Larycia Hawkins is a tenured professor of political science at Wheaton College, one of the premier evangelical schools in the country. According to Christianity Today, Hawkins decided last week to wear a hijab—the traditional head covering of Muslim women—as a sign of solidarity with her Muslim neighbors during the Advent season.
She announced her gesture via Facebook:
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.
Later Hawkins clarified her position—sort of—with another post that linked to a Huffington Post blog by theologian Miroslav Volf:
Whether or not you find this position, one held for centuries by countless Christians (church fathers, saints, and regular Christian folk like me), to be valid, I trust that we can peacefully disagree on theological points and affirm others like the Triune God (albeit there are differences here as well–Athanasian Creed, anyone?), the virgin birth (or Immaculate Conception depending on your persuasion), and the Resurrection. Let there be unity in our diversity of views about all of the above.
What Pope Frances may have said regarding Muslims worshiping the same God as Christians is open to some debate. You can read an account of his comments here but the official Catholic position—despite Hawkins’ opinion to the contrary—is clear that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is not the God of Islam.
Regarding the theologian Miroslav Volf, his stance is hard to make out, at least in the Huffington Post article Hawkins references (as an aside, the rule of thumb in a theological debate is that any side that quotes the Huffington Post loses). Aside from the fact that Volf has to reach back to two obscure figures in Christian history to support his contention that early Christian leaders believed Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the Nicene Creed—the gold standard for theological orthodoxy from the fourth century—is clear enough about the question that there can be no doubt.
Hawkins’ final point calling for “unity in our diversity of views about all of the above” is, not to be cruel, gibberish. The Triune God is not a negotiating point in ecumenical discussions.
The Wheaton College administration—not nearly as pleased by Hawkins’ fashion statement as she was—sensibly placed her on administrative leave pending further investigation. They did so, they said, not because of the hijab Hawkins wore but “in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that she made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.” Unlike Dr. Hawkins, her college recognized that doctrine matters and its doctrinal statement—which she agreed to uphold as a condition of employment—is unambiguous about the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim Allah. Read the whole statement here, but the first three paragraphs are crystal clear:
WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.
WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.
WE BELIEVE that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was true God and true man, existing in one person and without sin; and we believe in the resurrection of the crucified body of our Lord, in His ascension into heaven, and in His present life there for us as Lord of all, High Priest, and Advocate.
No believing Muslim will consent to that. No Christian can believe otherwise.
In today’s environment of religious confusion, Dr. Hawkins will be portrayed by those on one side as a martyr, persecuted by a fundamentalist Christian institution in violation of her freedom of expression. We should watch what happens next because earlier in the year Wheaton filed a highly publicized lawsuit against the federal government seeking an exemption from the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The secular press will jump on this latest situation at Wheaton in a hurry, and it will surprise no one if the government doesn’t get involved, too. Both will use any excuse to put pressure on conservative Christian organizations and institutions.
On the other side, there will be those who will find in Dr. Hawkins a case study in the advancement of Islam in America at the expense of Christianity, and how we need to contest that advance in every way possible, up to and even including Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal that all Muslims be barred from entering the country.
The truth is that Dr. Hawkins and her hijab support neither perspective. Her experience is most usefully viewed as a clarification of what matters most in our churches, institutions and nation—the uniqueness of the Christian gospel and the radical difference between what our faith proclaims and every other religion.