The question of whether Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the same god has occupied theologians, mystics, and holy men for more than 1200 years. And in Wheaton, IL, at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, an assistant professor of political science expressed her own views on the subject and was promptly suspended.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins was placed on administrative leave for posting the following to her Facebook page:
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–a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.
I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.
As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town, in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic), and at church.
Nobody is saying that Muslims aren’t human. But it is an open question whether they worship the same god as Jews and Christians. You can have your solidarity till the cows come home and it won’t answer that fundamental question.
By the way, she consulted those religious experts at CAIR before starting this campaign.
The school’s statement on her suspension reflected a common-sense view of the matter:
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.
Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the College’s evangelical Statement of Faith.
Note that the college did not look to answer the question of whether the god worshipped by both faiths is the same. But Professor Hawkins certainly violated the idea of “theological clarity” when delving into this issue.
There are questions of academic freedom and free speech that are equally important, as some students are pointing out:
Talk at the Tuesday night meeting was focused on students’ concerns about free speech.
Sophomore Connor Jenkins said the professor “opened up a conversation and was shut down.”
Others expressed concern about what the suspension implied for future faculty expressions of opinion on social media.
A Wheaton staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the suspension “sets a precedent for what professors can post on their Facebook page. If Dr. Hawkins is being used as a scapegoat, that will send a message to those of us who are employed full time.”
The suspension took place less than a week after Wheaton College student leaders published an open letter in their student newspaper denouncing recent controversial comments by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell. Speaking to thousands of students about terrorism, Falwell urged them to arm themselves, saying it would “end … those Muslims.” He later said he meant only violent radicals.
The Wheaton administration later issued a statement praising that open letter, saying school leaders agree with students’ effort to “address our nation’s challenges through respecting the dignity of all people, rejecting religious discrimination, and pursuing the peace that triumphs over hostility.”
If we truly believe in free speech, Professor Hawkins should not have been suspended. She could be criticized by those who disagree with her, but allowing the free flow of ideas and information should be what college is all about.
Admittedly, Wheaton College as a conservative religious school might apply different standards to speech and academic freedom. But it is critical that the principles remain viable no matter how conservative or how religious the school might be.
As for the age old question of god’s identity being tied to all three major monotheistic religions, it seems to be a matter best left to learned theologians and scholars and not assistant professors of political science.