Wheaton College, a well-respected (until recently) Christian college here in the United States, has been in the news for several weeks now after suspending a tenured professor over a Facebook post where she said Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” Many have been following the story, myself included, in hopes there would be a positive outcome to the utterly unnecessary situation. (I explained the theology of her statement in a previous post, here.)
At first it seemed like Dr. Larycia Hawkins would clearly be reinstated. Her statement that Muslims and Christians were both “people of the book” and people who, along with Jews, worship the God of Abraham, has been supported by well-respected evangelical theologians. When asked for clarification of her views in comparison to Wheaton’s statement of faith, Dr. Hawkings has consistently complied in great detail– fully affirming Wheaton’s entire statement of faith. I’ve read her personal statement of faith myself, and it’s not some liberal manifesto– it’s solidly evangelical. I could see how her statement of faith would put her at odds with liberal colleges, but evangelical ones? Absolutely not.
Yet, her compliance and affirmation of all the core beliefs that make one a conservative evangelical haven’t been enough for Wheaton College– they are now taking steps to officially terminate her from her position with the college.
It’s a move that’s shocking but not surprising all at the same time. However, as your in-resident cultural explainer-in-chief for all things fundamentalism, let me explain to you why this is actually happening:
Over the past few years evangelicalism and fundamentalism seem to have become synonyms. This is ironic, as evangelicalism was actually born as a reactionary movement against fundamentalism, because a growing number of Christians thought fundamentalists had become too rigid and belligerent. In their time, one could have actually called the original evangelicals “progressive Christians” because they certainly were progressive in comparison to their more rigid fundamentalist counterparts.
However, times have changed. The original fundamentalists are now such a fringe minority that few pay them serious attention other than to mock things they say. While the original fundamentalists have faded to the margins of Christianity in America, evangelicalism did not stay true to the founding ideals of being an alternative to fundamentalism. Instead, the old way of living and being slowly crept into evangelical culture– unnoticed until it was too late.
It’s sort of like becoming and adult and swearing you’ll never be like your parents, but then looking in a mirror 20 years later to realize you accidentally became just like them.
Evangelicalism now is far closer to the fundamentalism they reacted against than perhaps anyone would have anticipated. Evangelicalism is the fundamentalism of our time. It’s fascinating from an anthropology standpoint, but tragic for the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. And this brings me to the real reason Dr. Hawkins is being terminated from Wheaton College:
The glue that holds fundamentalism together is the agreement upon a common enemy to fight, and Dr. Hawkins has rejected the notion that Muslims are the common enemy.
And this is a deal-breaker for Wheaton, whether they’ll have the courage (and self-awareness) to admit it or not. Even an informal student of culture can easily see that evangelicals in America, for the last several years, have consolidated around the agreement that Muslims are the great enemy of our time (Exhibit A: Franklin Graham’s Facebook page). For Dr. Hawkins to say she “stands in solidarity” with Muslims is a betrayal of one of their deepest held beliefs, and this (to them) makes her untrustworthy.
In fundamentalism it doesn’t matter if you sign the statement of faith every which way imaginable to prove you’re part of the group (which Dr. Hawkins has done). It doesn’t matter if you show up twice on Sunday and for the Wednesday night prayer meeting. If you show the slightest amount of compassion or empathy toward whoever the agreed common enemy is, you’re quickly branded as untrustworthy and a threat to the entire group. It doesn’t matter if it’s Muslims, LGBTQ individuals, or Bernie Sanders– empathy and Christ-like love is translated as weakness and disloyalty, and the disloyal must be silenced and put out quickly.
After all, imagine what would happen if other people were influenced by the crazy idea that we should be known, not for a common enemy, but by how loving and compassionate we are to others?
What if we were known, not by our our strength and might, but by boldly standing in solidarity with the weak?
What if we influenced others to reject fighting a common enemy?
Such actions would be a threat to the entire matrix. Thusly, this the real reason Wheaton College is moving to terminate Dr. Hawkins:
She looked at who they had defined as the common enemy, and decided to love them.
I end with Dr. Hawkins’ own words:
“Wheaton College cannot intimidate me into cowering in fear of the enemy of the month as defined by real estate moguls, Senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots, and fundamentalists of all stripes.”
To which I say: Amen, sister. As you have stood in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors, we stand in solidarity with you.