WHEATON, Illinois — Larycia Hawkins is a Christian. She’s a professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois. She’s an American.
But more than anything, Hawkins stresses she is human just like Muslims around the country, some of whom nowadays feel pressure amid politicians’ calls to bar people of their faith from entering the United States, threats to shutter mosques and pushes to keep closer tabs on them as possible terrorist threats.
That’s why Hawkins chose last week to don a hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women.
After she did, she’s out of a job, at least temporarily.
Wheaton College announced Tuesday that it has placed Hawkins on administrative leave amid “significant questions regarding the theological implications of (her) statements … about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.”
“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the school said. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”
Professor says action ‘part of my Advent worship’
The school referred to an official statement from last Friday, in response to an open letter by students critical of comments by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell urged students at the evangelical school he leads in Lynchburg, Virginia, to carry guns so “we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill,” in an apparent reference to this month’s massacre in San Bernardino, California, which was carried out by a couple who officials said had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic, the Wheaton statement acknowledged, but “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.”
“Faculty and student expressions of concern about the treatment of Muslims have been grounded in a desire to live peaceably and respectfully with all people, including our neighbors of Islamic and other religious faith traditions,” the Wheaton statement added. “While these commitments are consistent with our Statement of Faith and Community Covenant, overtures of Christian friendship must be enacted with theological clarity as well as compassion.”
The school, which is about 25 miles west of Chicago, went on to reference “some recent faculty statements (that) have generated confusion about complex theological matters.”
No one faculty member was named, although the statement came out one day after Hawkins posted a picture of herself to Facebook in a hijab, an act she said is “part of my Advent worship.”
“A large scale movement of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs is my Christmas #wish this year.”
Urges ‘hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters’
Hawkins began her post saying, “I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.”
“I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay …,” she added. “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.”
The political science professor — whose active research projects, according to her official biography, are “the moral framing of the black policy agenda” and “black political churches” — then said that, beginning that night, she would show “embodied solidarity” by wearing a hijab. And she vowed to have it on while on campus, in Chicago, at the airport and in church.
“I invite all women into the narrative that is embodied, hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters — for whatever reason,” she added.
President: College supports free exercise of religion
On Wednesday, one day after its announcement that Hawkins had been put on leave, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken suggested his school’s stand doesn’t simply have to do with someone putting on a hijab.
“The college has no stated position on the wearing of headscarves as a gesture of care and concern for those in Muslim or religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution,” Ryken said. “We support the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”
That same day, Hawkins posted to Facebook again. She didn’t spell out her reaction to being put on leave, or what she would do next. But, while expressing gratitude to supporters, she gave no hint of backing down.
“Love abounds. And it is redounding to me in countless ways,” Hawkins wrote. “I am honored and humbled to be loved. To be loved by you.”
Her brief message was signed, “Your sister in solidarity with the hijab.”