Worshiping the Same God

Larycia Hawkins

Wheaton College associate professor Larycia Hawkins Phd., center, is greeted with applause from supporters as she begins her remarks during a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Chicago. Hawkins, a Christian teaching political science at the private evangelical school west of Chicago, was put on leave Tuesday. In recent days, she began wearing a hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, to counter what she called the “vitriolic” rhetoric against Muslims in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. You get a mixed bag in Wheaton. It is a very unfortunate but all too common fumble by our Evangelical friends. It clearly demonstrates also exactly to whom Trump and Cruz are preaching.

  2. Great post, Kevin.

    What I find so amazing in all of this is that Dr. Hawkins is factually, objectively true. Whether or such a being exists, Muslims and Christians certainly worship the same figure. The Quran is clear on this. Moses was a prophet who received the truth from God and gave it to the Jews. Jesus was a prophet who received the same truth from the same God and gave it to the Christians. And Mohammad was a prophet who received the same truth from the same God and gave it to the Arabs. The Quran contains hundreds of references to the God of the Christians and the Jews, and, in every one of them, this God is portrayed as the same God who reveals the Quran to Mohammad.

    One could argue that Muslims don’t worship the same God correctly, or that this God does not acknowledge the worship of Muslims, or that both Christians and Muslims worship the same fairly-tale God who does not exist. But the idea that Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad all spoke of the same God is a simply foundational fact of Islam.

  3. hinduFriend says:

    Given 1200 yeara of Muslim terror in India–you’d better NOT worship,the same God as Muslims!

  4. Muslims and the Koran deny the Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. If the God the we worship is the Father of Jesus Christ, and Christ is His Only Begotten Son, then it is reasonable to state that when the Muslim faith rejects Christ as the Son of God, they also reject His Father.
    While there are undoubtedly many Muslims who are sincere in their worship, the claim that the god of the koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same is tenuous at best.

  5. Fred (10:25pm), given your definitions, do you then believe that the Jewish faith does not worship the God of the Bible?

  6. There were branches of early Christianity who didn’t believe Jesus was divine. They were later called heretics–but they were still Christians, not pagans. By the same logic, Muslims are a heretical branch of Christianity. [Mormons, of course, fall under a different heresy, that the Father and Son are different entities.]

    And both Christians and Mormons are heretic Jews (although orthodox Jews actually class Christians as pagan, since the dividing line for them is monotheism, and they don’t buy the trinitiarian handwave.]

  7. First off, I think the college is in the wrong here. Muslims, Jews, and Christians DO worship the same God. They understand His nature somewhat differently, but it’s the same God. Even if that weren’t the case, I think the college is over-reacting to her action. That said, the professor’s wearing of the hijab leaves a funny taste in my mouth. It strikes me that no Muslims are quoted in the article and there does not appear to be any support or approval for her action from the Muslim community. The person she consulted, who was so “intrigued” by the idea and apparently told her it wouldn’t be offensive, isn’t even a Muslim! Does she even know any Muslim women to ask? I have no doubt the gesture was well-intended, but it seems like a weird type of cultural appropriation, like someone trying to show “solidarity” with Mormons by putting on temple garments or – maybe a better comparison here – with Jews by putting on fake peyot. Good for her for going out of her way to show love for others, but this seems like a strange way to do it. She hasn’t made the covenants or accepted the beliefs that would require wearing the hijab, so it seems unnecessary and even inappropriate for her to do so, no matter what her intentions.
    PS: I just read the follow-up about how she is reconciling with the school, and again, no practicing Muslims are quoted or referenced. It’s all about whether she offended Christians, and no one notices or cares whether she offended Muslims because her intentions were good. Hopefully Muslim women aren’t offended! But did anyone think to ask THEM?

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I thought she made a good faith effort to avoid appropriation by reaching out to CAIR, but you’re right that talking to actual Muslim women first would have been even better.

