A tenured Wheaton College professor could soon be terminated because of a Facebook post in which she wrote that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
In a post last December that included pictures of her wearing a headscarf, Larycia Hawkins, who teaches political science at the private evangelical Christian college in Illinois, shared her religious sentiments.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.” Hawkins wrote. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Hawkins was referring to Pope Francis’s speech in which he said that Christians and Muslims are “brothers and sisters.”
The Pope's expression of theological unity between Christians and Muslims may be uncontroversial among many of the world's Catholics and some mainline Protestants, but many Evangelicals take a different view.
A December 22 statement released by Wheaton College clarified that their decision to suspend Dr. Hawkins was due to theological reasons entirely based on Hawkins comments, which violated the college’s statement of faith, and not because she wore a hijab, as some news outlets had reported.
“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, 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,” the College wrote in the statement.
But other theologians argue that Christianity and Islam, both Abrahamic faiths, have similar beliefs, including a shared belief in same God.
“If we don't believe that we worship the same God, what exactly are we saying? That when Muslims pray, there is simply no one there to hear?” Mark Woods, a writer and contributing editor at the London-based evangelical Christian news site Christian Today wrote. “Or perhaps that Allah (incidentally the word used for God by Christians in Arabic-speaking countries) is really some sort of demonic figure, a sort of alternative to the real thing?”
Similarly, Charles Kimball, a Southern Baptist minister and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, told The Christian Science Monitor in December that such a question does not exist within Islam, which acknowledges that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all come from the same God.
As for Americans, they are divided on the question, according to a poll conducted by the American evangelical magazine Christianity Today. According to that survey, 46 percent of Americans agreed that Christians and Muslims pray to the same God, while 47 percent disagreed.
“Younger people are more likely to agree that they do (55 percent of those age 18-34 agree). Christians, and particularly self-identified evangelicals, are less likely to agree. But opinions vary among all groups we examined, with more than a third of self-identified evangelicals agreeing and no examined sub-group reaching 60 percent agreement,” the magazine reports.
Americans may be split on this issue, but the debate is far from over. The American Political Science Association has responded to Wheaton College’s decision to start the process of termination, with a letter urging the College to reconsider its decision, and reinstate Larycia Hawkins.
“While we cannot presume to know all the facts of her contractual relations with Wheaton College, we find the overlap between her scholarly focus, her public statements, and Wheaton’s resulting action particularly troubling. We urge you to continue working to resolve the situation so as to leave no doubt as to the College’s commitment to academic freedom, to freedom of expression, and to its stated support for 'a robust exchange of ideas among faculty and students on the critical issues of the day,'” the letter reads.