This past week Wheaton College, the private Christian school in Chicago's western suburb, indefinitely suspended one of its tenured professors, Larycia Hawkins.
Hawkins, who has taught political science at Wheaton since 2007, publicly announced she would wear a hijab throughout the season of Advent. By wearing the traditional Islamic head covering, Hawkins wishes to show solidarity with Muslims while still holding to her own faith as a Christian. She believes Muslims are oppressed and marginalized in western society and she hopes to identify with their plight and even taste herself some of their bitterness - scowls at airports, nasty remarks on the streets.
On December 10, Professor Hawkins issued this four-point statement on her Facebook page:
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.
Wheaton, a college trying to remain distinctively Christian, rightfully took exception to Hawkins' confused remarks. They quickly placed her on paid administrative leave while her beliefs and the implications of her statements are reviewed. In their public statement Wheaton said:
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. Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution's faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. 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.
I would like to briefly express "solidarity" with Wheaton College on this matter (humor intended) and go right to the chief point of contention.
Professor Hawkins' most egregious claim is that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. She initially borrowed this claim from Pope Francis but later drew support for it from Yale professor and public theologian, Miroslav Volf, who spoke at Wheaton on this topic in 2011.
Yesterday, Volf wrote a piece in the Washington Post agreeing with Hawkins and calling Wheaton's action "anti-Muslim bigotry." He added: "There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims."
Yikes! Such a remark makes me wonder what Volf thinks of Paul's indelicate comment to the Galatians as the drifted toward the rocky shoals of Judaism: "Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you ... you are severed from Christ." (Galatians 5:2.4).
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Both religions acknowledge one God, as does Judaism, but sharing a generic monotheism does not equal worshiping the same God. We do not worship in the generic, as Scott McKnight deftly said this week. Because both Muslims and Jews deny the deity of Jesus, the God they worship is not the one true God. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be the God of a religion which denies the deity of Christ. As the apostle John said when he addressed the Gnostic error in the late 1st century: "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23).
It is even more accurate to say, with Dr. Peter Jones, that "...the God of Islam is anti-Christian because, not being Trinity, he is impersonal and cannot be a redeemer, and because dependent on creation, he cannot be transcendent thus truly divine."
Let us be more concerned with the glory of God - the Holy Trinity - than with showing other men how sensitive we are to their errors. In fact, we do no favors to our neighbor by finding sophisticated ways not to say to them: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:17-18).
Let us move far away from a sentimental and gesture-based evangelism. Professor Hawkins stepped into this furnace because of what she even called a "gesture" - wearing the hijab. Now Wheaton students are gesturing with sit-ins outside the office of college president, Phillip Ryken, demanding Hawkins be reinstated. Hashtag twitter posts are flying from both sides. Let us repent of all this gesturing. As our Lord said: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:3-4).
Let us abandon gesture-based evangelism for a Soli Deo Gloria ("glory of God alone") evangelism. Let us ask, "How can my words and actions be most careful and clear in representing the true identity of Jesus Christ as man's only Savior and the revealed will of his and my Father in heaven?"