What started as a gesture of interreligious solidarity may be ending with the dismissal of a tenured professor.
Wheaton College in Illinois, a leading Christian college, announced Tuesday that it is moving to fire Larycia Hawkins, a tenured faculty member in political science, over her statements about wearing a hijab during Advent to show solidarity with Muslims at a time when some politicians were using anti-Muslim rhetoric. The college has said that the act of wearing the hijab was not the issue. Rather it was a statement by Hawkins that Muslims "worship the same God" as do Christians. Theologians are divided on that point, and many supporters of Wheaton disagree with her statement.
Hawkins was placed on leave late last year, and the college said it reached an impasse with Hawkins after Wheaton requested clarification of her views. She has denied saying or doing anything that is inconsistent with Wheaton's commitment to Christian thinking.
In Wheaton's announcement Tuesday, the college stressed that it had not fired Hawkins but started the process to do so -- a process involving a faculty committee review.
In a December statement, Wheaton rejected the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
"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," said the statement. "As an institution of distinctively evangelical Christian identity, the core of our faith, as expressed in our Statement of Faith, is our belief that 'the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in him are justified by his shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.' We affirm that salvation is through Christ alone."
Hawkins is holding a news conference today to respond to the college's action and has declined to comment before then.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the conflict over her recent statement is not the first time the college has subjected Hawkins to scrutiny regarding whether her views are inconsistent with Wheaton's theology. For example, she was asked to affirm her commitment to Wheaton's views after she wrote an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology.