Why I Care About the Situation at Wheaton College

You may or may not know that a Wheaton College professor was suspended this week for posting a picture of herself wearing a hijab with the comment (*full text below): 

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.

Wheaton administration have issued statements of their own (**posted in full below). 

The comments on the Facebook page for Wheaton contain some extremely inflammatory comments from people not associated with the College. 

Here is what I want to say about this situation. 

Wheaton College is an institution of higher education that encourages students to look at both sides of every issue. As a student there years ago, I actually wished many times that they would just tell me which answer was right. 

But in keeping with the commitment to faith AND learning which is the hallmark of Wheaton, professors who cared deeply about the education of their students presented both sides and allowed each student to grapple with the questions. 

It was at Wheaton that many of the black and white beliefs I had grown up with were brought into the light for me to consider.

I have seen words like ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and much worse bandied about and directed at anyone who either made the Wheaton College decisions or statements regarding the situation with Dr. Hawkins, or who supports them. 

The tone of many of the comments is incredibly bitter and hateful. Ironically, those who accuse Wheaton of being hateful don’t seem to understand that there is such a thing as integrity or what it is. 

The administration of Wheaton College is acting in integrity. They are honestly willing to look at what was said and deal with any conflict between her statements and the Wheaton Statement of Faith. 

When I attended and later worked for Wheaton, I understood that my signature on the Statement of Faith was voluntarily offered as part of my desire to be part of that particular community. 

Although I now could no longer qualify to work at Wheaton because I am no longer a Christian believer, my reasons have nothing to do with any hypocrisy or bigotry or hatred expressed by people who purport to be followers of Christ. Although I no longer share the belief system of Wheaton, I deeply respect the work they do and the focus on providing an education that teaches young people to think critically about all that is around them and all that they are learning. 

One cannot equate the statements and actions of Wheaton College with any political candidate or mayor or celebrity. Candidates and mayors and celebrities are in thrall to popular opinion. I know without a shadow of a doubt that the people who administrate and teach at Wheaton are bound to something much more profound than public opinion and much more ancient than the latest thing that is trending on Twitter. 

It appears to me that there is a strong theme in the comments of the internet in general about anything which takes a stand. And the theme is “You CANNOT take a stand. We refuse to acknowledge that anyone can legitimately believe  something without allowing for every other contradictory belief to be seen as equally and absolutely legitimate.” 

For anyone who happens to believe strongly in something, there is tremendous pressure from the world, at least in the world of the internet and social media, to give up that belief. No one should ever believe that abortion should be limited, that there should be any restrictions about what marriage is, or how anyone should ever act on their convictions. That’s the message i see over and over and over. 

Whatever our beliefs, surely there is room in this huge world for some of us to think differently than others of us. The panic and fevered intense shrieking that occur when someone takes a stand is way over the top. 

To my way of thinking, there is room for dissension and value in agreeing to disagree agreeably. We have enough oxygen and words and space to allow others to believe differently. And I definitely was given all the space I could want to hold differing beliefs while at Wheaton. 

Integrity. I think that’s the thing that doesn’t even register with people anymore. 

Integrity is acting in accordance with your beliefs, but it also has an element of honesty and moral uprightness. There is nothing to suggest that integrity has as an inherent feature hatred of others, or superiority, or rejection of those who do not share your beliefs. 

And if your beliefs happen to be based on centuries or tradition as put forth through church history and sacred writings, you don’t just throw them out when they become unpopular. 

No one has a corner on the truth. Everyone is always in a process of figuring out their truth. But some people believe in capital T Truth. A Wheaton College professor, Dr. Arthur Holmes, wrote a book called All Truth is God’s Truth. 

Wherever truth may be found, it is all truth. Therefore, yes, there is truth in the statement that all who worship God worship the same God, and yet, there is also truth in the statement that people have completely diverging views about the surrounding truths, like who was a son of god, and who was a separate god, and what that god wants from and for humans. 

But you can’t legitimately tell a fish that every fish in the ocean is the same. You don’t get to say that the fish who live in the deep darkness of the ocean floor are wrong or that those who live near the surface are right. They are all fish. They each have a limited perspective, albeit not sentient. But they all abide in the same water; they all breathe in similar ways by extracting oxygen from the water, and they all move around in the water. 

We are fish in the same way. My understanding is informed by my environment and my experience and my education, as is yours. Some viewpoints seem limited to those who hold other viewpoints. But from what I know of Wheaton College leadership, they acknowledge their fallibility as humans all the while trusting that their God will illuminate the truth to them. 

In the time of demand for instantly resolving every question and making judgments in a split second, I value a place like Wheaton that acts in integrity, seeking to be faithful while protecting the integrity of the institution while treating those within their community with respect and love. This is what they are doing in respect to the situation with Dr. Hawkins. 

