Wheaton Does the Right Thing

Wheaton Does the Right Thing December 16, 2015

So Wheaton has responded to one of their tenured professor’s explanation of why she is wearing a hijab in Advent by putting her on administrative leave, after several days of social media outcry. I wasn’t really paying attention but there’s nothing else super fun to talk about this morning. I could go on for a while about how I helped in a small way to clean my own house, or about the failure of my pho this time around, or how awful it is try go keep up with school in the last week before Christmas, but, honestly, there’s nothing interesting to say about any of that.

In Ms. Hawkins, however, with her smiling face and her headscarf, there is a potential to wonder about what on earth she is thinking, and, in my usual way, the fate of Christianity in the west.

So when I saw her picture for the first time, and I know nothing about her at all, I had the moment of dissonance that is becoming more and more usual. And that is, Which is It? Are we feminist? Are we pro gay? Are we Muslim enthusiast? Which is it gonna be? Here is a professional woman, who would probably have some things to say about the opportunities of women in this country, who probably thinks about things like income inequality (and maybe she doesn’t, these are all educated guesses), who didn’t get where she is by thinking that women shouldn’t have all the same education and work as men, covering her head with another religion’s sign of submission. That seems to me entirely contradictory and a little bit schizophrenic. Lots of debates rage about whether Christian women should cover their heads, and ugly things are said about the bible’s treatment of women. I would hope, nay long, for this lady professor to be super even handed in her discussion of Islam and what it teaches about women.

Ms. Hawkins is on administrative leave, it seems, not for wearing the scarf, but for conflating Islam with Christianity. We are both people of the book, she says, and we can have solidarity together. Well, if that’s all it takes to have the same religion, we shouldn’t have any more wars or arguments any more. We have a book, called the Bible, and they have the Koran. There we are. But that’s like saying that cats and dogs should have solidarity together because they are both animals of the leg, they all have four legs. They are basically the same. Just because you happen to have a book lying around doesn’t mean much. What does the book say? I am always so surprised when self identifying Christians think there is not much difference between the Christian Jesus and others religions. Do you know what those other religions say? About you? That’s what I always want to ask.

For example, Islam does not seem to be manifesting a need to have solidarity with Christians, because of us all being people of the book. If Ms. Hawkins were to toddle over to her local mosque and ask the people there what they believe about her, they would not begin to talk about how Allah is really Jesus. It is so utterly patronizing for the Christian to try to say that the Christian and the Muslim are the same in belief, especially over the nature of God.

She appeals to Pope Francis for justification. I don’t even know what to say here. I am dumbfounded. Wheaton is a Protestant, up to this moment, Evangelical school, the school of my beloved Great Aunt and some cousins who I reckon up by dozens and Billy Graham. Couldn’t she have found a Protestant theologian? One of my chief quibbles with Roman Catholic teaching, and please don’t anyone take this personally, is the idea that worshippers of other gods can be saved through the work of Jesus without conscious knowledge of him or trust in his work. If you are a very devout Buddhist or Muslim, you can be saved and go to heaven and it will be Jesus who will save you, but you won’t know it. It’ll all be ok, in other words, God will sort it out. But that seems to me to not take seriously what people say about themselves and how they understand God. The Muslim does not worship Jesus and has put together a picture of him that is completely contrary to the picture we have in the bible. It is not the same thing. When you say, no no, it’s ok, it’ll be Jesus that you’re saved by, he will not agree with you, because he doesn’t believe Jesus to be a savior. If we want to be respectful and have solidarity with other people, it seems that taking seriously what they say about themselves and their beliefs should be the first thing we do.

Which leads me to what really irritates me about this whole thing, and that is the social media angle. Why did this particular professor think she needed to say something about Islam? Who was calling upon her to show solidarity with Muslims in Advent? As Matt has said, in former times we had the Babylonians, sent as judgment by God, but now we have Facebook and Twitter, which even I use, so that some of you will read this post. But look what it has wrought. Identity is no longer a matter of quietly showing up and doing your job (Ms. Hawkins is not a religion teacher). It can’t be that you are an obscure, unknown entity, living out your life in service to God, loving your neighbor and your enemy in ways unseen. No, for it to count, for you to have worth as a person, for your good intentions to have merit, you must put on a headscarf and tweet it out. Look at me, you have to say, I am not like other men, or rather women. I care for my Muslim brothers and sisters. This is why I can’t get all worked up about the Syrian refugee Facebook extravaganza. If a person cares for her neighbor, and it’s not on Facebook, did it ever even happen?

We are at a critical moment of terrible confusion. Many Christians think the gay/transgender agenda is compatible with the bible. Many other Christians think the Koran is not that different and that it is ok for a Christian to say the shahada to avoid death. And many many other Christians think that Joel Osteen is preaching about Jesus. Some of these confused Christians are actually Christian. They should, post haste, find a church, however annoying, in which the pastor goes systematically through the scripture, the bible I mean, not the Koran. And for the ones who are merely self identifying as Christian, but who are denying, publicly, basic elements of Christian doctrine, well, the Twitter outcry should be enormous, as it was here. It’s possible there is hope, for the church, but it means the ugly business of telling the truth, even in Advent, even in America.

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