Wheaton College finally parted amicably with Professor Larycia Hawkins Feb. 6 after controversy and many heated exchanges over the past two months.
Problems between the university and professor Hawkins began in December after a comment Hawkins posted 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,” Hawkins posted.
Following this statement, Wheaton placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions,” according to an official statement published by Wheaton on Dec. 16.
Over the course of the next two months, Hawkins and Wheaton discussed her leave, the status of her tenure, and theological issues. Hawkins maintained that her intention was to stand in solidarity with Muslim communities. The interchange between Hawkins and Wheaton resulted in “a confidential agreement under which they will part ways.”
Professor David Vila, whose doctoral work is in early Arab and Christian relations, and who leads the Jordan Studies trip, commented on the matter between Wheaton and Hawkins.
“Her intent was very good. It was very admirable and a good witness to the Muslim community, but I think it was imprudent in a number of ways,” Vila said.
Vila also addressed the theological implications of Hawkins’s statements. “My concern is the theological issues involved,” Vila said. “Whether or not Muslims and Christians serve the same God is a complex one, theologically speaking. It is possible to say that we serve the one true Creator God, but that Muslims have a limited, partial understanding. They’re mistaken in significant ways because they deny the incarnation, the atonement, and the Trinity.”
“It’s the same situation that Jews are in. Jews reject the incarnation, the atonement and the Trinity in the same way. Jews reject all that, and very few Evangelicals would say that Jews worship the devil,” Vila said.
“It’s a very tricky issue. How do we show solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the Muslim world who are being persecuted while also being sensitive to Muslim communities here who are also being marginalized, albeit in less significant ways?” Vila said.
Vila said that Hawkins failed to address a number of matters in her statements.
“There are Christians in the Muslim world that are marginalized and oppressed. Not just in that they don’t get the job that they want or are snubbed in public office but are killed by Muslims,” Vila said.
The issue of Islamophobia was married to the Hawkins developments as Muslim solidarity was the reason Hawkins first made her statements.
Wheaton President Philip Ryken made an attempt at reconciliation in a press conference on Feb. 10.
In an article published by Christianity Today, Ryken said that he was “saddened by the brokenness we have experienced in our relationship and the suffering this has caused on our campus and beyond,” and was “grateful to come to a place of resolution and reconciliation.”
In the same article, Hawkins was amiable and conciliatory towards Wheaton. “They are not just students but scholars, friends, souls and spirits who revive my spirit,” she said.
“Just because I walk away from Wheaton College does not mean that I walk away from them. They are my classroom, and they will continue to teach me and we will continue to walk and learn together,” Hawkins said in a press conference.