I happened to have attended a Christian university near Wheaton College, the school that is accused of bigotry for trying to fire Dr. Larycia Hawkins for wearing a hijab (though wearing a hijab was never cited as a reason by Wheaton). I went to a more liberal Christian college, and at least one of my professors was an ex-Wheaton college professor.
Interestingly, staff at Wheaton tried to fire him too.
I will also share my experience of when the theologian who popularized Hawkins’ view, came to my Christian college. The experience was very telling.
Why was this professor of mine nearly fired from Wheaton College? They thought he was, “too [theologically] liberal.”
I probably shouldn’t get into much detail so it isn’t obvious who he is, but I can tell you that his, “theologically liberal beliefs” had nothing to do with Islam, bigotry, or anything of the sort.
This professor was criticizing the way the bible is interpreted and used in conservative Christian circles. One of his fellow professors saw this as too [theologically] liberal and tried to get him fired as a result.
The Context that Changes Everything
While I don’t recall if any other of my professors were pushed out of Wheaton College specifically, some were pushed out (or left voluntarily) of other conservative Christian schools for being, “too [theologically] liberal.” I happen to know of at least one Catholic school that did the same thing.
It is fairly common at a school like Wheaton. There is a heated debate in Christianity that has been going on for over a century for the soul of Christianity. That is why I say, “theologically liberal” rather than liberal. It is about theology, not politics.
There are theologically liberal Christians who say that the Christian bible is a human fiction book that we can feel free to follow or not, that the God of the Old Testament was evil. I think there are even some “Christian academics” who say there is no God. Yes, you heard me correctly… people are calling themselves Christians say things like, “the God written about in the Old Testament is a bigot,” yet they the call themselves Christians. Ah… academia!
The theological debates of Christian academia, this is what Hawkins found herself in. The newsmedia is making this story about bigotry because it is more interesting and gets more viewers, not because of reality. It is very disturbing how a story based on a fiction can become national news.
“Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God”
That is why Wheaton says they fired Hawkins. Because she said Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Not for wearing a Hijab. The great irony is that conservative Muslims are probably just as offended by this comment as conservative Christians. They likewise think Christianity and Islam are not compatible and that it is destructive to downplay this fact.
Many liberals are not that radical but it should help you understand why conservative colleges fire people. Conservative Christian colleges, to remain conservative Christian colleges, have a set of standards they expect their professors to hold to. Cross the line and you are out. If they let everyone in they are just like every other college.
I was there when this view came to a more liberal Christian school…
Miroslav Volf is the theologian who popularized the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Volf is a very influential person. He was known as Tony Blair’s religious advisor. When he came to my school he gave a presentation arguing that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God. There were some very relevant things I noticed both in his presentation and in my liberal professors’ reactions…
One of the top research assistants of the man who popularized this view was very bothered by it
Yes, you read that correctly. It is not just Wheaton College that has a problem with this view but the personal research assistants of the greatest advocate for this view. I recall Volf mentioning that he was especially close to this person. I cant recall if his assistant quite or just expressed serious concerns but Volf lamented the intense controversy around his claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
One of my liberal Christian professors seemed disturbed by this view
This was a few years ago and hopefully my memory is serving me well, (I could be wrong) but my recollection is that one of my more liberal professors wrote a letter to a Christian publication to attempt get them to expose Volf as, for lack of a better word, a heretic for claiming that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God.
To be fair, when he came to my school and explained himself there seemed to be less suspicion of his views and some professors seemed to support him. However, realize that even at a liberal Christian school with liberal professors (who they would never give a job to at Wheaton) this view seemed to have disturbed at least one. I do know that my liberal Christian professor said the conservatives, since they do worry about heresy, should be worrying about this Volf guy and his claims. He suggested that his views were similarly controversial as Rob Bell’s. Rob Bell was pastor who claimed that everyone is saved in the end… that everyone goes to heaven.
What You Need to Understand
Christianity, much like Judaism, has a broad spectrum of beliefs. In Judaism you have the Reformed Jewish believers who are a more liberal group, and Orthodox and even Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people. Reformed Jewish people are much more liberal, sometimes taking the Torah symbolically and believing it can be re-interpreted by each generation.
I don’t know if there are any Orthodox Jewish colleges but you can bet they would fire a professor if that person held to Reformed Judaism. We wouldn’t be criticizing this move and calling the Orthodox Jewish school bigoted. We would understand that Orthodox Jews have a set of beliefs that they expect will be agreed to by professors at an openly Orthodox Jewish university. Otherwise, it would not be an Orthodox Jewish university.
You might as well call all Orthodox Jewish people bigots for if they don’t wish to be taught by Reformed Jewish professors. That is like the situation with Hawkins, to make it about bigotry is uninformed, ignorant, and probably an example of bigotry itself.
Bigotry is often rooted in a lack of understanding and stereotyping. It is perpetuated by myths and false information. However, it appears that we are witnessing the same bigotry people wish to avoid being directed against conservative Christians. To take a story out of context so much and twist it into a lie about how a professor was fired for wearing a hijab stinks of bigotry, but bigotry against Christians.
I am a Christians and I actually kind of like the idea of wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is almost always pictured wearing a head covering. I don’t think Christians worship the same God as Muslims but I do think we have a great responsibility to reject the religious discrimination that we see being fueled during the 2016 presidential election.
However, we must deal in reality and not become everything we are fighting against. Take a second to try to understand the other side, don’t stereotype them as, “those fundamentalist bigoted Christians.” Aren’t bigots the ones who are supposed to use stereotypes rather than those supposedly protecting us from the bigots?