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Muslim God, Christian God

Two thoughts on the Wheaton controversy

By now you will have heard about Wheaton College’s suspension of a professor over a theological matter. An excerpt from the Evangelical college’s statement:

On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College placed Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins on paid administrative leave in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam. In the interim, College leadership has listened to the concerns of its students expressed through social media, a peaceful demonstration and one-on-one meetings with the administration.

As a Christian liberal arts institution, Wheaton College embodies a distinctive Protestant evangelical identity, represented in our Statement of Faith, which guides the leadership, faculty and students of Wheaton at the core of our institution’s identity. Upon entering into a contractual employment agreement, each of our faculty and staff members voluntarily commits to accept and model the Statement of Faith with integrity, compassion and theological clarity.

Contrary to some media reports, social media activity and subsequent public perception, Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, and is in no way related to her race, gender or commitment to wear a hijab during Advent.

Wheaton College believes the freedom to express one’s religion and live out one’s faith is vital to maintaining a pluralistic society and is central to the very reason our nation was founded, enabling us to live together despite our deepest differences. Equally important is the freedom of religious organizations to embody their deeply held -convictions.

Wheaton College rejects religious prejudice and unequivocally condemns acts of aggression and intimidation against anyone. Our Community Covenant upholds our obligations as Christ-followers to treat and speak about our neighbors with love and respect, as Jesus commanded us to do. But our compassion must be infused with theological clarity.

The freedom to wear a head scarf as a gesture of care and compassion for individuals in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution is afforded to Dr. Hawkins as a faculty member of Wheaton College. Yet her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.

Two things from me:

1) I am hardly in a position to say, but it seems to me that the conflict between the professor’s statement and the colleges Statement of Faith is not crystal-clear, nor is the absence of conflict. It’s important to note that the college is not passing definitive judgment, only saying that it is suspending Prof. Hawkins until that determination can be made. I support Wheaton’s action here — not because I think Prof. Hawkins is wrong in her theological pronouncement (though she may well be), but because it shows that Wheaton is serious about safeguarding its Evangelical identity. One reason so many Catholic colleges and universities are Catholic In Name Only is because they don’t do this.

I’m quite sure I would draw the theological lines in different places than where Wheaton has, on a lot of things. The point is that I applaud the college for being willing to take a hard, unpopular stand on doctrine — even if I do not necessarily agree with the teaching it is trying to defend.

2. To be honest, I’ve never thought at all about whether Muslims pray to the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church teaches that they do, and that was my belief when I was a Catholic, though I never gave it a minute’s thought. I don’t know what I believe now, to be honest. We know that Muslims do not pray to the Holy Trinity — but this is also true of Jews. Don’t Christians (most Christians) believe that Jews pray to the one true God, even if they have an imperfect understanding of His nature? If this is true for Jews, why not also for Muslims, who clearly adhere to an Abrahamic religion? This is why my tendency is to assume that Muslims do pray to the one true God, even though they have a radically impaired view of Him.

But how far do we go with that? Mormons, for example, are not Trinitarian, which by most orthodox Christian standards put them outside the Christian fold, despite their profession of faith in Jesus. From an orthodox Christian point of view, do they pray to the one true God? Do all non-Trinitarian believers in Jesus Christ? Are they not in the same position as Jews: believers in the one true God, though in possession of a deficient understanding of who He is — which is a very important distinction, but is it meaningful enough to declare that the God to whom they pray is false (as distinct from the same God, seen with impaired vision)?

I’m not sure what I think. I mean, I assume, in charity, that people who intend their prayers to be to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are praying to the true God, whatever they lack in theological understanding. But again, I’ve not given this much thought. How about you? Please, no trolling, and keep your griping about “bigotry” to yourself. This is not about Islamophobia, or headscarves. This is an important theological question, which is why I respect Wheaton for treating it as such.



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