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What she (didn’t) say

December 20, 2015

It has been over a week now since Wheaton College in Illinois, a bastion of evangelical learning, suspended tenured professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins for her decision to wear a hijab head covering during Advent as a symbol of solidarity with her Muslim sisters.  The phrase that seems to have gotten her in trouble is this one:

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.”

Taking her statement to mean that she was somehow conflating Christianity and Islam she was promptly booted by college administrators using this statement as their reasoning:

“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.”

But does saying the first thing automatically mean that you are denying the second?  Can we call Muslims “people of the book” as Dr. Hawkins did and, at the same time, believe everything the statement Wheaton has issued?  I think the answer lies in what Dr. Hawkins didn’t say.

She did not say that Islam and Christianity are the same religion under a different name, or that Islam is equally as true as Christianity. She did not deny that Jesus was God incarnate. She did not deny the Trinity. In fact, by having signed Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, she affirmed her belief in God as the Trinity and Jesus Christ as both God and man, fundamental Christian convictions which, among other things, distinguish Christian faith from Islam.

Is Wheaton College so insecure about its own Christian identity that someone who has signed their statement of faith but holds a different point of view on some issue deserves punishment? It seems the answer is yes.  Many commentators, including some Christians, feel this is because Wheaton has caved in to rampant the Islamophobia that besets our land.  But I think something much more dangerous is happening here.

Despite the spin Wheaton put on the matter, the suspension reflects a desire to silence dissenting views. The college’s action typifies the common Christian belief that those who don’t believe exactly as we do are dangerously outside of God’s will.  Indeed, much of what drives Western Christianity’s close mindedness—even in many seminaries—is not fear of Muslims but fear that if we get something wrong God will condemn us to hell.

Fear is a dangerous measure of how accurate our theology is.  II Timothy 1:7 says “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  When we are gripped with fear, even in interpreting the Bible and formulating doctrine, both power and love go out the window.  We lose self-control, more accurately stated as an ability to have a sound mind.  We lack the power to change the world, the ability to truly love those different from us and even the ability understand that we may possibly be wrong all because of fear.

Yet American evangelicalism is increasingly about fear.  Fear of confusing Islam and Christianity; fear that allowing people of the same sex to marry somehow threatens both marriage and our faith; fear of letting women take leadership roles in the church will somehow destroy it.

Good theology should be the very thing that liberates us from these fears, not blind us too them, It should push us forward into mission as a distinctively gospel-driven people, not yank us back into the safe-zone of the church. Theology committed to the mission of God will bind us more closely to our neighbors than any plan or strategy we could ever devise.


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Cindy C. permalink

    Tom, you, once again, have given my family something to discuss and think about. Bless you!

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