Scandalous Theology at Wheaton

Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor of political science at the veneered Evangelical mecca of Wheaton College, made a very controversial move during the last week. She, a Christian professor at a Christian school, decided to show solidarity with Muslims in an atmosphere of volatile hatred against Muslims by donning a hijab. This small act is, in this time, place and cultural space, a bold move that won a lot of praise (and condemnation).

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…

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.

According to the college, this tenured professor was fired over a theological point, particularly that line in the middle: “We worship the same God.” Via Christianity Today:

“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 stated in announcing the decision. “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…

Wheaton College said the disciplinary action was taken not because Hawkins was wearing a hijab, but “in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that [Hawkins] made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.”

“{T]heological implications… about the relationship of Christianity to Islam” is integral here. Because what Prof Hawkins said is theologically scandalous.

There are many ways to understand this statement. A universalist model that says that all Gods are the same; a Christo-centric model that says that (like CS Lewis did) that worshiping a God in earnestness is really worshiping Jesus. Many atheists would argue that both the Christian and Muslim Gods  are fictional and therefore yes of course we worship the same God. For her own, Hawkins points to Christian scholar Miroslav Volf who argues that Christians and Muslims and Jews pray to the same God but differ in their understandings of God – nevertheless, that does not change who God is.

As uncontroversial as one could find Volf’s position (How many friends do you have that would describe you in nearly contradictory terms?), to the fundamentalist Evangelical it is anything but. Positions and posturing about positions mean more than relationships. A declarative, definitive statement of faith means much more to Evangelical institutions than living faith out in love with neighbors in any declarative sense.


Hijab Our Choice via This Is Gender

And this is the scandal of Professor Hawkins’s theology. The love of Jesus coursing through the midst of it implored her to seek theological and embodied solidarity with Muslims. This is scandalous. It is outside of the norm in a season replete with anti-Muslim hate crimes encompassing vandalism, threats, brutality, and drone campaigns. When seemingly everyone from the president of the United States to returning vets to mega-famous pastors/charity presidents to maybe even your plumber advocates some form of indiscriminate violence against Muslims, a black poli-sci professor from a conservative Christian college decided that she would wear a hijab as a form of protest against this violence.

For her, a black woman professor at a White Evangelical college, it was a moment of picking up a cross – the cross of public shame addressed to Muslim women for being in public; the daily death that Muslim women are confronted with in an increasingly hostile Islamophobic world in light of White Supremacy. 

Perhaps it is not scandalous that Wheaton College has decided that academic freedom is not something they should pursue. But that is another discussion altogether about the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, as it was framed by a former professor at Wheaton.

Rather, the cross – embodied solidarity with the imprisoned, with the poor, with the rebel, with the enemy, with those the state promotes violence against – has always been scandalous to the world. Apparently, this form of Christ-love is also scandalous to Evangelical institutions.


One thought on “Scandalous Theology at Wheaton

  1. Pingback: Do Black Lives Matter to Evangelicals? Show It. | Leftcheek deuce

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