Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins defended her actions in arguing that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, but said she is confident she will prevail. Hawkins was suspended with pay by Wheaton College and is facing a termination hearing
By Ray Hanania
Wheaton College Political Science Professor Larycia Hawkins said Friday that she believes the comments she made that got her in trouble with the Wesleyan Christian college are consistent with the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
Hawkins posted a statement on social media that she said reflected “solidarity” with Muslim women who are being “vilified” in American society and who need support.
On December 10, 2015, Hawkins wrote on her Facebook Page, “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.”
Hawkins also made subsequent statements she said brought her to the attention of the Wheaton College provost who said the college was suspending her with pay until the college board could review the matter.
And, she also posted a photograph of herself wearing a Hijab, a covering worn by Muslim women as an expression of religious faith and modesty. A Hijab is not a berqa, which covers a Muslim woman’s face, and it is similar to headscarves worn by Christian and Jewish woman during prayer. Wheaton College has stressed it did not take its action because of the Hijab, but has failed to publicly explain the motives or reasons behind Hawkins’ suspension.
Wheaton College has a history of racial conflict and has been accused in the past by the school’s small minority of African American students of discriminating against Blacks.
The Hawkins suspension drew immediate criticism from across the country and the world, questioning the Christian message that Wheaton College conveys to its students and even its claim to be a “Christian” academic institution.
“I have seen an outpouring of love and support from across the country and even around the world and it means a lot to me,” Professor Hawkins said during an interview on The Arab Daily News Radio program broadcast live on Friday morning (Jan. 8, 2015) by the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and in Washington D.C.
Hawkins, who started a “Peace and Conflict certificate program” to help educate her students about the challenges they will face as Christians in our society, said she was compelled to post those comments, even though it has risked her losing her job.
“What I am doing is not heroic. It is not courageous. It is humans walking hand-in-hand with humans. It is walking a mile in my Muslim sister’s shoes and as a Christian, this is what Jesus teaches,” Hawkins said during the radio show.
“What I was thinking about is that I can’t teach my students what I am not willing to do myself. You have to lead by example.”
Hawkins emphasized that she remains “on Administrative leave. I have not been fired. They continue to pay my contract why I am on leave.”
She said she has faith in the process, although she is concerned about its outcome and that she will not be allowed to defend herself with the support of a lawyer as the college moves to conduct a “Termination Hearing.”
Hawkins explained the process of the “Termination Hearing” will have the Provost present the charges against her, which she can answer directly but again without legal consul before a panel of nine of her college peers.
“The panel will make a decision and make a recommendation to the president of the college,” Hawkins said.
“The president then makes his own recommendation to the board of trustees and the board of trustees will make the final decision.”
Hawkins says she knows some of the nine members of the panel.
“The decision of the panel of nine is non-binding. It may matter. It may not. It feels like a kangaroo court. I get to speak on my behalf but Wheaton says my attorneys cannot be present and I feel very vulnerable,” she explained. “I trust the members of the board to be committed to the process and I trust them to treat me with the honor and dignity of my nine years that I have been at Wheaton.”
Hawkins said she was compelled to express her comments on her Facebook Page as an effort to support “human dignity” in a Christian manner.
“Perhaps we do not understand human dignity or we don’t take it seriously … human dignity is the essence of everything. It should be the essence of our politics in the United States and it doesn’t seem to be,” she said, noting that stereotypes and how people appear impact how people who see us think.
She argued that wearing a hijab should not be considered controversial. The real issue is freedom of expression for women who are oppressed and vilified.
“Freedom of religion” is “written off” for Muslim women “who wear the Hijab,” she said.
Hawkins said she wanted her students to contemplate the issues related not just to wearing the Hijab and what it stands for but also to think about issues related to the religion of Muslims and Christianity.
“I wanted to honor my brothers and sisters in Islam. … This is not about someone at a Christian college getting attention …”
She said she didn’t want to be disrespectful to Muslim women or to Christians, and had reached out to a friend on the Muslim human rights organization, CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) for guidance on issues of respect in wearing the Hijab.
Despite the persecution, Hawkins said she was proud of her nine year tenure at Wheaton College, saying, “I have the privilege of teaching at an amazing liberal arts college. I have the privilege of being educated at elite institutions of higher education. That is a responsibility.”
But she said people cannot sit in their “Ivory towers” and just make money. “We have to bond with those who are victims in our society,” she said. “We have responsibilities to embody solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Hawkins said she was surprised by the reaction of the college, but denied claims that she was somehow contradicting her own faith as a Christian, which she described as “strong.”
“Calling Muslims as Brothers and Sisters was seen as somehow conflating Islam and Christianity. In Christianity were refer to each other as brothers and sisters in the family,” Hawkins said.
She said the College asserted that because of her posts, she was “not being consistent with Christianity,” especially with the the college’s “Statement of Faith.”
“Things have been extrapolated from what I wrote, things like I don’t believe in the Trinity. That is not true. I have never stated that in any situation,” she insisted.
“It was a statement of human solidarity with women who are suffering, women of the Muslim religion who are being falsely vilified in our national rhetoric and across the globe.”
Listeners to the radio show seem divided over the controversy with some arguing that Muslims and Christians do not believe in the same God, and others insisting that Muslims and Christians and Jews have the same religious origins and worship many of the same Biblical prophets.
You can listen to the entire radio show by clicking here.
You can also listen to the podcast of the show by using the podcast widget below. (Or, you can go to iTunes to download the podcast.)
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