“Talks break down between Wheaton College, suspended professor.” That headline capably summarizes the text of Manya Brachear Pashman’s report for the Chicago Tribune. But the subtext is written in even larger letters: Wheaton’s white administrators have been trying to find an excuse to get rid of this Christian woman for a long time, but she isn’t going to go quietly.
The background provided by Brachear Pashman disproves Wheaton’s official statements claiming that Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ suspension was due solely to her recent statement noting that Muslims worship the God of Abraham. It’s abundantly clear this was a pretext, not the actual cause of or basis for the school’s extraordinary measure of suspending a tenured professor.
That was already abundantly clear, of course, due to Wheaton administrators’ determination to disregard every clarification of her remarks offered by Hawkins herself and by others, such as Miroslav Volf, the theologian those same administrators recently brought to the campus to lecture on this very question of theology. Agreeing with their hand-picked theologian on the matter shouldn’t be grounds for theological interrogation or punishment. If Wheaton’s administrators had been “concerned” in good faith, then they should have been keenly attentive to and interested in Hawkins’ clarification and the response from Volf and many, many others. When they completely ignored and dismissed that clarification, it was impossible to conclude their “concern” was genuine or that they were acting honestly or in good faith.
But if anyone still had any doubts that these men had agendas far beyond what they insisted was their sole concern, this Tribune article settles that conclusively. Wheaton wants this professor gone, and all their hand-wringing feigned lamentation has been a sanctimonious pose.
Why? What do they have against Dr. Hawkins?
Well, she thinks too highly of James Cone. And she doesn’t hate Teh Gay as much as they’d like her to:
Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. [Provost Stanton] Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.
She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.
Last week, she faced questions a fourth time over her Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She said she was simply reiterating that there is common ground among the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, which many theologians have said for centuries.
“What this intimates is I have no religious freedom to articulate my faith in a way that is wholly consistent with centuries of Christian theology and scholarship,” she said. “But all of a sudden I say it and it’s anathema.”
So, then, everything that has gotten Hawkins in trouble with the white male administrators of Wheaton College has had something to do with either race or sexuality. But those same white men insist that their determination to find some reason to fire the first black woman to get tenure in the 155-year history of the school has nothing to do with her being a black woman.
Can anyone honestly say they believe that? Can anyone honestly say that is, in any way, believable?
This stinks to high heaven. Wheaton loves to think of itself as the “Harvard of evangelicalism.” It’s acting like the Bob Jones of evangelicalism. And Wheaton’s current president, Philip Ryken, seems determined to turn it into the Corinthian College of evangelicalism.
Wheaton’s faculty — the people now being threatened by the example being made of Hawkins — includes a host of terrific scholars. But when those scholars are not allowed to teach, and when every lesson they provide is drowned out by the odious lessons the school’s administrators are now loudly proclaiming about race and gender, sexuality, solidarity, justice and Jesus, then having such a top-notch faculty still won’t result in a top-notch education — let alone an education that’s worth anything like the $40,000+ a year they’re now charging.
In an email to faculty Tuesday, Jones said the Hawkins case has raised awareness about the boundaries between one’s professional and personal life, the effect and use of social media, academic freedom in the Wheaton community, and what it means to affirm and model the college’s statement of faith and community covenant.
“Certainly these last 10 days have presented a series of challenges that have had ripple effects on our campus, across the nation, and across the world,” Jones wrote. “Addressing these concerns has been extraordinarily complex, and the social and professional media contexts and resulting public reaction has considerably magnified and complicated understanding and resolving these issues.”
That last sentence is hard to translate into meaningful English. It’s possible that Jones is just expressing his bewildered surprise that social media won’t let him quietly fire a tenured professor without anyone noticing. Or it might mean something even uglier — something like, “If any of you post anything online in support of Dr. Hawkins, then we’re coming after you next.”
Here’s the main agenda for the next meeting of Wheaton’s Board of Trustees: 1) Reinstate Dr. Hawkins; 2) Use their connections in the white evangelical world to find Philip Ryken a respectable-sounding job elsewhere so that when they announce that he’s “leaving to pursue an exciting new ministry opportunity” it seems at least semi-plausible.
Here’s what they’ll probably do instead: 1) Fire Dr. Hawkins; 2) Send a message to the rest of the faculty, ensuring that they get in line, or else; 3) Go into full Franklin Graham mode to fund-raise based on the college’s bold stand for truth against Mooslims, uppity women, and radical black liberation theologians.