The scandal brewing around Dennis Hastert this week spread into his evangelical faith community with news that he stepped down from a board position at Wheaton College – the prominent evangelical school from which he graduated and where he established a major research and study program.

The former Speaker of the House has resigned from the school’s board of advisers of its J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy, a $10 million project housed in the college’s politics, international relations, business and economics departments. On Sunday, the school announced that it changed the name of the center to the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.

Allegations surfaced this week that Hastert sexually molested a male victim to whom he recently paid hush money in violation of federal banking laws, according to a federal law enforcement official briefed on the case.

AD
AD

Hastert, 73, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million to someone to cover up “past misconduct.” Hastert, who has been a lobbyist in Washington since his 2007 retirement from Congress, attempted to hide more than $950,000 in withdrawals, according to the indictment. The indictment did not spell out the exact nature of the “prior misconduct” by Hastert.

Wheaton noted it was “saddened and shocked” by Hastert’s indictment.

“The College has not been implicated in or associated with any of the allegations in this matter,” the college said in a statement on Sunday. “We commit ourselves to pray for all involved, including Speaker Hastert, his family, and those who may have been harmed by any inappropriate behavior, and to continue the work and mission of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.”

AD
AD

The alma mater of several high-profile evangelicals, such as Billy Graham, created the Hastert Center after the representative left office and began hosting events in 2009. Hastert earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Wheaton in 1964.

On its Web site, the college announced Friday that Hastert would step down from the board of the center, which was established in the speaker’s name “to advance the training of Wheaton College students and the greater community in the understanding of market economies, representative democracies, limited government, and the redeeming effects of the Christian worldview on the practice of business, government and politics.”

Hastert, the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House, has been lauded as one of the school’s most influential alumni in recent years.

AD
AD

“During his tenure as Speaker, Hastert focused his efforts on lowering taxes, improving education, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, and fortifying our national defense,” a short biography of him reads on the college’s Web site. “In response to the tragic attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, he was instrumental in passing important anti-terrorism legislation and historic legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security—the most significant restructuring of the federal government in the last 50 years.”

Wheaton especially saw its alumni in the national spotlight during President George W. Bush’s 9/11 speech. At the time, Hastert sat behind the president as speaker, Bush’s speechwriter was alumnus Michael Gerson, and Bush praised alumnus Todd Beamer, who had died in the attacks. Gerson, who is a Washington Post columnist, has served as a “Hastert fellow” at Wheaton.

David Iglesias, one of the eight U.S. attorneys who was controversially dismissed by the Bush administration in 2006, became the Hastert center’s director in 2014. In 1986, Iglesias was one of the members of the legal team that inspired the film “A Few Good Men,” starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Iglesias graduated from Wheaton in 1980. He deferred questions to the college’s spokeswoman.

AD
AD

“The Center will continue to serve these purposes in conformity with the highest ethical and academic standards of excellence and integrity in conformity with our institution’s identity,” the college posted on its Web site on Friday. “The College respects Mr. Hastert’s distinguished public service record and the due process being afforded him pursuant to the charges that have been filed against him.”

Wheaton has faced several challenges this year. Earlier this year, a student was charged for videotaping another student in the shower. Some football players stirred up controversy after performing a skit involving Ku Klux Klan robes. The college’s academic probation list was accidentally e-mailed to the student body. A student was reportedly pelted with an apple for questioning the college’s treatment of gays. The school also came under fire from conservative Christians for hiring a celibate gay Christian on staff.

(This story has been updated several times since May 29.)

Want more religion coverage? Follow Acts of Faith on Twitter or sign up for our newsletter.

AD
AD