SHAFAQNA – A major evangelical Christian university has suspended a tenured professor after she argued that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God” and donned a hijab to express solidarity with Muslims.
On December 10, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, took to Facebook to vent her frustration about the growing list of anti-Islam incidents in the United States since the terrorist attacks in Paris. Hawkins, herself a Christian at the evangelical school, declared that she would wear a hijab throughout the Christian season of Advent “in human solidarity with [her] Muslim neighbor.”
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote in the Facebook post, referencing the Quranic phrase used to highlight the common bond between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Hawkins’ actions and comments — especially her insistence that Muslims and Christians worship the same God — immediately stirred controversy at the theologically conservative school, prompting her to write another post on December 13 where she explained that her position is “one held for centuries by countless Christians (church fathers, saints, and regular Christian folk like me).”
Her defense apparently was not enough to convince officials at Wheaton, however. The school released a statement on December 15 announcing her suspension, citing her comments.
“In response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins has made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam, Wheaton College has placed her on administrative leave, pending the full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member,” the statement reads.
Despite the administration’s decision, Wheaton students and alumni are already rallying to Hawkins’ defense. Over 450 students have joined a private Facebook group in support of the professor, a Change.org petition calling for her reinstatement has accrued more than 500 signatures, and students are planning a sit-in protest outside the office of Wheaton president Philip Ryken on Wednesday.
“Dr. Hawkins is absolutely essential to our campus community. We cannot afford to lose her,” Wyatt Harms, former Wheaton student body vice president and one of the organizers of the protest, told ThinkProgress. “A professor should have the academic freedom to engage that line of thinking, and should not be afraid of making a Facebook comment about it.”
“We also disagree that her comments conflict with [Wheaton’s] statement of faith,” he added, noting that Hawkins is also the only tenured black female professor at the school.
The idea that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God is controversial in evangelical Christian circles, many of whom believe that the theological differences between the faith groups — particularly the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is God — constitute belief systems that pray to different Gods. Several articles and blog posts on evangelical websites have been dedicated to refuting the concept of a shared God, and when evangelical megapastor Rick Warren was asked in 2012 whether Christians share a deity with anyone else, his response was unequivocal: “Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique.”
But as Hawkins pointed out in one of her posts, the axiom of a common God has been a fairly standard belief shared by millions of Christians throughout history. Hawkins cited a 2011 article on the subject by Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale Divinity School and author of the bookAllah: A Christian Response, who argues that unnecessary divisiveness over the question creates “justification for cultural and military wars.”
The same sentiment can be found in historic Catholic documents as well as recent statements by Pope Francis. It’s also fairly common among Mainline Protestants, although sometimes nuanced to insist that while Christians and Muslims believe in the same God, they do not worship the same God.
The idea that Christians and Muslims share a God is even present in some evangelical communities. In 2013, Brian C. Houston, the evangelical Christian leader of one of the world’s largest Christian churches, stoked controversy for delivering a sermon in which he posited that Christianity and Islam have a shared deity.
“Do you know – take it all the way back into the Old Testament and the Muslim and … we actually serve the same God. Allah to a Muslim, to us Abba Father God,” he said.
Indeed, some Protestant theologians rushed to support Hawkins after the announcement of her suspension. Yolanda Pierce, associate professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, decried Wheaton’s decision on Twitter Wednesday morning and voiced support for Hawkins’ beliefs.