Evangelicals Split Over Wheaton College’s Treatment of Professor Who Made ‘Same God’ Comments

Tribune illustration (July 1, 2014)
Tribune illustration (July 1, 2014)

When Wheaton, a leading evangelical college, recommended firing a professor for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God, it resonated far beyond the campus.

When a tenured political science professor at Wheaton College, one of the preeminent evangelical institutions of higher learning in the United States, stated that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, the college said it had a decision to make.

This week the Illinois college began to make that decision, recommending the termination of Larycia Hawkins’s professorship, saying that a post on her Facebook page last month violated the college’s statement of faith. Professor Hawkins’s post announced that she would wear hijab as an act of Advent devotion: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Dec. 10. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton’s handling of Hawkins, the college’s first tenured black woman in its 156-year history, has caused a furor within evangelical circles over the past month, and is a reminder of this American subculture’s ongoing grappling with the parameters of its Christian identity – and the ways it responds to changes within US society.

Indeed, led by a younger and more diverse generation, American Evangelicals, which, as a whole, remain one of the most socially conservative groups in the nation, have been changing. From college students embracing Black Lives Matter to influential ethicists embracing same-sex marriage, the evangelical subculture itself has been simmering with new ways of thinking – and even challenging the generally exclusive theology it shares with other conservative, monotheistic faiths, including many forms of Islam and Judaism.

Scholars have maintained that, while Wheaton should certainly defend the integrity of its conservative theology, it has moved even further to the theological right of the spectrum. And like the country as a whole, Evangelicals may be becoming bifurcated by the country’s stormy political winds.

“I’m certain that Dr. Hawkins is well within the boundaries of American evangelicalism,” wrote John Schmalzbauer, a Wheaton alum and sociologist of religion at Missouri State University in Springfield, in Religion & Politics.

The recommendation to terminate Hawkins professorship was made by the college’s provost, and it follows an earlier decision to suspend her. The recommendation is by no means final.

Hawkins is scheduled to appear before a committee of nine tenured faculty members within 30 days. The committee will then weigh evidence from both sides and make its recommendation to the college president, Philip Ryken. Dr. Ryken will then will forward his decision to Wheaton’s board of trustees, which will make the final call.

The college has said it was Hawkins’s affirmation that Muslims and Christians share the same God, and not her decision to wear the hijab, that seemed to violate the college’s statement of faith, which all members of the Wheaton community, including faculty and students, must sign and affirm.

“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,” the college explained in a statement defending its recommendation to terminate Hawkins. “As an institution of distinctively evangelical Christian identity … [we] affirm that salvation is through Christ alone.”

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SOURCE: The Christian Science Monitor
Harry Bruinius

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