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Iconoclasm At Image Journal

Gregory Wolfe, out today as editor of Image Journal (via GregoryWolfe.com)

This statement from the board of Image Journal is shocking:

In 1989, Gregory Wolfe began pursuing a remarkable vision to publish a literary journal exploring the intersection of art, faith, and mystery. Since that time, Image has become a treasured, premier publication showcasing many of the most respected writers and artists in the world. Image has also launched online classes, held conferences, seminars, and readings, funded the Milton Fellowship for postgrad writers, established the annual Levertov Award to recognize the lifetime achievement of writers and artists, and hosted the annual Glen Workshop. Founder Gregory Wolfe has done an extraordinary job of building what should be a lasting and vital organization for the arts and faith community.

However, the Image Board of Directors has been made aware of serious lapses in Mr. Wolfe’s leadership, including accusations of a hostile and challenging work environment, harassment in the workplace, and other behavior that has hurt many who love Image and its ideals, including employees, contributors, institutional partners, and donors. As a result, the reputation and credibility of Image have been damaged. After more than six months of investigation and attempts at producing reconciliation with those involved, the Board, with much prayer and reflection, made the difficult but necessary decision to terminate Gregory Wolfe’s involvement with Image in any capacity.

The Board has set aside funds to support those negatively affected by their engagement with Mr. Wolfe, and is extending the same offer to Mr. Wolfe, in the hope that personal restoration may be possible for everyone involved. The Board also wishes to apologize for its role in any harm that has occurred, including a delay in some actions in order to protect victims’ desire for confidentiality. As the Board moves forward, it is committed to a transparency that does not permit personal confidentiality or institutional protection to propagate unjust outcomes.

We ask our community to join us in praying for our leadership and our creative team. Over the years, the journal, workshops, fellowships, online classes, and other programs have been a positive influence on people and culture around the world. Our goal is to take Image to an even greater level of excellence, and we hope for a future which broadens our community and which includes reconciliation among all of those involved in Image’s past and present.

The Board of Directors, Image

Except for occasional correspondence, I do not know Greg Wolfe, but I am genuinely grieved to hear this — first and foremost, for those who suffered under his alleged behavior, but also for him, and for the magazine that was his. I find it hard to imagine how Image Journal,  a serious magazine about art and literature, written from a Christian perspective, will continue without him, because it was so closely bound to the person of Gregory Wolfe. What the board of directors has done here might well result in the magazine’s demise. I hope not, but this is more than a possibility. Yet they did so because, having come to believe that the allegations against Wolfe were true, this was the only morally defensible option. The board had to know that such an action would cause an existential crisis for the magazine, but they took this step anyway. That tells you something about the gravity and the credibility of the accusations, and something about the moral courage of the board.

Image Journal is 29 years old this week.

Wolfe is scheduled to take up a visiting professorship at Loyola University of Chicago this fall. Hard to see how that happens in this #MeToo environment, though without knowing any details (yet) about the allegations against him within the magazine’s community, it’s impossible to say.

This is so sad. Gregory Wolfe was, and is, one of the good guys, in the sense that he is a serious Christian who takes art, literature, and beauty, very seriously. That does not absolve him of these sins, if he is indeed guilty of them, but it magnifies the tragedy of them. Here’s a short reflection he wrote about beauty and conservatism a while back.

In it, Wolfe laments how conservatives who care about art are too often highly politicized in their approach to it. Excerpt:

While such a state of affairs is distressing, it also implies that opportunities abound for conservatives—if they are willing to make the necessary investment of heart and mind. They cannot continue to trim the upper branches of politics while the roots of culture wither and die from inattention.

Conservatives, above all, must once again put contemplation before action, or else their energies will be wasted.

No doubt this approach will strike most people as counterintuitive: for generations now, our minds have been trained to stress the pragmatic over the beautiful. But the power of art to move the heart and thus, bring real change to the world might best be summed up in the words of a character in Mark Helprin’s novel, A Soldier of the Great War. An Italian professor of aesthetics, a man who has been scarred by the cataclysms and tragedies of the modern world, tries to explain the power of art:

My conceits will never serve to wake the dead. Art has no limit but that. You may come enchantingly close, and you may wither under the power of its lash, but you cannot bring back the dead. It’s as if God set loose the powers of art so that man could come so close to His precincts as almost to understand how He works, but in the end He closes the door in your face, and says, Leave it to me. It’s as if the whole thing were just a lesson. To see the beauty of the world is to put your hands on the lines that run uninterrupted through life and through death. Touching them is an act of hope, for perhaps someone on the other side, if there is another side, is touching them, too.

If art cannot save our souls, it can do much to redeem the time, to give us a true image of ourselves, both in the horror and the boredom to which we can descend, and in the glory which we may, in rare moments, be privileged to glimpse.

Gregory Wolfe’s essays in his collection Beauty Will Save The World edified and delighted me. I planned to be drawing on them in the writing of my next book. I still will, of course, but with a heavy heart.

Please don’t read anything I say here to be minimizing what Wolfe has done, if he has done it. I don’t know any more details beyond what the Image board had released. It may be that justice has been done here, and if so, we must affirm it and indeed welcome it, however much it stings. Corruptio optimi pessima.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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