but he is such the caricature of so many mainstream "men of the cloth." Often, I cannot help but if they have an academy for mainstream pastors in which they learn all of the PC slogans as well as the body language and other things that make them virtual clones of one another.

Greg Toombs said...

Confession is good for the soul.

Not just for Catholics!

Or Episcopalians.

Or even the particularly religious.

Anonymous said...

It is good when the clergy look out for the underdog and the helpless. In Sam Wells' case, though, he chose to rise to the aid of an empowered evil-doer receiving aid from a justice system run amock, a university that had lost its way, and a city run by the Pharisees of Angry Revenge.

It is shameful for Wells that he couldn't publicly admit and seek forgiveness for his actions abetting the conspiracy to jail innocent students. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

It couldn't be that you too are blinded by any prejudice or anger, could it? No, surely not. Let it go. Move on. Get a life.

Chris Halkides said...

I am going to be the devil’s advocate today, but I am not going to address Rev. Wells’ truthfulness. I felt that what was wrong with Reverend Wells’ sermon was less its content than its timing, but that is because I read it (perhaps too charitably) as using the allegation of rape as a springboard to talk about sexual morality and its relationship to Christian spirituality. It is appropriate for a chaplain of a university to discuss sexual mores of college-age men and women, but it was a poor choice to do so when the campus was roiled by Ms. Mangum’s mendacity: The sermon invites the listener to presume the players’ guilt, whether or not that was Rev. Wells’ belief or intention to convey.

As of a couple of years ago, the entire sermon of 1 April 2006 (“Thoughts on the Current Tumult”) was available as a pdf file, but I have not checked whether or not it still is. But let me quote the sentence that immediately precedes the sentence that includes “disturbingly extensive experience of sexual violence,” a phrase that is admittedly incendiary: “Speculation about this disputed case has nonetheless brought to attention a host of other stories that are undisputed, but have hitherto remained in the shadows, and together explain why these allegations have catalyzed such anger.” As KC has implied, there are some points in the sermon which indicate that Rev. Wells did subscribe to the presumption of innocence, although it could be argued that it was mere lip service to the notion.

In an announcement prior to the services on 15 April 2007, Reverend Wells said in part, “Three young men who it seems should never have been arrested have now, finally, at long last, been exonerated of all charges. For them and those who love them, this must have been an endless night of bewilderment and near despair. It must have seemed like the world had laid on them the iniquity of us all. We continue to pray for them and for their families, as we pray for those others at the center of this story and for all who have come under the relentless gaze of merciless public scrutiny through this deeply troubling year.” A number of Duke faculty members should have said as much as Rev. Wells did, perhaps more. They are more worthy of criticism, as I see it.

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 2.03:

You sound very angry. I'd urge, in future, a bit of pause and reflection before leaving comments.

Stuart McGeady said...

No doubt some readers have already checked the excellent comment thread attached to the Rev. Wells article at The Chronicle. In particular a certain "eloerien" has written thoughtfully in support of the departing Dean of Duke Chapel.

The commentary can be found at:

The article itself is at:

Anonymous said...


Now it's my turn to play Devil's Advocate. It seems like Sam Wells almost adequately described what happened to the boys in the most brief and vaguest terms, but there was (1) No acknowledgement of his own actions that heightened the "endless night," (2) No apology for same, and (3) No request for forgiveness.

Just because other pot bangers won't even acknowledge the fact that there was a problem in the first place doesn't mean we should lower the standard for basic human decency. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

I was there that Sunday and walked out during his sermon, shocked, let down, and disgusted. And, I was not the only one who left. I have never been back in Duke Chapel. He was and is nothing more than a mouthpiece for an agenda he espoused over and over from the pulpit. Too bad he never had the cajones to admit he was wrong!

William L. Anderson said...

Chris does make a good point, and I am glad to know that Wells at least did acknowledge that the players were innocent of the charges. I only can wish that Wells had been asking the hard questions earlier, as opposed to later.

I can say that I do object to the "hookup" culture at places like Duke or any other college campus, although Wells has the tough task of supporting both the Sexual Revolution AND not approving of "hookup," which pretty much flows from the former. Likewise, I would like to know if he had any objections to the infamous Sex Workers Show that Duke University hosted in 2008, or if he at least made any public comments on that abomination.

I get the sense that administrators and people like Wells want it both ways. They want to embrace the current culture and all of its Political Correctness, but they don't know what to do with the consequences of that culture.

Nonetheless, I appreciate Chris' comments.

Chris Halkides said...


