|Photos of Larycia Hawkins wearing her headscarf via Facebook|
News headlines today in Chicagoland are featuring my own beloved Wheaton College and their decision to suspend (or place on "administrative leave") one of the their professors who made some controversial theological statements in a recent public announcement that she would wear a hijab during advent in solidarity with Muslim women. Here is the story as reported in the Chicagoist today.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me remind you that I am a graduate of Wheaton but I don't know Dr. Larycia Hawkins and have never met her. Her original Facebook post that has generated so much controversy can be read here. Let me make a few observations:
1. Standing in solidarity is good -- Hawkins cites a popular YouTube video, "Women Wear Hijabs for a Day," in the comments of her post suggesting that the video played a role in inspiring her decision to wear a hijab during Advent. Take a look:
I have nothing but respect for the desire to stand in solidarity with Muslim women in this way. My wife and both former and current teammates of mine have done so on multiple occasions. I, myself, have had similar experiences in what may be called "cross-cultural dressing" and can testify that it can be done in a way that is respectful, appreciated by the "other", and enlightening. Given the fact that Christ himself engaged in a kind of cross-cultural dressing (enfleshening) in his Incarnation, Advent seems to be an especially appropriate time for something like this.
2. The time is right for Christ followers to stand in solidarity with Muslims -- I don't need to remind you that we are living in a time when hatred toward Muslims is en vogue. From the typically leftist Rob Lowe:
To the famous Trump vow to block all Muslims from entering the United States, it has become way too acceptable to be anti-Muslim. When followers of Jesus stand in solidarity and express their love and welcome for Muslims, this is a good thing that should be respected and imitated. My friend, Justin Long, has provided a really excellent article on why we should love Muslims and extend hospitality to them (especially to migrants).Oh, NOW France closes its borders. #Hollande— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) November 13, 2015
3. Dr. Hawkins confused the issue by packing some muddy missiology into it. In my opinion, Dr. Hawkins should have made this about solidarity with Muslim women and left it there. Instead, she inserted questions about theology/missiology that made it very difficult for the Wheaton College administration. By declaring that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, she was taking a position that certainly can be defended but is nevertheless easy to misunderstand. I have spent a lot of time in those missiological waters and I know enough about them to make me want to ask the professor exactly what she means by that. Indeed if one of my own staff members made a similar public statement without a careful explanation, I might have to take a very similar course of action as the college. To be sure, there is a sense in which her statement (and Pope Francis' statement) is true, but there is also a very real sense in which it is false. Let's put it this way: Do Muslims worship the God of Abraham? They would say yes. Do Muslims worship Jesus who is the God of Abraham? They would say no. Islam wholeheartedly rejects the divinity of Christ and the triunity of God even while affirming the spiritual heritage of Abraham, Isaac, Jabob, and Moses. If someone asks if Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the only reasonable answer is, "it's complicated."
My point is that this is muddy water. Followers of Jesus should spend time in such waters, but bringing that mud into a question about love and solidarity is unnecessary and unhelpful. I don't blame Dr. Hawkins for being a bit out of her depth here (she is a highly accomplished political scientist and not a missiologist), but it is also difficult for me to blame the college for the steps they have taken.
I hope that Dr. Hawkins will have the opportunity to clarify herself on this point and that Wheaton will reinstate her and affirm her call for solidarity. I myself affirm it with the reservations I've mentioned above.