Wheaton professor who left college over ‘same God’ flap: ‘I would do it again’

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Larycia Hawkins, left, former Wheaton College professor, and Ahmed Rehab, right, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, discuss whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. Moderator David Dault sits between them. RNS photo courtesy Emily McFarlan Miller

Larycia Hawkins, left, former Wheaton College professor, and Ahmed Rehab, right, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, discuss whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. Moderator David Dault sits between them. RNS photo courtesy Emily McFarlan Miller

CHICAGO (RNS) Larycia Hawkins can’t recall the details of that day in December when she posted a photo of herself wearing a hijab on Facebook with a caption that said Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”

But she does remember what was happening at the time: It was Advent, the Christian season preceding Christmas. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., had just encouraged his students to get concealed carry permits so they could “end those Muslims before they walked in.”

In response, students at Wheaton College, where she was a tenured professor, had published an open letter calling for evangelical Christian leaders to “stand in solidarity” with Muslims “who share our human dignity.”

“What was I thinking?” Hawkins asked her voice full of emotion. “What was Jerry Falwell, Jr., thinking? I think that’s the appropriate question. I also think the appropriate question is ‘who are we?’”

Hawkins, whose case was scrutinized by the media for the issues it raised about Christian views of Islam, appeared Wednesday (Feb. 24) at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple for a public conversation hosted by the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.

RELATED STORY: Whither Wheaton? An evangelical college ponders its future

She spoke alongside Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Rehab said the Muslim community received Hawkins’ actions like “a cool glass of water in a hot, arid desert.”

“It was something that stuck out positively as a surprise ­– that somebody would care enough to do something like this,” he said. “We had sort of accustomed ourselves to hearing and seeing the opposite.”

Wheaton began termination proceedings against Hawkins following her Facebook post and public statements. Earlier this month, she appeared at a joint conference with Wheaton President Philip Ryken after the two announced they would be parting ways.

Moderator David Dault, president and CEO of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, said there would be no “juicy tidbits about her departure.” But other aspects of the controversy — theological, social and political — were fair game.

In her original Facebook post, Hawkins had said, “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.”

Francis’ remarks had come during a visit to the Central African Republic to “stand in solidarity with Muslims there being oppressed by Christian militias,” Hawkins recalled. And in a previous Facebook post she noted nobody had read, she said, “Mark my words he will be called an apostate and heretic for doing this.”

Wearing the hijab, she said, was a way of “trying to position myself with my Muslim sisters.”

That’s what solidarity is, she added: “standing with people whatever their need.”

Her original intent was to show solidarity with her fellow human beings but it became an interfaith statement.

“I had no idea it would blow up in the way it did, but I would do it again and again and again,” she said.

RELATED STORY: Why this resolution of Hawkins case is bad news for American evangelicalism 

Hawkins and Rehab noted points of religious agreement: Christians, Muslims and Jews all worship the God of Abraham. The former professor defined it as, “the same God worshipped differently — and worshipped similarly, in some ways.”

Hawkins said Wednesday her experience over the past few months has made her understanding of Islam more personal.

“I have about 3,000 more Muslim friends than I did — literally,” she said.

She’s heard from Muslim women afraid of the growing Islamophobia in the United States and considering giving up wearing the headscarf. She said they were encouraged by her words and actions. She’s heard from Muslim girls who say she’s their hero because they feel like somebody cares about them.

And Rehab said his understanding of Christianity “has been enhanced and it’s been improved, and the appreciation for living out Christian values and beliefs have improved as well.

“I actually see Christianity embodied in Professor Hawkins’ actions,” he said. “So it’s not just rhetoric. God put you on this path, Larycia. Now we’re having these conversations.”

(Emily McFarlan Miller is an RNS correspondent)

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  • Scott Shaver

    Makes her plea, gets her severence and then makes a bee line for the press to say “she’d do it all over again.” Guess so, good hustle she has going.

    There’s your motive for dismissal and rightly so.

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  • Benaiah

    Sam VT.: Sounds like you are saying that Muslims believe Muhammad was God? If so then you don’t know what Islam belives. The Prophet Muhammad is not a “God” in Islam. That would be blasphemy. So, the fact that Muslims do not believe Jesus was God means they worship another God? Jews do not believe Jesus was God either. Does that mean Jews are worshipping a different God? If your answer is “yes” then you believe a Christian “heresy” and you certainly disagree with what Jesus believed.

  • I am writing as one of the organizers. I am thankful to Emily McFarlane Miller for this article, and for the highlights she provides of this event.

    However, I was disappointed she failed to mention that – in addition to numerous points of agreement, which were acknowledged at the outset – we also spent a good portion of the evening discussing the *differences* between the ways Islam and Christianity articulate understandings of God. All told, we spent probably a third of our total time on this subject, including some very pointed questions from the audience.

    Dr. Hawkins referenced Christian creeds and Scripture often, as she made these distinctions. Though some may not like her politics, it is inaccurate to assume she does not take her identity as a Christian, or the Christian tradition, with utmost seriousness. In a similar fashion, Mr. Rehab was very clear about the points where Muslims differ.

  • Naksuthin

    Actually the Bible is not clear about most everything
    That;s why there are so many different sects, denominations and groups in Christianity.
    Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s witnesses, Methodist, Lutheran, Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, Christian Scientists etc etc.
    Hardly any of them can agree.
    They’ve even gone to war against each other in the past…one group executing another group for heresy.

    Your attempt to unite all Christians under your beliefs…is a failure

  • Naksuthin

    In announcing the final decision between Wheaton College and Dr. Hawkins Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones…who had once threatened to fire Professor Hawkins publicly said:

    “I asked Dr. Hawkins for her forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the fracture of our relationship, and to the fracture of Dr. Hawkins’ relationship with the college,” he wrote. “While I acted to exercise my position of oversight of the faculty within the bounds of Wheaton College employment policies and procedures, I apologized for my lack of wisdom and collegiality as I initially approached Dr. Hawkins, and FOR IMPOSING AN ADMINSTRATIVE LEAVE MORE PRECIPITOUSLY THAN WAS NECESSARY”

    Sounds like a round about way to say “Sorry. I screwed up big time”

    So Professor Hawkins walks away with
    1.a big financial settlement (or whatever her lawyer agreed to)…
    2.a probable book deal…
    3. a busy speaking tour…..
    4. her pick of colleges to work for (should she need to work at all) and
    5. a big fat…

  • Naksuthin

    This is exactly the reason I’m no longer a Christian.
    Christ spoke about
    1. Loving our fellow men
    2. Forgiving our enemies
    3. selling everything you own and giving the money to the poor.

    But Christians want to talk about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin

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  • If readers are interested in watching the entire discussion, we now have it available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/_waaDQVs7HE

    Thank you,

    David Dault, Ph. D.
    President and CEO
    Chicago Sunday Evening Club
    (co-sponsor of the event)