Is Wheaton reconciled with Doc Hawk or with conservative evangelicals? (COMMENTARY)

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Larycia Hawkins speaks on Jan. 6, 2016, at First United Methodist Church in Chicago. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Larycia Hawkins speaks on Jan. 6, 2016, at First United Methodist Church in Chicago. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

(RNS) The ongoing drama of Professor Larycia Hawkins’ strained relationship with her employer, evangelical Wheaton College, was headed for a climactic heresy trial this month.

Instead, the parties announced in a Saturday (Feb. 6) statement that they will part ways, despite supposedly having “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation.”

If separating from a tenured professor under a confidential agreement is “reconciliation,” then surely the word has no meaning.

Confidential agreements often include undisclosed financial payments. I have no insight into what legal counsel Hawkins may have received. But if Wheaton did pay Hawkins to go away, then selling the departure as reconciliation seems especially egregious.

Unfortunately, actual reconciliation was unlikely right from the start of this bungled episode. Hawkins had run afoul of Wheaton’s conservative ethos before, as when she was photographed in a Chicago home on the day of the LGBT pride parade.

RELATED STORY: Wheaton provost apologizes to Larycia Hawkins; she’s leaving

Once the professor asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the die was cast. Perhaps a different cultural moment or a different professor may have led to a different outcome. But this was a perfect storm.

At a time when presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Marco Rubio make troubling comments about Islam, the implication that Christians and Muslims may just be taking different paths up the same mountain raised questions that Wheaton could not ignore.

And when the professor in question was a black woman citing Pope Francis and wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, it was too much for Wheaton’s power structure to bear.

To Jesse Jackson’s credit, he draws attention to issues of race that white people don’t see. But Hawkins appearing with him against a backdrop of liberal clergy was a perplexing move if she wanted to remain at Wheaton. After all, many white evangelicals regard Jackson with mocking if not outright loathing, often putting his clergy credentials in quotation marks: “The Reverend” Jesse Jackson.

The episode said something about what kind of black woman conservative evangelicals welcome in their institutions. But the optics of firing the first tenured black woman in Wheaton’s history would be disturbing.

White-dominated evangelical institutions are happy to have minority leaders who go along with their social and political program. But when people deviate from cultural or theological conservatism, especially in public, or as activists, it is easy for them to become targets.

A faculty committee asserted last week that the scrutiny Hawkins received was discriminatory on the basis of race, sex and marital status.

The school newspaper’s coverage of the story was a bright spot. Wheaton Record editor Kirkland An and his colleagues ably reported and judiciously commented on the unfolding events, evidently without interference from administration. Many evangelical colleges expect their school papers to function as PR organs. Editorial independence is often conditional or nonexistent.

Wheaton will, of course, continue to attract top students and faculty. But after several years of smaller-scale student protests and an institutional posture of reiterating and defending its confessional identity, the incident with Hawkins seems like the beginning of a stricter orthodox stance.

Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at Religion News Service and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University. His website is Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. Photo courtesy of Jacob Lupfer

Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at Religion News Service and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University. His website is Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. Photo courtesy of Jacob Lupfer

Professors generally rallied around their colleague, but who will be next? I predict Wheaton will eventually make new (and perhaps current) faculty affirm an amended faith statement that is significantly more specific about sexuality, marriage and the relationship between Christianity and other faiths.

White evangelical leaders have recently given attention to issues of racial reconciliation, making this outcome especially disappointing. Perhaps it is time to take a break and focus on the meaning of reconciliation: Either learn what it means or stop using the term.

Wheaton errs in trying to portray its split with Larycia Hawkins as reconciliation. But the institution reconciled itself to the gatekeepers of conservative evangelicalism, and, as ever, that may be what matters most.

(Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at RNS and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University)

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  • Pr Chris

    Dr Hawkins asserts that the God of Islam is the same as the God of Israel. Let’s see, Abraham worshiped the God of Israel. No problem here. Presumably, he still worshiped the same God when he took Sarah to be his wife. But apparently, at some point, when Abraham had a child with the slave woman Hagar, who gave him the child Ishmael, the line through which Islam traces its history, Abraham must have changed the God whom he worshiped. Unfortunately, I don’t have that verse in my Bible that tells me this. Does anyone else?

    Dr Hawkins, I hope you find another post, and that you continue to be a leader in the religious community.

