Evangelicals might do well to remember their own history

Update, February 7, 2016: “Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins . . . announced tonight [February 6] they are amicably parting ways,” which I presume means they’ve agreed that no lawsuits will be filed. Hawkins had been expected to “go before a faculty panel . . . to defend her comments.”[1] She had received support from many faculty,[2] alumni professors,[3] and other alumni.[4] The provost who had initiated the action against Hawkins apologized “for the way he handled the situation.”[5]

“[T]his is not a violation of the First Amendment because the college is not a state actor,” writes Jonathan Turley, addressing—as far as I know—a straw person. “It is a religious based institution that has a right to set its own rules based on that faith.”[6] Still, a bunch of people are upset because “[t]he evangelical higher education institution Wheaton College has suspended tenured political science professor Larycia Hawkins after she asserted in a Facebook post last week that Muslims and Christians ‘worship the same God.’” It seems that “Hawkins has received much backlash for her ‘same God’ comment from other Christians on social media and on Tuesday, the school released a statement saying that Hawkins was being placed on administrative leave pending a review of the ‘theological implications’ behind her comments.”[7] “‘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.”[8]

I’m poorly placed to weigh in on the “theological implications” but I might be able to offer a historical observation. I’m guessing that Hawkins may have erred in citing the Pope in her statement;[9] the Protestant Reformation was all about rejecting the Catholic hierarchy—indeed any hierarchy—between Christians and their god. Rather, we are to understand, Christians each have an individual relationship with their deity.[10]

Which is where you’re supposed to say, “Whoops!” Because yes, that’s right, by suspending Hawkins, the evangelical (Protestant) Wheaton is in effect imposing a hierarchy between a Christian and her god. But just in case we missed that point:

“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the statement adds. “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.”[11]

So, ummm, a commitment they say? To whom? The college administration? And when it is allegedly “essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the College’s evangelical Statement of Faith,”[12] who gave that college the right to proclaim such a ‘Statement of Faith’ and intercede on anyone’s individual relationship with their god?

But, so Wheaton President Philip Ryken claims, “[w]e support the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”[13] Yeah, right.

  1. [1]Leigh Jones, “Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins agree to part ways,” World, February 6, 2016, http://www.worldmag.com/2016/02/wheaton_larycia_hawkins_agree_to_part_ways
  2. [2]Associated Press, “College’s faculty council opposes effort to fire professor,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, January 21, 2016, http://www.startribune.com/college-s-faculty-council-opposes-effort-to-fire-professor/366143861/; Leonardo Blair, “Wheaton College Faculty Say School ‘Discriminatory’ in Treatment of Prof. Larycia Hawkins,” Christian Post, February 5, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-faculty-school-discriminatory-treatment-professor-larycia-hawkins-156915/
  3. [3]Samuel Smith, “20 Wheaton Alumni Professors Say College Is Damaging Reputation by Suspending ‘Same God’ Prof. Larycia Hawkins,” Christian Post, February 3, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-alumni-professors-damaging-reputation-suspending-same-god-larycia-hawkins-156681/
  4. [4]Samuel Smith, “800 Wheaton College Grads Threaten to Stop Financial Support If ‘Same God’ Prof. Isn’t Reinstated,” Christian Post, January 18, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-800-alumni-threaten-stop-financial-support-larycia-hawkins-same-god-professor-not-reinstated-155247/
  5. [5]Leigh Jones, “Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins agree to part ways,” World, February 6, 2016, http://www.worldmag.com/2016/02/wheaton_larycia_hawkins_agree_to_part_ways
  6. [6]Jonathan Turley, “Wheaton College Suspends Professor After She Wore A Hijab And Called For A Stand of Solidarity With Muslims,” January 17, 2015, http://jonathanturley.org/2015/12/17/wheaton-college-suspends-professor-after-she-wore-hijab-and-called-for-a-stand-of-solidarity-with-muslims/
  7. [7]Samuel Smith, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Prof. For Saying Muslims, Christians Worship Same God,” Christian Post, December 16, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-suspends-hijab-prof-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-152679/
  8. [8]Manya Brachear Pashman and Marwa Eltagouri, “Wheaton College says view of Islam, not hijab, got Christian teacher suspended,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-larycia-hawkins-20151216-story.html
  9. [9]Manya Brachear Pashman and Marwa Eltagouri, “Wheaton College says view of Islam, not hijab, got Christian teacher suspended,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-larycia-hawkins-20151216-story.html; Samuel Smith, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Prof. For Saying Muslims, Christians Worship Same God,” Christian Post, December 16, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-suspends-hijab-prof-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-152679/; Ellen Wexler, “Wheaton College (Ill.) Suspends Professor Who Donned Hijab in Solidarity With Muslims,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 16, 2015, http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/wheaton-college-suspends-professor-who-donned-hijab-in-solidarity-with-muslims/107462
  10. [10]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  11. [11]Samuel Smith, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Prof. For Saying Muslims, Christians Worship Same God,” Christian Post, December 16, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-suspends-hijab-prof-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-152679/
  12. [12]Samuel Smith, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Prof. For Saying Muslims, Christians Worship Same God,” Christian Post, December 16, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-suspends-hijab-prof-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-152679/
  13. [13]Philip Ryken, quoted in Samuel Smith, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Prof. For Saying Muslims, Christians Worship Same God,” Christian Post, December 16, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-suspends-hijab-prof-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-152679/

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