College says view of Islam, not hijab, got Christian teacher suspended
Wheaton, Ill – .
If Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins had simply donned a headscarf to support her Muslim neighbors without explaining herself, she still might be administering final exams this week.
Instead, Hawkins, a tenured political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college west of Chicago, has been placed on administrative leave after proclaiming on social media that Christians and Muslims share the same God.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook Friday. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
That explanation concerned some evangelical Christians, who read her statement as a conflation of Christian and Muslim theology, even if they supported her symbolic gesture.
“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.
The suspension, effective immediately and lasting through the spring semester, sparked protests on the campus Wednesday from students calling for Hawkins’ reinstatement and an apology. About two dozen Christian clergy also appeared with Hawkins at a news conference Wednesday to show their support.
Hawkins’ suspension comes amid national turmoil over anti-Muslim rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail and protests about the treatment of African-Americans on American college campuses. It also has a familiar ring in Illinois, where the state’s flagship university revoked a tenured faculty position from a professor who had posted a string of anti-Israel comments on social media.
Unlike the University of Illinois, a public institution, instructors at Wheaton must sign a “Statement of Faith” agreeing to 12 evangelical beliefs, including the literal truth of the Bible, the necessity to be born again in the Holy Spirit, the imminence of the Second Coming and the bodily resurrection of the dead. Students and faculty also pledge to abide by a community covenant, abstaining from premarital sex, drinking and homosexual behavior.
“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement.
Protesters on Wednesday insisted that Hawkins had not violated the college’s statement of faith. Dozens of students gathered on the front steps of the college’s administration building to deliver a letter to President Philip Ryken and Provost Stan Jones, demanding Hawkins’ reinstatement.
“Dr. Hawkins is an essential part of the community here,” said Wyatt Harms, a senior political science major, who has taken several of Hawkins’ classes. “She’s a refuge for so many students on campus.”
Wearing a purple streaked hijab, Sarah Thompson, 20, a junior from Indianapolis, said she didn’t have Hawkins as a professor, but has several Muslim friends after spending a summer in Indonesia.
“I thought it was a joke when I saw it. No way would this happen,” Thompson said. “She’s very, very talented. She could go teach at any school, but she chooses to stay here. It’s upsetting when this reaction comes from other Christians, whose faith is rooted in love.”
Students also launched a social media campaign to support Hawkins, #ReinstateDocHawk, and an online petition that’s gathered nearly 900 signatures.
“Dr. Hawkins has and continues to be an invaluable resource to the students of Wheaton College, particularly to those of color,” the petition said.
Some students supported the college’s decision. David Burnham, 21, a junior business and economics major from Naples, Florida, said the administration suspended Hawkins because the statement she made has “profound theological implications.”
“By placing her on leave, the school says it doesn’t believe Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” he said.