Suspended Wheaton College professor seeks reconciliation with leaders

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Christian college suspends hijab-wearing professor over Islam remarks.

Chicago – Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university, has suspended a political science professor who vowed to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims.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.

Larycia Hawkins, who is a Christian and an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, said Wednesday that her actions were demonstrations of her own faith. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God,” Larycia Hawkins wrote on Facebook. “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College wrote in a statement. “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 said. “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.” In the meantime, Hawkins wrote on her Facebook post that she did consult with the Council on American Islamic Relations to make sure wearing the veil would not be seen as offensive to Muslims. “Hawkins, 43, of Oak Park, planned to wear the hijab everywhere she went until Christmas, including on her flight home to Oklahoma, where voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning Shariah, or Islamic law,” according to the Chicago Tribune. “Hawkins said she was inspired by a student who suggested all female college students should wear hijabs on flights home for the holidays,” the Tribune reported. Hawkins said she felt it was important to show solidarity with Muslims who may feel threatened after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Unravel this situation, which has left Hawkins suspended, and you find more expressions of tolerance than most disputes rooted in religious pluralism include. 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 read.

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. While Hawkins had received some support from her colleagues, Danny Burk, a biblical studies professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. 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. Kimball says. “I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to,” then-President Bush told Al-Arabiya in 2007. “After all, we all came from Abraham.” The idea goes back centuries.

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. If any faculty member makes a statement that appears to run counter to the statement of faith, the most likely reason is that he or she does not view it as contradictory.

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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