Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On Hijabs and Heresies: The Shameful Sacking of Larycia Hawkins

When I was a teenager, I told my youth Sunday School teachers that I had been studying about Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism because I was finding many of its teachings about interpersonal relationships, violence, and enlightenment.

Keep in mind--I was born and raised in Kansas.  The same Kansas that gave the world Fred Phelps's "God Hates F*gs" Westboro Baptist Church.  The same Kansas that tends not to want to teach its public schoolchildren science--when it is able to keep the schools open at all.

I am certain that in other churches in my hometown, my fleeting interest in Buddhism would have been cause for hauling me in for a stern "come to Jesus" talk with the pastor, replete with pointed demands to knock it off, or else.

In my church, though, my Sunday School teachers asked me to take part of a future class to share with my fellow youth about how my study of Buddhism had affected my practice of Christianity.

And if they had reacted as another church may have done, to scold me for my intellectual pursuits, I am not sure I ever would have become an ordained pastor today.  In order to produce the most fully realized versions of people, you have to allow them their intellectual quests, their theological wonderings, and their exercising of their ability to wrestle, as Jacob did at Penuel in Genesis 32, with God.

Which brings me to Wheaton College's professor Larycia Hawkins.  Or, rather, soon to be ex-professor (although I imagine many other Christian schools would rightly jump at the chance to invite her to join their faculty), because Wheaton is reportedly on the brink of firing her for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

(In her photo above, she is likewise wearing hijab in solidarity with the Muslims who have faced renewed prejudice and bigotry in the wake of the Paris and San Bernadino attacks--prejudice and bigotry, by the by, that I as a Christian have not faced in the wake of the violent actions by Robert Lewis Dear and the Bundy Militia in Colorado and Oregon, respectively.)

We'll set aside, for the moment, the Muslim interpretation that in fact it is the same God, and the Muslim tradition that includes Jesus as a prophet in the same line of prophets as Muhammad.  We'll also set aside, for a moment, the traditional Judeo-Christian teaching that Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is in fact an Abrahamic faith, descended all the way from Abraham's two sons--from Isaac came the Hebrews, and from Ishmael came the Arabs from whom Islam eventually originated.

We'll also set aside, for the moment, that it is no actual affront to Christianity to say that the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur'an may in fact be the same God.  The Qur'an contains a number of amazing stories about Jesus, including miracle stories, that to us as Christians speak to Jesus's divinity.

And finally, we'll set aside the fact that as much hay as we make about political correctness potentially infringing upon academic freedom, here we have a Christian school doing what many Christian schools have always done--deny any sort of meaningful academic freedom to its faculty, and stunting academic inquiry as a result...

At what point did we decide that we valued doctrine more highly than people?

I wrote those exact words last March in response to another seminary's president publishing a hatchet job of Disciples preaching legend Fred Craddock on the day of his funeral, and the sentiments that followed remain as true today as they did then:

This is a worrying trend I have seen in Christianity, where we seem to value doctrinal and theological purity more than the people, even though, in the end, we are called to minster to our people and not to our statements of belief.  And if a seminary president is engaging so gratuitously in placing belief above respect of others and right relationship with others, I fear that this malaise now runs deep within our collective bones.

My senior pastor in California, Russ, was always telling me that youth ministry is 90 percent relational; I'd go even further and say that all of ministry is 90 percent relational.  I may possess all the truth that is worth knowing in this world, but if I cannot communicate it with love to other people, such possession of truth is meaningless.

Or, to put it another way, from a theologian much smarter than I, "If I speak in tongues of human beings or of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal."

That would be from Paul, in the beginning of his famous "love is patient, love is kind" discourse in 1 Corinthians 13.  And despite what that passage's presence in so, so many weddings would tell you, Paul is not talking about romantic or marital love (in fact, he rather detests that sort of love, but that's another can of tuna).  The Greek word he uses here is caritas, from which we get our English word "charity."

If I am not charitable towards others, if I lack charity, I am nothing.

And charity isn't just the giving of a dollar to the person on the street corner, it is a generosity of spirit.

Even if you were to take the series of times Professor Hawkins has been called in by the doctrine police at Wheaton as an indication that this particular episode represents the straw breaking the camel's back, whatever happened to Christ's own pronouncement on forgiveness?  How often must I forgive my neighbor, Jesus, as many as seven times?

No, seventy times seven, said Christ.

This is why requiring affirming statements of faith can be such a poisonous practice by Christian colleges, and why my own denomination's founders explicitly forbade the practice of demanding creeds and statements of belief from their adherents.  These statements are far more easily used as instruments to divide and destroy rather than as tools to heal and build up.

And when we do the former rather than the latter--as is our wont--we are proving ourselves once more to be more caring and protective of doctrine than of the people who hear it and follow it.

Never mind the fact that without people to be in relation with, there is no point in having doctrine to teach and proclaim to begin with, because you are teaching and proclaiming it to nobody.

Never mind the fact that doctrine itself, all doctrine, is distilled down by Christ Himself into two commandments: love God, love your neighbor.

And never mind that having right doctrine is probably utterly pointless in the end anyways; if I get to the gates of Heaven and Saint Peter hands me a list of yes/no questions about my doctrine, a scantron sheet, and a #2 pencil, I'll eat my proverbial hat.

Because everything I know about God tells me that God desires reconciliation with us first and foremost.

However and wherever it takes place, I am sure that such reconciliation is a part of God's design.

Which is why it grieves me so to see Wheaton College sacrifice it upon the altar of doctrinal purity in casting out a professor of the depth, caring, and talent that Larycia Hawkins offers to the world.

Vancouver, Washington
January 6, 2015

Image of Professor Hawkins courtesy of the Washington Post and the Associated Press

No comments:

Post a Comment