The Bible’s claims are hard to miss that there is one God who exists in three persons (Deut 6:4, Is 48:12, 16, Mt 28:19, Jn 1:1, 8:56-59, Col 1:15, Heb 1:3, Rev 22:13). The biblical claims especially revolve around assertions that Jesus Christ is divine, and not simply human. The Qur’an, on the other hand, is unmistakable in its presentation of Jesus as only a messenger, not the son of God, and certainly not God (Sura 3:59, 4:171). “…say not ‘Three.’ Cease, it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God, far be it from His glory that He should have a son.”
While perhaps adherents of the two systems may be searching after the same God, the mutually exclusive conclusions illustrate that Islam and Christianity have not at all arrived at the same destination. The divinity of Jesus Christ is certainly a significant symptom of the differences, but the root of the difference is the basis of authority. The Bible and the Qur’an both claim divinely imbued authority, but disagreement between the two indicates that those claims are mutually exclusive. This is the epicenter of the “Wheaton tiff” (as the Chicago Tribune calls it). While some opportunists may be using the situation to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, the issue itself is not about bigotry, it is about the authority undergirding worldviews.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College, donned the traditional headscarf (hijab), to show religious solidarity with Muslims, during a time when there is increasing suspicion of Islam due to a ramp-up of jihadist terrorism against the West. While some might find Dr. Hawkins’ gesture distasteful, it is not the gesture itself that brought about scrutiny and the suspension by Wheaton College administrators. She added, in a December 10 Facebook post, “…as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Wheaton’s response addressed this specifically: “Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, and is in no way related to her race, gender or commitment to wear a hijab…”
Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith includes this declaration:
“WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.”
At first glance the identity of Jesus and His role in the Godhead seems to be the issue at stake. But in reality, it is the next declaration in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith that is paramount:
“WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.” [emphasis mine]
The fundamental issue in this controversy is really the inspiration, inerrancy, and final authority of the Bible (Old and New Testaments). Without that, the discussion of who God is changes dramatically. The issue is not bigotry. For the record, there is never a biblically justified cause for a Christian to hate any person. Nor is there a constitutionally justified cause for hatred in a land where the First Amendment protects its citizens’ rights of free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and peaceable assembly and petition. Hatred should not even be part of this discussion, and to their credit, neither Wheaton, nor Dr. Hawkins is framing this as a controversy involving bigotry or hatred.
In this current controversy accusations of bigotry are red herrings, distracting from the real issues. Wheaton is transparent about its core beliefs and the authoritative basis of the worldview to which the school holds. The school has the right –even the obligation to uphold those. That Wheaton has a faculty member so far removed from agreement with Wheaton’s Statement of Faith (in my humble estimation) invites questions about how well the school has done in championing those core ideas. Controversies of this sort are often symptomatic of institutional failure in sustaining core values. Whether or not that is the case here, at this juncture, Wheaton’s administrators are attempting to avoid an identity crisis, and deserve credit for their efforts to maintain institutional integrity.
Meanwhile, Dr. Larycia Hawkins deserves credit for her courage in speaking and standing on what she believes. Further, it appears that she does not believe her views to be contradictory to Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. Of course, Wheaton will have to make a judgment on that, and the simple fact remains: if Dr. Hawkins is not in agreement with Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, then after due process the two parties will not continue their formal professional relationship. Neither party has done any obvious wrong in this. Disagreements arise all the time, and employers and employees part ways. It happens. Sadly, this disagreement is on a hot-button issue, and so it will be difficult for Wheaton and for Dr. Hawkins to do what they believe needs to be done, as a large audience awaits the outcome. I pray for both, that they will have the wisdom and the courage to act in a way that honors God and edifies others.
As an educator and executive in higher education, I view this as a cautionary tale, especially encouraging schools (1) to be transparent about who they are and why, and (2) to be diligent in being consistent, so that there is never cause for reproach. This should be considered at every level of applying institutional standards, especially in faculty recruiting, hiring and retention.
In circumstances like these, I am reminded of Peter’s simple prescription for getting along: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet 2:17).