  9. I recall a story a few years ago about an LDS chief of police, in Texas I think, who celebrated Ramadan with the Muslim officers on his staff by observing the dawn-to-dusk fast alongside his brothers. He wasn’t fired, he wasn’t suspended, and his officers gained a new appreciation for their boss. I’ve observed Lent with co-workers before, and I can’t think of anyone who was offended by it. A sister in our ward who recently spent time in Saudi Arabia dyed her blonde hair black and wore a hijab in public so as not to offend her host culture.

    I will admit, though, that it’s encouraging to see that BYU doesn’t have a monopoly on stupid.

  10. 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.

    Amen! Wonderful post Kevin. And, yes, we all worship the God of Abraham, as each respective faith understands him. That is indisputable.

  11. Here is an article on the LDS police chief who participated in Ramadan. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SAN-JOSE-Joining-Muslims-in-Ramadan-fast-one-2672816.php

    Great post as well. Apart from the ecumenical concept that we all worship the same God, I think it is more to the point that we all HAVE the same God. So efforts to demonstrate that through joint worship seems to be a very Christian thing to do.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for mentioning Robert Davis, who fasted for Remadan as San Jose chief of police. I read about that at the time and was deeply impressed by what he did, and you’re right, that’s a great analog to the current situation.

  13. Peggy regularly fasts for Ramadan.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    John f., I had quite forgotten about that but now that you mention it I remember seeing Facebook postings about it. Very impressive.

  15. My initial reaction to the OP was to say that though we all HAVE the same God as Mark stated, there seems to be little real benefit (even ecumenical) in stating that we worship the same God since the mental representations of the God we worship and the manners in which we worship Him are so different. However, over time I have come to the realization that intrafaith diversity of belief is much greater than interfaith differences. That is to say that there are a great many people of other faiths whose conception of God is closer to mine than that of many other faithful Latter-Day Saints. And I consider myself to hold a faithful, fairly orthodox Mormon view of God. While there are other significant differences between the practice of my faith and that of the other Abrahamic faiths, I don’t see a consistent criteria by which to discriminate between faiths based only on the adherents’ concept of the nature of God.

  16. I think it is possible to say that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, based on the idea that the way they represent that God is so different–namely, that Muslims do not accept that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with God, which is a really big deal in defining Christian confessions of faith.

    What is not possible, though, is to say that Mormons DO worship the same God as Christians but Muslims do not, since Latter-day Saints also reject the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father. Indeed, Mormons and Muslims are closer on this point than either Mormons or Muslims are to Catholics and Protestants (which is why Catholics will accept most Protestant baptisms but not Mormon baptisms, even though the form of Mormon baptism–“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”–is correct.)

    Latter-day Saints who jump on the “Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians” bandwagon are rather spectacularly missing the point that, by the definitions implied in their argument, they don’t worship the same God either.

  17. Latter-day Saints who jump on the “Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians” bandwagon are rather spectacularly missing the point that, by the definitions implied in their argument, they don’t worship the same God either.

    Bingo — so well said. Of course, Mosiah 15 supports a traditional Trinitarian understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son, and nothing in our doctrine necessarily precludes their consubstantiality, it’s just that we do because, culturally, we ridicule religious “mystery” and that abstract conception of the Godhead. But, in truth, we can manifestly believe that Joseph Smith saw two separate beings in his First Vision and still affirm Mosiah 15 as a statement about the nature of the Godhead. It does not require “divine investiture of authority” as the solution, as Elder McConkie posited, or merely believing that they are “only” one in purpose. That is one possible solution which, even if true, does not undermine the oneness taught in scriptural canon (e.g. the New Testament and Mosiah 15). But who is to say that even as two beings they are not of the same substance? I think it would require direct revelation, presented as such, to say that they are or are not, particularly in light of the canonical teaching of Mosiah 15.

  18. While I am sympathetic to Professor Hawkins, I am also sympathetic to Wheaton College, which is being faithful to their traditional understanding on this question. I view both through the lens of the Eleventh Article of Faith.

  19. Kevin Barney says:
  20. Clark Goble says:

    John F, curious as to why you think Mosiah 15 supports traditional Trinitarianism. Typically non-Mormon theologians critique it as teaching a form of modalism and thus fundamentally at odds with Trinitarianism. I think it’s best read as an example of Merkabah literature ala 3 Enoch but in that case it can’t be read in Trinitarian terms either.

