Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Dean Obeidallah: A tenured, Christian, Wheaton College professor faces firing over wearing hijab in solidarity with Muslim women
He says it's Christians, Jews, Muslims worship same God. Hawkins should be commended for setting example of Jesus's teachings
A Christian teacher is on the verge of being fired for blasphemy. Do you think this is happening in:
B. Saudi Arabia,
C. Wheaton, Illinois
If you picked the first two, well, you might be correct. But if you picked Wheaton, Illinois, you are also right on the money
That is because, Larycia Hawkins, a devout Christian and a tenured professor at Wheaton College, a well-regarded, Christian, liberal arts institution, may lose her job for simply following the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It’s appalling that in a time when we see Christians targeted for their faith by groups like ISIS, this is taking place in a suburb of Chicago in the heart of America.
It began in mid-December when Hawkins, the only African-American tenured professor at Wheaton, decided to use the Christian Advent devotional season to inspire her students to counter bigotry against Muslims. “Jesus taught us to stand in solidarity with those being oppressed and persecuted,” Hawkins said while a guest on my SiriusXM radio show recently.
Hawkins said she was especially concerned that because women of the faith are easily identified by their hijabs as Muslim-American, they suffer the brunt of the hate. “Jesus commands us to walk a mile in the shoes of our brothers and sisters, who are suffering,” Hawkins commented.
Hawkins decided to wear a hijab for a few weeks in early December to go beyond words of support. “This is something I can do for Muslim sisters who are in danger every day,” Hawkins remarked.
Hawkins, who said she has loved teaching at Wheaton for the past nine years, noted that she received widespread support from area Christian and Muslim communities to her display of solidarity. But then the problems began.
In an effort to foster understanding between the faiths, she said, Hawkins posted on Facebook that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.” She also wrote of standing with her Muslim brother and sisters in their time of need.
That was apparently too much for some. She received angry responses to the post, some racial in nature, she said, primarily from people in the Christian community. The complaints grew to the point that Hawkins was called to the Wheaton College provost’s office to be questioned about her posting.
Shortly after that meeting, Hawkins was placed on leave, pending an investigation. The Wheaton administration noted in a letter dated December 15 that the school had no issues with Hawkins wearing a hijab as a sign of solidarity.
Rather, the suspension was solely based on Hawkins theological views. Wheaton has “a distinctive Protestant evangelical identity, represented in our Statement of Faith,” the school administration noted in that letter.
Hawkins, like all professors at Wheaton, are required to sign a “Statement of Faith” that acknowledges that they will live out 12 evangelical beliefs. College administrators found that Hawkins’ “theological statements … seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions” because, in their eyes, she blurred the distinction between Christianity and Islam
How outrageous is it that in 2016, a devout Christian is on the verge of being fired for, in essence, blasphemy?
Why do Muslims wear that?
This is especially offensive when one considers that Hawkins’ sentiments were theologically correct and her actions, in standing up for the persecuted, exemplified the teachings of Jesus.
Monday marked the first day of the new semester and several dozen students braved freezing temperatures to show their support for Hawkins and plead for her reinstatement by holding a protest on campus. And some of Hawkins fellow professors donned full academic regalia – including hats, hoods and robes – in “a sign of embodied solidarity” with her.
From a theological point of view, regardless what some Evangelical Christians and people on the far right might claim, Christians, Muslims and Jews all worship the same God. As Hawkins pointed out, “Pope Francis recently reaffirmed that Muslims, Jews, and Christians share the same God – the God of Abraham.”
In fact, if you have any doubt that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are intertwined, open up a Koran and you will see how Abraham, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Noah, Moses and others from the two other Abrahamic faiths are all very important parts of Islam. While the religious significance of these figures varies between the faiths, they are still theologically important to both.
And to those who think “Allah” is the Muslim God, you’re simply wrong. It’s just the word for God in Arabic. In fact, “Allah” is even used by Christian Arabs to denote God in Christian prayers.
Now, instead of being in the classroom at the start of the semester, Hawkins is preparing a defense to save her job. Last week, Wheaton announced it had begun the process to terminate her employment. A hearing to decide her fate is scheduled for January 23.
“I ask for your prayers, love and support as I head into this hearing,” Hawkins said.
But I hope that people do more than just pray for Hawkins. I hope they contact Wheaton College President Philip Ryken to make clear that Hawkins should not be thrown to the lions. Rather, Hawkins should be commended by the school for truly being a beautiful example of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
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