I am still struggling over the meaning of "It must have seemed like the world had laid on them the iniquity of us all." Any help would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

From 203...
Cute. It would seem that you have the anger issue (or maybe it's related to the desire to sell books?). I just don't get the relentless negativity towards Wells. The only thing I can conclude is that you and your followers (there's an intelligent bunch) are simply out for vengance and blood. Wells' comments just aren't what you, and so many like you, make them out to be. Take a lesson from him. He's not maintaining a blog about how you guys are slandering and mischaracterizing him. Even if you don't appreciate his comments, just chill. Find a bigger cause that will make the world a better place. What you're doing is crap that only brings us all down. Sorry if that angers me a little.

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 8.55:

Many thanks for your more temperate comment.

My sense is that argument by assertion--"Wells' comments just aren't what you, and so many like you, make them out to be"--is not a terribly effective approach, especially when offered under the cloak of anonymity. In general, one thing I've tried to do in the blog is to provide evidence to corroborate my assertions--for instance, in this case, by quoting Wells' words, delivered not only in Duke Chapel but reproduced in the H-S. I'm not quite sure how such an approach constitutes "slandering" Wells--which is, after all, a most serious charge, and one rarely leveled without corroborating evidence.

In the event, this isn't a blog seeking "vengance [sic] and blood" toward Wells. There have been a grand total of three posts at DIW about Wells--this post, the post about his troublesome "sermon," and a post criticizing him for inviting the wildly biased Rev. William Barber to preach after the implosion of the case about which Barber and his organization had taken such a wildly biased stance. A fourth passing reference to Wells occurred in a larger post on the CCI. If Wells had publicly apologized for his remarks--as he implied he might do in an email to John in Carolina, but ultimately declined to do--I would have commented on that as well, and doubtless praised him for his willingness to be accountable.

Finally, I'm not sure what sort of connection would exist between maintaining the blog (on a limited basis) and "the desire to sell books," given that UPI was published three years ago and any blog reader who desired to purchase the book would surely have done so long ago.

Again, many thanks for your comment, and your continued readership at the blog.

Anonymous said...

What is it about the gender-class-sex-colonialism-privilege-bunch that makes every single one of them totally unable to admit making a mistake. Not a single one of the infamous 88 had the courage, decency and integrity to apologize for their "listening" Ad...which, by the way, had zero to do with listening to anything and anybody but their own needs to hawk an agenda, impress one another, and SELL BOOKS. (if, that is, Wahneeeeeema ever gets past her "forthcoming" writer's block....). I just don't get the complete lack of humility.
Wells is chief of the arrogant. He panders to the left. Always has, always his brand of progressive christianity. The decent thing to have said, in that UNgodly sermon, would have been a prayer for patience, lack of judgment, wisdom for all involved, civility, calm spirits, and ease of suffering for ALL parties involved. But, no, we heard a lecture on how the lacrosse team debased desire. Sure, I agree that hiring strippers is not cool....I hate it, in fact. But, it was not, and is not, against the law......and, by god, one whole helluva lotta christians I know, personally, love to go to pole bars, watch porn on the internet, and oogle cheerleaders on Monday night football. Wells used the pulpit to whip the team......when it would seem he should have simply asked the good lord above "lead us beside the still waters".

Chris Halkides said...


You have raised some good points that require more thinking on my part. But I would like to quote two more passages from Rev. Wells' remarks to enrich our picture a little bit: "We have all been impoverished because we have had cause to lose trust in institutions and processes on which our common life depends. Everyone is talking about justice, but justice is fundamentally not a system but a virtue that needs to be embodied by just people and be accompanied by other virtues like courage and restraint."

And this: "May our service today be a prayer for a new beginning. And may we go from this place resolved to live just lives, to seek reconciliation, and to build trust through making unlikely and disarming friendships."

I do not entirely agree with Rev. Wells about justice. I think it is both a system and a virtue. However, I think he is someone with whom one could have a constructive discussion. That is not something I could say about many of the potbangers.

Anonymous said...

From 203 again...
I don't see how my assertion is any more w/o evidence than yours. And I don't think that the citations you provide constitute corroborating evidence. It's more like you quote him and then say, "There it is" when it isn't. These are the texts that we interpret differently (or make different assertions concerning them, in your words).

Agree to disagree, I supopse. But again, it seems to me that you (and lots of others) are being overly hard on Wells. And while slander might be too strong (hey, look, I apologized for something!), you are obviously lacking in any charity towards him, and it influences your reading of all of his remarks. Remarks which I maintain are NOT what you, and John in Carolina (and others who share your views) make them out to be. Speaking of Mr. Incarolina, I think you lower the bar by your appeared collegial association with him, making it harder to take you seriously as a serious critic. But maybe I'm painting with too broad a brush here. Wouldn't want to dismiss you unfairly.