  21. Clark Goble says:

    BTW – the fundamental issue is descriptions versus reference. At what point do our descriptions differ enough so as to indicate we are referring to different things? This is more of an issue than many imagine since it gets at many thorny problems in reference and meaning. An other way to cast the same logical problem is to ask whether you love your wife because of who she is or what she does? Of course the reality that we’re not tied purely to reference or description.

    Typically the response is to ask what is most important at a given time. For instance I might say I worship the being who hears my prayers, whomever that is, so long as they love me. Others with different emphasis might say they worship the maximally great source of being.

    Of course getting to the original post, it’s hard to see wearing a hijab has anything to do with this. The real issue here is doctrinal purity and more importantly political boundaries in a particular faith’s self-perception. Admittedly that’s trickier with Evangelicalism since there’s really no organization per se. But there are major groups and in this case a particular organization with specific views about what constitutes Evangelical boundaries. I might find the boundaries silly, but then they probably say the same about how we police our boundaries.

  22. john f., it’s not clear that Joseph saw two distinct beings in his vision. In the only account of that experience penned in his own hand he said he only saw the Savior.

    Joseph’s beliefs/teachings regarding the nature of the Godhead changed frequently during his lifetime. The Book of Mormon in several places embraces the prevailing Trinitarian views of Joseph’s day. 1 Nephi 13:40; 2 Nephi 31:21. The same is true for the Doctrine of Covenants. D&C 20:17.

    The Lectures on Faith authored by Joseph a few years later assert that the Godhead consists of the Father of the Son, with no mention of the Holy Ghost, who was eventually added to pantheon, albeit as an incorporeal being. There is little doubt in my mind that, had he lived longer, Joseph’s views on this subject would have changed/evolved/modulated even further.

    Where does this leave us? I can’t speak for “us,” but for me I am compelled to conclude that much of what Joseph taught on this subject (along with his successors) was just speculation. While appears to have glimpsed the divine more often than most, at the end of the day his knowledge regarding the true nature of God was imprecise and incomplete. One is inevitably left with the impression that this is how the Lord intends it to be. For now.

  23. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, I’m not sure that indicates he only saw the Savior given the other accounts which he appears to have approved. Also the Trinity is a pretty specific doctrine. 1 Ne 13:40 or related passages are insufficient to develop a doctrine of Trinity. Merely the distinction between Father and Son. While 2 Ne 31:21 is closer it doesn’t elucidate the relationship between the persons to really be the Trinity. For the Trinity proper see the Athanasian Creed. Separating the persons yet accepting some sort of unity is insufficient for Trinitarianism. Also authorship of the Lectures on Faith is a bit more complex than Joseph, although he was clearly involved.

  24. Clark, given the numerous differences among the various accounts of the first vision and the number of years that passed before Joseph put down on paper his first recollection of what transpired, I’m not sure Joseph accurately remembered what he saw or how he saw it. It is, after all, called the “first vision,” not the first visitation.

    For me, his account of the first vision changed as his understanding of the Godhead evolved. It’s unreasonable to think that the latter did not influence his perception/recollection of the former.

    Frankly, I think you have to tie yourself into intellectual knots in order to deny the trinitarian ideas embodied in the Book of Mormon, the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Lectures on Faith, which, by the way, were part of the LDS Canon until 1921. An effort was made to excise some of the elements of trinitarianism from the text of the Book of Mormon as originally interpreted by Joseph—check out the changes made to 1 Nephi 11:18; 1 Nephi 11: 21; and 1 Nephi 13:40—but they didn’t catch them all. (While you’re at it, read Joseph’s re-translation of Luke 10:22.)

    Though it is very difficult for Mormons to admit that changes have been made to doctrines once passed off as immutable, I think it is more credible to concede that Joseph’s teachings and ideas about the Godhead changed significantly during his lifetime.