This is what I believe. 

**December 16, 2015
Wheaton College is an academic community within a shared framework of faith that values a robust exchange of ideas among faculty and students on the critical issues of the day.

On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College placed Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins on paid administrative leave in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam. In the interim, College leadership has listened to the concerns of its students expressed through social media, a peaceful demonstration and one-on-one meetings with the administration.

As a Christian liberal arts institution, Wheaton College embodies a distinctive Protestant evangelical identity, represented in our Statement of Faith, which guides the leadership, faculty and students of Wheaton at the core of our institution’s identity. Upon entering into a contractual employment agreement, each of our faculty and staff members voluntarily commits to accept and model the Statement of Faith with integrity, compassion and theological clarity.
Contrary to some media reports, social media activity and subsequent public perception, Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, and is in no way related to her race, gender or commitment to wear a hijab during Advent.
Wheaton College believes the freedom to express one’s religion and live out one’s faith is vital to maintaining a pluralistic society and is central to the very reason our nation was founded, enabling us to live together despite our deepest differences. Equally important is the freedom of religious organizations to embody their deeply held -convictions.
Wheaton College rejects religious prejudice and unequivocally condemns acts of aggression and intimidation against anyone. Our Community Covenant upholds our obligations as Christ-followers to treat and speak about our neighbors with love and respect, as Jesus commanded us to do. But our compassion must be infused with theological clarity.
The freedom to wear a head scarf as a gesture of care and compassion for individuals in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution is afforded to Dr. Hawkins as a faculty member of Wheaton College. Yet her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.

In all matters of faculty and staff conflict with the Statement of Faith, Wheaton College undergoes dialogue to determine if agreement can be found. Statements have been made in recent days raising similar questions by other faculty members from whom the College requested clarification. In those instances, the individuals rapidly and emphatically explained their opinions and affirmed their full consistency with the theological identity of Wheaton College.

However, the views expressed by Dr. Hawkins were more complex. Discussions between her and the administration were at an initial stage, and she was placed on administrative leave by Provost Dr. Stanton L. Jones in order to allow adequate time for reflection and review by Dr. Hawkins and the administration.
In her most recent statement, Dr. Hawkins seems committed to her personal theological stance, as stated in social media posts and subsequent media interviews; she has not yet reconciled her beliefs with the College’s theological position.

Dr. Hawkins will remain on paid administrative leave while the College continues the review process to which she is entitled as an employee and faculty member. This will include an assessment of her views related to our Statement of Faith through respectful and fair dialogue on these matters of strategic importance to our institutional identity and mission.

*Dr. Hawkins’ Facebook post:

I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.

I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. 

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.

I invite all women into the narrative that is embodied, hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters–for whatever reason. A large scale movement of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs is my Christmas #wish this year.

Perhaps you are a Muslim who does not wear the veil normally. Perhaps you are an atheist or agnostic who finds religion silly or inexplicable. Perhaps you are a Catholic or Protestant Christian like me. Perhaps you already cover your head as part of your religious worship, but not a hijab. 

I would like to add that I have sought the advice and blessing of one of the preeminent Muslim organizations in the United States, the Council on American Islamic Relations, #CAIR, where I have a friend and Board colleague on staff. I asked whether a non-Muslim wearing the hijab was haram (forbidden), patronizing, or otherwise offensive to Muslims. I was assured by my friends at CAIR-Chicago that they welcomed the gesture. So please do not fear joining this embodied narrative of actual as opposed to theoretical unity; human solidarity as opposed to mere nationalistic, sentimentality. 

Document your own experiences of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs #wish.
Shalom friends.

2 thoughts on “Why I Care About the Situation at Wheaton College

  1. BRAVO. The best thing anywhere written about this event is right here in this post. Dr Hawkins was unwise only in claiming “we worship the same God.” Whether or not that is true, she is part of a community of people, and such a statement has to be thoughtfully evaluated. Such thoughtfulness does not lend itself to Internet communication, as we have seen. Again I say BRAVO.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think they have the right to hold professors to the profession of faith and need to talk to Dr. Hawkins about whether she can sign it in good concience. My question about this is the seemingly heavy-handed reaction of administrative leave. This happened during finals and is stretching into Christmas break. They could have done their talking without the power move of the leave. It’s not like she’s currently in the classroom fielding student questions about the issue.

    Also, she has tenure which, even at a Christian school, should err on the side of protecting faculty who may propose ideas that make administrators uncomfortable. I hate to have that diminished and this is going to have a chilling effect on the willingness of the Wheaton community to freely discuss some subjects.

    Like

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