I am pleased to offer this article by Brenda Campbell, who blogs at A Solitary Journey. Brenda, a Wheaton College alum, wanted to share her thoughts on the recent news of Wheaton’s Professor Larycia Hawkins being placed on administrative leave due to her remarks about “religious solidarity with Muslims.” These words have left a firestorm in Christian social media. While the aforementioned quote has illicited strong responses by Christian leaders, it is important to be clear headed before coming to conclusions. Many charismatic leaders influenced us to only think their way. Brenda challenges us to do go beyond what you may have heard or read to consider another side. Thank you, Brenda! ~Julie Anne
Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins: Standing in Religious Solidarity with Muslims?
by Brenda Campbell
We live in a nation that is becoming ever more polarized, reducing complex social, political and interpersonal issues to sound-bites intended to further pit one group against another. We have heard presidential hopefuls as well as Christian college presidents urge extreme action in response to our collective sense of helplessness in the face of growing terrorism. We have become a citizenry that is quite comfortable with allowing the loudest and most extreme among us to think for us, preferring to be told how to think about any particular issue rather than thinking for ourselves. We are like sheep, completely willing to be led if it means we do not have to personally grapple with compelling issues.
Events at Wheaton College this past week are a perfect example of this new reality in our society. Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor at Wheaton, decided to don a hajib as part of her Advent devotion. In explaining her actions on her Facebook page, she indicated that she was doing so to demonstrate her support for Muslims, who are feeling the rage of a nation after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino:
“I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind, I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book … But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.” (Source)
Photo courtesy Facebook
In its official statement, Wheaton indicates that their issue with Professor Hawkins is not that she wore the traditional Muslim headdress for women, but rather in the theological implications of her statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God:
“In response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins has made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam, Wheaton College has placed her on administrative leave, pending the full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member.” (Source)
Needless to say, Wheaton College is once again at the center of a firestorm and it has nothing to do with child pornography or pedophilia. Students are protesting Dr. Hawkins’ suspension, staff and faculty are divided and the media attention is huge. Theologians on both sides of this complex issue are standing up and providing us with their soundbite evaluation of Dr. Hawkins position as well as the reaction of the College Administration.
The theological question that is at the crux of this controversy is whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. According to the Old Testament account, Muslims are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar. So the world’s three largest religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam claim the same Patriarch, and God promised that the descendants of both Isaac, the son of the promise, and Ishmael would form great societies. In that historical sense, we all worship the same God though our expressions of worship and understandings of him vary greatly. According to Dr. Miroslav Volf, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and currently on the faculty of Yale Divinity School, the disciplinary action taken against Dr. Hawkins had nothing to do with theology and everything to do with anti-Muslim bigotry:
“Hawkins asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She did not insist that Christians and Muslims believe the same things about that one God. She did not state that Islam and Christianity are the same religion under a different name, or even that Islam is equally as true as Christianity. She did not deny that God was incarnate in Christ. Neither did she contest that the one God is the Holy Trinity. In fact, by having signed Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, she affirmed her belief in God as the Trinity and Jesus Christ as God and man, fundamental Christian convictions which, among other things, distinguish Christian faith from Islam.” (Source)
Wheaton’s most famous alum, however, went further than Dr. Hawkins or even Dr. Volf did. In a televised interview in 1997, Billy Graham said:
I think everybody that that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ. And that’s what God is doing today. He’s calling people out of the world for his name whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light that they have. And I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.
Wheaton College is the home of the Billy Graham Center and Museum, and he is still honored on Wheaton’s campus. I don’t recall much of a controversy when he made these statements, which is curious to me. I would hope that patriarchy and gender discrimination are not at the root of the disciplinary action taken against Dr. Hawkins.
But beyond that, I have noted during my lifetime within the evangelical bubble, the tendency to approach the world from a defensive stance, rather than an offensive one. Eschatology often drives this stance as does fear. Jesus words in Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”) are interpreted as a defensive strategy rather than an offensive one—in other words, we’ve got to lock and bar the church door because the enemy is without and trying to get in. Instead of offensively pushing against the strongholds of hell, we huddle together inside the comfort of the prisons/organized religions we have created for ourselves. Everyone who is not like us, does not believe as we do, dress or act as we do, have the same values or cultural norms as we do, is perceived to be an enemy. We prefer theological certainty over compassionate vulnerability, and isolation over interaction with the world outside our reinforced doors.
By identifying with her Muslim neighbors, by daring to stand in solidarity with those who are caught between the war on terror and Jihad, Dr. Hawkins reflected more of the image of God and His heart towards this broken world than I’ve seen in a long time. Her actions remind me of the One whose birth we will celebrate in a few days—He walked among the marginalized and those who were hated by organized religion. He choose to identify with the vulnerable and welcomed those who were outcast and enemies of the predominant culture (i.e., lepers, Samaritans and tax collectors). He was a rebel, a radical and His love was inclusive and exorbitant then and still is today. It just gets clouded by those who opt for certainty (i.e., theological correctness) rather than love, who value orthodox purity more than welcoming all and who prefer sound-bite-like answers rather than really looking at the complexity and simplicity of the problems we face today. Dr. Hawkins chose love for others over job security, esteem and privacy. May we all have more of her attitude during these days of Advent.