What Every Leader Should Learn from Wheaton’s Faith Crisis

Update: This morning, both Wheaton College president Philip Ryken and professor Larycia Hawkins held a joint press conference to address the announcement that Hawkins and the college were parting ways. 
 
Ryken praised Hawkins Christlike attitude through the process and expressed regret for “the brokenness we have experienced in our relationship and the suffering” the proceedings created. He also indicated that the board of trustees will be examining the processes by which they handle situations like what occurred with professor Hawkins. 
 
Professor Hawkins also spoke and encouraged the college and Christians to reflect on where we are during this season of Lent. She also encouraged Wheaton students to continue to practice embodied solidarity and thanked those who supported her through the process.

 

Like with most things in today’s world, it all started with a Facebook post.

On December 10, Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science at Wheaton College, shared that she would be wearing a hijab during the Advent season to show solidarity with Muslim women. In the course of her explanation, she mentioned that she had received pushback for doing so.

This pushback centered around Hawkins’ claim that she believes Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Calling them ‘people of the book,” Hawkins said that she agreed with Pope Francis when he said, “Muslims and Christians worship the same God.”

The comment created a fervor of comments, discussion, and arguments. A few days after writing the post, Professor Hawkins was placed on administrative leave as Wheaton’s administration reviewed the statement.

In the days following her leave, Professor Hawkins was asked to re-submit a testimony of faith to the administration – through a colleague, not through Wheaton College Provost Stan Jones. Professor Hawkins submitted her statement of faith, to the apparent dissatisfaction of the administration, who asked for a meeting to discuss the statement further. Hawkins declined.

She was suspended. Wheaton announced they intended to fire her and bring her before the Board of Trustees. And then they seemed to change their minds. There was an apology from Stan Jones and it appeared Hawkins was going to stay at Wheaton. 

Then early this week, it was announced that Professor Hawkins and Wheaton had decided to part ways.

The series of events caused students to stage sit-ins. Seventy-eight Wheaton professors petitioned the administration to keep Hawkins at the school. They cited her post and said that after close examination, they found no theological problems or inconsistencies between her statements and Wheaton’s statement of faith.

National media took notice of the uproar. Evangelical leaders Russell Moore to Franklin Graham commented on the situation. Some stood in solidarity with the professor. Others took her to task over her views.

The argument has not only brought Wheaton College into the national spotlight, but it has also served to expose further the struggle at the center of American Evangelical Christianity. The issue of the sameness of God between Christianity and Islam seems to be wrought with confusion. Believers struggle to communicate what they believe about who they worship and how he is different from Islam and even Judaism to an extent.

Even Stan Jones, the provost at Wheaton College, couldn’t coherently lay out what the college’s statement of faith, outlined when it came to Hawkins’ position. His statement, shared on The Wheaton Record’s Facebook page, went so far as to say that Wheaton itself has no explicit position on whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. But, he added:

“But, we do firmly take a position on the Christian understanding of God as a Trinitarian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we also take a firm position on the nature of the second person of the Trinity as fully God and fully human. Further, we believe that the God-man, Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose from the death. This immediately puts those who affirm our statement of faith into a complex relationship with Islamic faith.”

There have been charges of gender and racial profiling, and maligning Hawkins because she is single. No matter what you believe theologically, it is evident that the college has been inconsistent in dealing with issues such as these from various professors in the past, which is troubling.

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Carrie Kintz
Carrie Kintz is a freelance writer and communication strategist. She works with ministries and individuals across the country, helping them figure out what to say and how to say it in the digital space. Carrie has also spoken at conferences such as the Best of Social Media Summit and That Church Conference. When she's not writing (or tweeting), she enjoys hiking, time with friends and a good cup of coffee