Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

And now Wheaton

These are troubled times.

Dr. Layricia Hawkins, a tenured professor of political science at Wheaton College, decided to wear a hijab as part of her advent meditations. She is not Muslim; she is Christian. But her decision was based on her conviction that the Muslim community in this country are suffering unjustly by association with Islamic radicals in ISIS or Al Qaeda. By donning the hijab, she wanted to say that she sympathized with them, even loved them.

Hawkins announced her intentions on Facebook. "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book, . . .and as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."

Just a few days later she was suspended from her teaching position. Wheaton officials insist the suspension resulted from her theology, not her newly-donned headgear. "While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic," said the college, "we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God's revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer."

I am greatly happy not to be in the position of Wheaton President Phillip A. Ryken, who told demonstrators outside his office door yesterday that he wanted to affirm the things they noted in Dr. Hawkins, "the values," he said. "Those are things I've seen firsthand as well." And then he told them, "At some level, I understand the frustration, and also the pain."

I'm sure he does. Institutionally, Wheaton is not pettifogging. 
Despite the Pope's assertion or Dr. Hawkins' demonstrable piety, the college's sharply-honed theological minds are, I'm sure, greatly uncomfortable with the professor's assertion that Islam and Christianity "worship the same God."

But what President Ryken also knows is that among his most devoted constituency there sits a jury of heavyweight supporters who don't particularly like the image of an Christian college professor walking around campus in a hijab, an African-American at that, not right now anyway, not at a moment when Republican Presidential aspirants are in a frenzy to nurture the already prevalent paranoia that conservatives, and Christian conservatives, feel for Muslims.

Let's just say I'm a red-blooded Christian conservative. Who's my choice for a Christian college campus leader? This man--

Or a college president who basically listens politely to the politically-correct students protesting Hawkins' suspension outside his door and then tells them that he feels their pain?

Some really bright people claim that today what separates Christians isn't theology at all. (There's yet another reason for the decline in denominationalism.) Most Christian conservatives voted for Romney last time around, a Mormon, who believes Jesus Christ already had a second coming; in Iowa four years ago, they voted for Sen. Rick Santorum, who believes the pope is somehow infallible--maybe not this pope, but most of them.

What binds believers together these days--and separates us just as surely--is politics, despite what Wheaton's administration says about theology. Prof. Hawkins' hijab may well be a theological problem for them, but it is inescapably political as well.

As I'm sure President Ryken knows. 

These are troubled times.

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