    Pr Chris

  • Keris

    Well sir, for a start, Prophet Abraham was the grandfather of Jacob/Israel through Isaac; which makes the descendant s of Israel worshippers of the One True God of Abraham. Likewise, the offspring of Ishmael forms the lineage of the later Arab tribes; when they realized the message of Prophet Muhammad they were bound to worship the One True God of Adam and Abraham, their original ancestor. God states in the Quran that Ishmael was the firstborn of Father Abraham, the progenitor of human fraternities. God bless us all.

    “Say: He is God, the One and Only;
    Who does not beget, neither was begotten;
    And there is no partner whatsover in His Oneness.” (Quran)

  • John W

    This article could have been a lot shorter.

    “Drat, we didn’t get our martyr” would seem sufficient

  • The problems Wheaton’s administration had with Larycia Hawkins’ statements and beliefs reflect more on Conservative Christians than on Hawkins’ views. For all Hawkins said was whether Muslisms and Christians worship the same God or are brothers and sisters depends on the context of the relationship. It appears that the Conservative Christians in Wheaton’s Administration either could not accept Hawkins’ view because they were too infelxible to recognize multiple contexts or because they recognized only one context, in which Hawkins’ statements could be made, they could only acknowledge one context. In either case, Wheaton’s objections to Hawkins were due to its inability or unwillingness to properly understand what she was saying.

    So my guess is that Wheaton’s reconciliation was more with Conservative Christians than Hawkins. But in reconciling more with Conservative Christians, what position did Wheaton put itself with a faculty that supported Hawkins?

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    No, John W.

    Your sour unpleasant and cynical remark no doubt has some truth to it, but people like myself, who genuinely hate Wheaton’s “values,” prefer to see the whole filthy story examined in detail.


  • David Lloyd-Jones

    P.S. Guess what, John? We’d even like to see the full truth come out. Wheaton prefers to buy themselves a non-disclosure agreement. For how many pieces of silver, one wonders.


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  • Professor Hawkins is a Political Science professor. She would have been wise to consult with some theologians before making the comment that the God revealed in the Old and New Testament is the same person as Allah. Of course if there is only one God we could say whoever we think is God is the same for all people who believe in one God. Obviously this is simplistic. I recall a story about a funeral in which the minister was giving a eulogy and describing the deceased man in glowing terms. His family was seated in the front row with the casket directly in front of them. The deceased man’s wife turned to her son sitting next to her and said: “Would you look into the casket and make sure its your Dad?” Quite frankly the character and ways of the God revealed in the Old and New Testament are radically different from Allah as described by Muhammad.

  • none the wiser

    An imputed analogy may have nothing to do with the issue at hand – this is one specimen. Any more dead man’s tales to illustrate the Everlasting God?

  • Scott Shaver

    Or…..Ishmael worshipped the God of Abraham UNTIL the founder of Islam redefined the nature and character of the God of Abraham completely for the descendants of Ishmael.

    There’s another way of looking at this.

  • Keris

    Right Scott, the code of religious practices were redefined by Prophet Muhammad for the context of our end times, and the nature of our Lord Creator and Sustainer clarified for humanity. Since this article centers on the universality of Christians and Muslims I’d venture to offer this lecture on the attributes of God Most High. Peace be with you.

  • Scott Shaver

    Having to listen to the lack of substance among dissenters against Wheaton’s position probably means that the “cost” of a non-disclosure agreement was money well spent.

  • Herman A. Voogel, Jr.

    To me it is obvious that Yahweh and Allah are not the same God. “The same God” would have to have the same internal structure and the same ethical understanding as is evidenced between Yahweh and Jesus Christ. Yet when we compare Chesed love (Covenant Love) and Agape Love (Self-sacrificial Love), we see that the character of both is exactly the same.

    Yet the character of Allah in is very different. Any God would want His people to have the same character as His own character, which character would form His ethical mandates. The Bible shows the identical character of both Yahweh and Christ, and why Yahweh and Christ must be the same God. Allah’s character description in the Koran is very different from Yahweh’s, so if God had both characters, He would have a split personality disorder (i.e., schizophrenia). And as it would be impossible for an infinite, perfect God to have personality disorder, it is obvious that the if theTrue God is Yahweh, Allah could not be another name…