Dear Wheaton College Administration,
On this day, the Feast of the Epiphany, the day of the manifestation of the True God to the whole world, I ask that you come to an epiphany of compassion, understanding and love, and fully reinstate Dr. Larycia Hawkins.
Today we celebrate the journey of those from outside of the Jewish tradition who were guided by wonder and love stirring in their hearts to seek God’s glory. When we consider the journey of the wise ones to Jesus, we must acknowledge that God speaks beyond our understanding and familiarity. Without the cultural context of Jesus’s contemporary Jewish followers, without the tradition of the Church that guides many of Jesus’s followers today, people came from outside, guided by God’s revelation of love and mercy. How they discerned the message is a mystery, but the Source from whom it came is clear. At Epiphany, with the story of outsiders from afar, we acknowledge that God has revealed Godself – beyond our traditions, beyond the narrow confines we use to separate ourselves from others – to the whole world.
So Epiphany is a day to recognize that God speaks to all of us, and thus it should be a day to recognize that the same God speaks not only to Christians and Jews, but also to Muslims, to Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, the whole world. The wise ones from the east were representative of the whole world to whom God came in love and mercy. None of us understand this God fully, but when we respond to the stirring in our hearts and souls that God initiates, we worship One God.
What is revealed to the world at the Epiphany in the Incarnation is that God’s language to the world is embodied Love. Jesus, whom Muslims revere as a prophet, is the message of God’s love for those who were previously deemed beyond love’s boundaries. What Jesus reveals through his life, death and resurrection is that it is we humans who cast out, and God who draws in. God’s love excludes no one. Jesus is God’s revelation that Love has no boundaries.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins embodied this all-inclusive Love, embodied Christ, when she donned hijab to stand in solidarity with Muslims, who are experiencing unprecedented persecution and violence both in our nation and throughout the world. She put herself at risk socially and physically to do something to which we all are called: to be the image of God and magnify God’s love to the world. She did not expect that her actions and her explanation for her actions would also put her employment at risk, as she had faith in Wheaton College to understand her, to recognize her act for the embodiment of discipleship that it was. She expected more love from you because she believed that you share in the same calling to magnify God’s love. But your response to her has been decidedly unloving, and thus, unChrist-like.
I know you don’t see it that way. You believe you are defending your integrity as a distinctly Christian institution and balancing compassion and theological clarity. But in your quest for theological clarity you have left compassion behind. You took immediate action against Dr. Hawkins, putting her on leave, before requesting clarification. You interpreted her claim, that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, in an uncharitable light. You refused to believe that there could be interpretations of her statement compatible with your statement of faith, even if you do not share those interpretations. You made it clear that an affirmation that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is incompatible with your understanding of faith, thereby making denial of Muslim salvation crucial to your sense of identity. Your sense of who you are therefore requires the exclusion of others.As I said before, however, exclusion has nothing to do with God. And when you exclude others who are embodying the love of Christ to the marginalized, you exclude Jesus himself. That is the lesson of the parable of the sheep and the goats and the conversion of Saul. You most likely do not see your actions against Dr. Hawkins in this light; our own violence is the hardest to see. But Jesus shows us that when we exclude others, we exclude him. Jesus is a gate-opener, not a gatekeeper.
Furthermore, the act of excluding the first tenured black female professor on your campus for her explanation of an action of solidarity with Muslims is an act that compounds rather than heals suffering, an act antithetical to Christ. The context of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with and the marginalization of Muslims, cannot be ignored, especially when considering an incarnational faith. Jesus is acting in our messy world through Dr. Hawkins. And going unrecognized in your sight.
Your concern for theological clarity is valid, but your own vision is clouded. Theological clarity, without love, is clearly theologically wrong. Jesus shook the theological understandings of his contemporaries, and continues to shake ours today. In the light of his love, we are continually being “transformed by the renewal of our minds.” Theological clarity is a goal on a horizon, ever present, ever distant, because our understandings are meant to grow in the sunlight of God’s Love, not stagnate.
It is possible to interpret your statement of faith in a light that includes Muslims. Even acknowledging salvation exclusively in Jesus, one can ask, what does Jesus save us from and what does Jesus save us for? If we understand that Jesus saves us from human violence, for the love of God that we have not yet recognized, then we can acknowledge that Muslims also received a revelation that showed the love of the same God for all, especially the poor and marginalized. We can believe that they do not fully understand this revelation, and that it is mixed with human error, but we must understand that our own understanding of God is likewise incomplete and imperfect. We can believe that ultimately, it is the love of Jesus that saves us all by gently guiding us away from violence to mercy, without believing that our salvation is contingent upon our full understanding. We can acknowledge Jesus as a “representative and substitutionary sacrifice” to our own violence rather than God’s justice. After all, Jesus told us: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Yet I believe that the heart of the problem is that a narrow interpretation of scripture is holding you hostage to a statement of faith that should be a guidepost – a point signaling where you are on a journey toward God — rather than the destination itself. You are clinging so hard to your identity based on a statement of faith that you are suffocating the living Lord. You are losing your life as you seek to grasp it. I ask that you let the spirit of Jesus stir your hearts to compassion. Let the content of your identity be following Jesus. Reinstate Dr. Hawkins. Let us know you are Wheaton by your love.
Your neighbor and sister in Christ,