Here at BCC we’re all about celebrating Advent. Well, I’ve got a different kind of Advent story for you.
I plop onto my seat on the train this morning and pull out my Chicago Tribune. And there on the front page is a major story about Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor of Political Science at Wheaton College. I already knew the gist of it, as Peggy had already posted something about it on Facebook. But I settled in to read the entire story. (I know the lead author, Manya Brachear Pashman, and she’s a terrific religion writer.)
So Hawkins, a Christian, decided that as part of her Advent observance she would wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, who are having a rough go of it in ‘Murica right now. Her explanation, which she posted on Facebook, was as follows:
“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.”
She was promptly suspended by the College, effective immediately and lasting through Spring semester.
“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College said in a statement.
Apparently the College felt she had violated its Statement of Faith, consisting of 12 core evangelical beliefs. She and her supporters vehemently denied she had violated the Statement.
I guess I wasn’t totally surprised by the negative reaction of the College. We’ve seen this sort of thing before; any suggestion that Mormons and (mainstream) Christians “worship the same God” revs the evangelical apologetic machine up into overdrive; surely any suggestion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is bound to do the same.
But for me, the reaction of the College was completely tone deaf. Hawkins was not making some sort of a theological statement, but an ecumenical one. To focus on theological distinctives rather than the clear intent of the action as a gesture of support for a people who could surely use some right about now to me shows a lack of thoughtful awareness at the school.
When we say that Christians (even Mormons!), Jews and Muslims “worship the same God,” we’re not engaged in theological conflation, but rather an acknowledgment of the common Abrahamic tradition from which all such faiths drink. Of course there are substantial differences among those faiths. But all believe and strive in their own way to worship the God of Abraham. Just as there are (very) substantial differences, this common background also leads to substantial similarities as well.
To me there’s a time and a place for line drawing, and this wasn’t it. This was a time and a place for support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. In my view Wheaton College fumbled the ball. God bless Professor Hawkins for her beautiful and appropriate Advent observance, and God bless our Muslim brothers and sisters towards whom her gesture was meant as a support in a difficult time.