Christian professor suspended after wearing Hijab

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Christian college suspends hijab-wearing professor over Islam remarks.

Consuming all the news accounts and kitchen-table chatter about Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins, it’s easy to conclude that we’re witnessing a mighty tussle between an institution and a tenured — perhaps mistreated — member of its faculty.That is how Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, told The Christian Science Monitor he likes to highlight the differences in people’s understanding of God, even within the same congregation.NORTON, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts college is trying to distance itself from a Midwestern school that shares its name and has been involved in a recent controversy.

An evangelical Christian college in Illinois suspended a political science professor on Thursday after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. In a statement posted on its website and on Facebook, Wheaton College in Norton said it’s in no way affiliated with a suburban Chicago Christian college of the same name.

The professor, who is Christian, had said she planned to wear a hijab, the Muslim headscarf, to express solidarity with Muslims in the U.S. who have been the target of an Islamophobic backlash after recent attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California. Unravel this situation, which has left Hawkins suspended, and you find more expressions of tolerance than most disputes rooted in religious pluralism include. Wheaton, which requires professors to sign a statement of faith, placed Hawkins on administrative leave because her post included the comment that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” She will remain on leave while the college investigates the tenured professor. I say this as an alumnus of the college, someone who has even taught a course at Wheaton, and someone who knows Hawkins and the rest of the political science faculty.

And you can set aside any gut reaction that includes the First Amendment; that crucial protection restricts what governments and their institutions can do, not what a private college can require of its teachers. Hawkins’ post may have referred to statements by Pope Francis such as those he gave in an interview with Eugenio Scalfari from La Repubblica, in 2013. Ronald Allen, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University, tells us that employment relationships typically are governed by explicit contracts, or by agreements that are enforceable even if they’re not in writing, or by conventions any of us would be silly to deny. For instance, in recent weeks, a Somali restaurant in North Dakota was set on fire, a Muslim shopkeeper in New York was brutally beaten and two women were verbally assaulted at a restaurant in Texas.

The Muslim advocacy group Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) has said that while it does not have exact figures, anti-Islamic attacks are at an all time high. CAIR itself last week received a package containing a white powder and a note that read, “Die a painful death, Muslims.” “In the spirit of Advent, my actions were motivated by a desire to live out my faith. Bush regularly expressed the same sentiment during his presidency to the irritation of Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, who would otherwise agree with him, Rev. Hawkins also wrote in her original Facebook post that she reached out to CAIR to ask whether wearing the hijab as a non-Muslim was “haram (forbidden), patronizing, or otherwise offensive to Muslims.”

Tempting, but not as useful as exploring how much Wheaton and Hawkins share: The college wants to protect its expression of its beliefs — how it carries itself in the world. This is, after all, an academic institution where nuance and differences are encouraged. “Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. And I respect the institution.” Allen, the law prof, thinks Hawkins, via her compassion and sense of unity with Muslims, is demonstrating the Christian virtues for which Wheaton stands.

The trustees and others on campus may have assumed that this was unnecessary to state such a position, but they never bothered to make that position clear. Those among us who dislike Wheaton’s culture — we don’t suggest Hawkins is in that group — probably should enroll or teach elsewhere. (Unless we’re heading there to try to change the school, a different discussion.) But we ought to focus now on how that principle of religious tolerance extends liberties to the professor and to the school. It is rooted less in fear of institutions imposing their beliefs on individuals than on bloody histories of governments dictating which institutions can even exist.

In 2011, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf made the claim in his book “Allah: A Christian Response.” It was an argument many evangelicals took seriously. Wheaton does not endorse every speaker who comes to campus, but one could excuse a professor who borrows a phrase spoken from a theologian Wheaton brought to campus to speak on how Christians should interact with Muslims.

Wheaton has the right to update its statement on beliefs, but at the time Hawkins made her statement, the college was silent on the issue, there were prominent Christian voices who made the same statement, and Wheaton welcomed the most noteworthy proponent to campus. If every disagreement in higher education had stakes this important and voices this thoughtful, then every college diploma would be worth even more than it is.

Wheaton chose to make Hawkins an example of its commitment to orthodoxy, albeit an orthodoxy that Wheaton did not feel important enough to include in any statement until now. What it cannot do is punish (publicly, to boot) a professor for violating a previously unstated belief that neither she, nor any other professor, had been asked to support. If Wheaton has, in the past, treated other professors with a different process, then it could be facing accusations of violating Hawkins’ civil rights.

If there is a record of treating white, male professors with confidentiality and due process but publicly shaming or inventing new punishments for one of the few women of color on the faculty, then this controversy could take a legal turn that the college could not escape.

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