And am I the only one making anonymous comments and assertions? Doubtful.

Chris Halkides said...

Gregory and Bill,

I think that Reverend Wells sins of commission were far less serious that those of Reverend Barber, but there are also sins of omission. What I wish Reverend Wells would have done is to push back against the potbangers in 2006 and to lead a thoughtful retrospective on the case in 2007 or later. If the same incident had happened at a small college, a single faculty member of great moral authority might have been able to seriously impede the rush to judgment, but Duke University is too large an institution for that to be a realistic possibility. That does not excuse anyone for not trying, however, and this task certainly should have fallen to Reverend Wells and to Father Vetter.

The question of whether or not he should have asked for forgiveness is not an easy one. I was disappointed to read something that Reverend Wells wrote in the “View from the Duke Chapel” in the second quarter of 2006. “All the TV cameras that camped here for 6 weeks were saying ‘Duke matters’. What America learned about Duke was that it takes the rule of law seriously, that many people here care passionately about issues of race, class and gender, and that Duke is not above taking a careful look at itself to see if something may be seriously amiss. In doing so, it may be doing a service to the whole of the nation.” One need not be a lawyer to have known by this time that Duke had failed at least three of its students; one only had to listen to Professor Coleman. If Duke had truly taken the rule of law seriously, it would have found some way of saying as an institution that DA Nifong’s conduct was out of line without asserting the factual innocence of the accused.

In Working at Duke Magazine, Reverend Wells wrote, “So that [future unhappiness over the legal resolution of the case] shows us that law court decisions don't actually resolve, don't heal, and don't solve. These issues have to be addressed in other ways. That's why I'm a priest. If I really thought the answer lay in the law, I'd be an attorney. I'm in the forgiveness and healing business. But forgiveness and healing require truth-telling and sometimes truth-telling for quite a long time before it's meaningful to talk about forgiveness and healing, and I think we're in that period at the moment. We're in a truth-telling period.”

Based on these two passages, Reverend Wells should acknowledge his own inability to see the wrongs that were done in front of him. Yet in the end he understood the pain of the falsely accused young men and their families. I take him at his word; therefore, I believe that he should ask himself whether or not there is still a need and an opportunity for healing.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you wrote ...

"I am still struggling over the meaning of 'It must have seemed like the world had lain on them the iniquity of us all.' Any help would be appreciated."

Let me ask you these: Would you accept this as the template of the apology your teenager gave to you after he or she was caught shoplifting while drunk? If you were the Judge in a criminal case, how much "personal responsibility" weight would you give this at the pre-sentencing hearing?

If you judged it based on its flowery prose, you'd give it high marks. But if you judged it based on the acceptance of personal responsibility, I hope you would reject it.

The Royal "us"? How do you accept personal responsibilty using the Royal "We"? Not a single "I did ..." or "I am ashamed of ....."

"Seemed"? It WAS everyone in power in the area laying into the innocent boys with everything they had -- there was no "seemed" at all -- and Sam Wells kicked them in the side while they were down on at least two occasions.

That's just me, though, apparently you are much more forgiving! Good on you. I will get to that place as well one day! At this time, however, I am not going to lower the bar of human decency just because not one other pot banger even acknowledged the existence of a problem. MOO! Gregory

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 3.56:

I'm not sure that my citing an e-mail that John in Carolina produced verbatim on his website constitutes "collegial association" with his blog. (Frankly, I'm not even sure what "collegial association" is.) While I had my disagreements, sometimes profound, with the blogger John in Carolina, I have no reason to believe that he fabricated the email, or Wells' words.

I am pleased to see that you retracted your uncorroborated allegation of slander.

Anonymous said...


That was a nice find from Wells regarding his being in the "forgiveness and healing business." Wow! I do appreciate your digging deeper for answers. MOO! Gregory

Chris Halkides said...


Thank you for your kind words. My present position is that Reverend Wells did only a little that might warrant an apology, relative to other members of the Duke community. And yet you are correct to note that he did not personally take responsibility for things done and left undone, as I believe he should have done. I wished he had said something along the lines of, “I called it wrong (by thinking that the charges were even plausible), and I am sorry that I did that and that I did not speak out for the good, old fashioned values of the presumption of innocence.” Those points having been made, I have found Reverend Wells very approachable and friendly in private conversation (he personally supplied a text of his April 2007 announcement), and he had a clear-eyed observation on this case and another. BTW, it is amazing how long the “truth-telling” phase is taking for the DL case.