  25. So because Islam claims Allah was the God of Abraham, that means we have the same god?

    If I made up a religion today wherein I claimed the God of Abraham appeared to me and taught me that anyone that wants to serve God must sacrifice their first born child, would that qualify as worshiping the “same god”?

    No, sorry. We do not worship the same god. 1 Nephi 14:10 – there are only two churches, the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil. It doesn’t matter what various gods of the church of the devil claim as their origin. The triune Christian god is as false as Allah.

    Even if you grant that they have the same origin or ultimately claim to be the same being, so what? The important thing is the mode of worship. According to Islam, the God of Abraham wants us to worship after X manner (reciting the Quran in Arabic, praying,etc) while according to Mormonism, the God of Abraham wants us to worship after a different manner. Of course, both claim you can only please God by worshiping after their respective manners. So it’s really not about whom you are worshiping but how you are worshiping them.

  26. “If I made up a religion today wherein I claimed the God of Abraham appeared to me and taught me that anyone that wants to serve God must sacrifice their first born child, ”

    Of course not. Don’t be silly What possible connection could there be between being asked to sacrifice one’s child and the God of Abraham?

  27. hahahahaha

  28. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, honestly they don’t seem that divergent to me compared to how I describe my own experiences. Even if as time goes on (especially decades) memories get contaminated in this case I suspect there was far less and more due to differing emphasis or in some cases it being relayed third hand.

    Regarding the Trinity, I think you might just be confused as to what the doctrine of the Trinity entails. Three beings with one unity is insufficient to be the Trinity although texts going that direction were often used to support the doctrine. I take Mormon doctrine to require three (or more) individuals who are each gods but are one god in terms of unity. The Trinity goes much farther than that specifying the relationship between the persons and denying we can call them God individually.

    I also think you are significantly downplaying issues in the text of the Book of Mormon. As I said read simply Mosiah 15 is completely at odds with the Trinity. There are lots of other passages that are deeply problematic in terms of reconciling with the Trinity. Now non-Mormon critiques (usually Evangelicals) address this by postulating some theological development during the writing/translating of the Book of Mormon or just thinking Joseph was naive theologically. I’m not sure that works for a wide variety of reasons. Alma 11 being probably the most difficult passage to explain away.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    To add, it seems undoubtedly the case that how Joseph understood his experiences changed as the theoretical scaffolding changed. That’s as true for me as anyone. I view experiences on my mission through a somewhat different lens than I did at the time, for example. I’m not sure that changes the factual elements.

  30. Of course, no one bothered to ask any Muslim women what they wanted.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/21/as-muslim-women-we-actually-ask-you-not-to-wear-the-hijab-in-the-name-of-interfaith-solidarity/?tid=sm_fb

    “The Salt Lake Tribune published a photo of fresh-faced teenage girls from Corner Canyon High School at the mosque, their hair covered with long scarves. KSL TV later reported: “The hijab — or headscarf — is a symbol of modesty and dignity. When Muslim women wear headscarves, they are readily identified as followers of Islam.

    For us, as mainstream Muslim women, born in Egypt and India, the spectacle at the mosque was a painful joke”

  31. “the spectacle at the mosque was a painful joke”

    ouch!

  32. “Of course, no one bothered to ask any Muslim women what they wanted.”

    I still think the effort in expressing solidarity with people suffering persecution should be applauded. Especially given the likelihood that it is women wearing the hijab that are more likely to suffer persecution than “mainstream” Muslim women.

    I think this article is relevant to the discussion. It shows the practice of the “greater love” which I hope that we, as Latter-Day Saints, would emulate.

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/22/africa/kenya-bus-attack-al-shabaab-muslim-christians/index.html

  33. Here is another Muslim woman’s view of the situation. Obviously, feelings run deep both ways. I’m still not comfortable with the idea of “showing solidarity” this way and I wouldn’t do it because of that, but I’m glad to know that at least some people see the action in the spirit in which it is intended. And again, I’m a White Christian woman, so what I think has little to do with it.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zainab-chaudry/open-letter-to-women-of-t_b_8863360.html