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Christian college called racist for suspending black professor who said Muslims worship ‘same God’

Wearing a hijab was a red herring

Larycia Hawkins might have thought that wearing a Muslim headscarf for the rest of Advent would be the most controversial thing she did this term.

The associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, an evangelical school near Chicago, wrote a long Facebook post Dec. 10 explaining her decision in terms of “human solidarity” with Muslims.

But only one sentence mattered, for Wheaton’s purposes: “We worship the same God.”

The school put Hawkins, a faculty member for eight years, on administrative leave after her post went viral.

That sparked a petition demanding the school apologize and reinstate her, “the only black female professor who is tenured,” using the hashtag #ReinstateDocHawk.

Wheaton students also held a protest against the school’s decision Wednesday, but the administration has stood firm.

Wheaton’s enforcement of its strict “statement of faith” has provoked criticism from faculty at other Christian colleges, as well as a prominent Yale theologian whom Hawkins had cited in support of her statement.

Professor hasn’t ‘reconciled’ her views, school claims

“I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity,” Hawkins wrote, pledging to wear a hijab at work, to church and “on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic).”

Despite accepting a Facebook friend request from The College Fix, Hawkins did not respond to requests for an interview.

Her most recent tweet on Tuesday said simply: “A holy kiss to you who disavow the idea that Muslims & Christians worship the same God: I love you. Peace & respect.” 

I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by…

Posted by Larycia Alaine Hawkins on Thursday, December 10, 2015

 

Hawkins published her post the same day The Washington Post ran an open letter from Wheaton students criticizing the president of evangelical Liberty University for his remarks on Muslims, though they didn’t say Muslims worship the same God.

Wheaton appeared to respond immediately to Hawkins’ viral post, releasing a statement Dec. 11 that said it had “received questions” about “statements some faculty members have made on social media regarding the relationship between Christianity and Islam.”

The fact that both religions are monotheistic should not obscure that “there are fundamental differences” between them, including “the nature of God” and “path to salvation,” the school wrote.

Recent faculty statements “could be interpreted as failing to reflect the distinctively Christian” identity of Wheaton, it said. The school said it would be “in dialogue … in the days ahead” on showing love for Muslims “in ways that are consistent with our distinctive theological convictions.”

wheaton-christian.Stevan_Sheets.flickr

Four days later, Wheaton put Hawkins on paid leave as it gives “more time to explore theological implications” of her statements, while denying she was being punished for wearing a hijab. The professor will get a “full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member.”

Wheaton said it has “requested clarification” from other faculty who have made statements similar to Hawkins’.

It updated the statement at least once to explain why Hawkins alone was put on leave. Her views “were more complex” than those stated by other faculty, and she “seems committed to her personal theological stance” as articulated in social media and media interviews, Wheaton said: “She has not yet reconciled her beliefs” with Wheaton’s.

Faculty must sign Wheaton’s Statement of Faith each year stating that they believe in the Trinity and that “all who believe in [Jesus] are justified by His blood and forgiven of all their sins.” They also must affirm Adam and Eve as the “historical parents” of humanity and the “everlasting punishment of the lost,” among many other beliefs.

The statement does not explicitly refer to other religions.

Removing a mentor for students of color

Created only three days ago, the Change.org petition demanding Hawkins’ reinstatement has rapidly garnered signatures – just shy of 2,500 as of Thursday night.

It claims that Hawkins, one of two black female professors at Wheaton, only “acted in love and in solidarity to be an example of how Christ would respond,” and that she didn’t violate the Statement of Faith.

The petition insinuates Wheaton practiced racism by suspending Hawkins, the only tenured black female professor and “an invaluable resource” to students, “particularly to those of color.” It said Wheaton suspended her in part for wearing a hijab, but later acknowledged the school’s contrary claim.

Several commenters on the petition noted Hawkins is a black woman and claimed the school had a problem with her taking vocal stances, including about racially insensitive tweets during an African-themed chapel service in 2012.

Hawkins-Wheaton-Comment.ChangeDOTorg

‘An attack on all of us who have felt marginalized’

A recent alum who came out as gay at Wheaton, and left the school on strained terms, wrote an essay saying Hawkins’ suspension was “an attack on all of us who have felt marginalized for intentionally or unintentionally having stepped into a topic or identity deemed ‘controversial.’”

About 100 people participated in a “protest and sit-in” on campus Wednesday, some of them evangelical women in hijabs, according to a Washington Post report by Kirkland An, the editor-in-chief of the Wheaton Record.

He reported that both President Philip Ryken and Provost Stanton Jones said Hawkins’ suspension wouldn’t be lifted, and quoted student leaders who had talked to administrators saying her suspension would last “through the spring semester.”

One staff member told An, on condition of anonymity, that Wheaton had set “a precedent for what professors can post on their Facebook page” and that it sent a “message” to full-time employees.

Suspension shows ‘enmity toward Muslims,’ says fellow Episcopalian

Before Hawkins was put on leave, she wrote another post justifying her “same God” views by citing the writings of Miroslav Volf, a theologian at Yale. Both are Episcopalians.

Volf claimed in a Huffington Post essay in 2011 that “most Christians through the centuries … have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do.” (Christianity Today profiled Volf on that subject the same year.)

On Twitter, Volf was incredulous about Hawkins being put on leave. He claimed Hawkins’ statement was “fully compatible” with Wheaton’s Statement of Faith.

Volf blogged Thursday at the Washington Post that Wheaton’s action showed “enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy” that it doesn’t apply to Judaism.

Wheaton’s action against Hawkins is “disgraceful,” according to alumnus Tobin Grant, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University who has taught at Wheaton and knows Hawkins personally.

Grant said nothing in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith rules out the “same God” view and reminded the school it hosted Volf for a talk on Muslims and Christians when his book Allah came out.

“One could excuse a professor who borrows a phrase spoken from a theologian” invited by Wheaton to talk about Christian-Muslim interactions, Grant said.

Other Hawkins supporters took to social media.

John Hubers, assistant professor of religion at Northwestern College, said on Facebook that Hawkins was “in good company” with Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and “nearly every evangelical missionary that has ever represented Christ in the Muslim majority world.”

In his academic paper “A God by Any Other Name,” Huber writes: “It is telling in this sense that strong statements about Christians and Muslims worshipping different gods didn’t become prevalent in Evangelical circles in America until 9/11.”

RELATED: Christian college allows LGBT group but won’t let gay student lead it

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IMAGES:  Alex Brylov/Shutterstock, Stevan Sheets/Flickr, Change.org screenshot

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