What Larycia Hawkins Should Receive

Thoughts on a Suspended Wheaton College Professor


Dr. Larycia Hawkins posing in her hijab./Photo courtesy of Larycia Hawkins via Facebook

Chris Churchill

I was raised in the Salvation Army church. (Yes, it’s a church and not just a charity.) My parents, grandparents and great grandparents were all Christian preachers, either Nazarene or Salvation Army. I was a very religious young person.

However, like many, I have grown into more sophisticated beliefs about the universe I’m in as I’m no longer a 4-year-old being told what to believe by my infallible parents.

I still hold onto a belief in God, but now also a belief that we can never truly know God’s full nature. I’ve grown to believe that love is the only important thing and that compassion, not judgment, is the key to peace.

All this has informed my opinions about the story of Dr. Larycia Hawkins.

Hawkins is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College, a Christian college in Chicago’s west suburbs. She has been the focus of much controversy since she wore a hijab in her classes as a show of solidarity with Muslims, particularly Syrian refugees, during this very difficult time for so many of them.

Wheaton College then suspended Hawkins, claiming that it wasn’t because of the wearing hijab but because of her explanation, wherein she suggests a horror of horrors: Christians and Muslims might be worshiping the same God.

Her statement might have been more of a shock to Christians; that is if Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic faith, hadn’t made the same statement the week before she made her stance. She was simply quoting the Pope.

Apparently, that major similarity between the two faiths is not as important to Wheaton College as all the slight differences in the doctrines and philosophies that each faith keeps.

Of course, I understand that Jesus Christ is the focal point of Christianity and the Prophet Mohammed is of Islam but I fear that focusing solely on which religious figure to pray to is obscuring the more important point that God is love. Love is God.

Both religions have been around for centuries. After all the changing ideas passed down as infallible truth from each faith’s respective leaders, after all the good and all the evil perpetrated in the name of both religion’s central figures, maybe we need to admit a couple things.

First, maybe we should admit that most of us never really thought long and hard about which religion we should follow. With the penalty for our parents being wrong being eternal damnation, we are nearly forced to believe that our parents had better be right. It’s too horrible to think our parents might be thrown into that eternal lake of fire. So chances are, without much thought at all, we accepted the religion we were most exposed to. In the same way I was born into being a Kansas City Royals fan, I was given my earliest beliefs about God.

Maybe we also need to admit that the messenger is not the message. Maybe the message should be the only message: love and compassion from and for everyone. Maybe that’s too difficult.

Humans are great at making up ideas like that but fail. That’s okay, though. For some reason, humans have a tough time accepting that we fail or that we misunderstand things.

So, we make up rules, laws, and regulations to keep us in line. “Why?” we ask ourselves. The only answer we can come up with is that our absolutely infallible religious leader with a direct pipeline to God Almighty says so.

Maybe God isn’t saying anything. Maybe God wants us to find love ourselves and then share it.

However, a college, especially a formalized Christian institution such as Wheaton College, ceases to be what it is when it opens up to the greater truth that sometimes humans (even the ones in charge of deciding which ideas your church holds most sacred) misinterpret the actions or messages of God, whatever God might be.

Hawkins might be campaigning to keep her job right now but she now has a bigger mission. She already gets the bigger point that God is bigger than any religion or book. God, (if God exists) is bigger than any volume of historically, philosophically and geographically limited narrative history. She already gets that.

Wheaton College cannot and must not “get this” if they are to remain an evangelical Christian liberal arts college. Humanity will evolve to a more sophisticated, compassionate and love-based view of God or faith but most of today’s religions will not.

What Hawkins needs is a paycheck from somewhere other than an evangelical Christian liberal arts school, a platform from which to spread love and compassion and the attentive ears of those of us who long to put love before doctrine or ideology. I, for one, think she deserves that opportunity.