The Same God? Wheaton College vs. Larycia Hawkins

hqdefaultEveryone knows by now that Wheaton suspended Larycia Hawkins for her “bad” theology.

Hawkins: “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.”

Wheaton: “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, 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.”

It’s hard to see what the problem is, since Christianity has a tradition of affirming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, while taking pains to distance the faiths at the same time. Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), forerunner of crusade theology no less, admitted to Anzir of Mauritania that “we believe and confess one God, although in different ways”. Of course, that tension is the rub, but cardinals have never called for banishing the pope — whether an iron-fist like Gregory, or a pacifist like Francis — on account of it.

According to the Vatican II Council, Muslims figure in the plan of God’s salvation, not in the sense that they are saved as Muslims (that is, by means of Islamic observance), but at least insofar as they try to heed the voice of the creator who speaks to their conscience. The church also adds that Muslims “profess” to hold the faith of Abraham — not that they actually do so, necessarily, but at least try. Some Protestants have juggled the “same God” tension in their own ways throughout history. So again, Hawkins’ statement in itself hardly warrants expulsion from her faith community.

If Islam began as a sect of Judaism or a Jewish sect of Christianity (either is plausible), then the historic roots of Allah being the Yahweh-god are obvious. But when this proto-Islamic group grew into Islam, differences emerged that were more pronounced than those between Judaism and Christianity. In this light, the Wheaton administrators are piling on appropriate correctives. For example, Allah isn’t a Father as he is for Jews and Christians. In the Islamic faith, human beings cannot be considered children of Allah. The Qur’an excoriates that idea in an explicit rejection of the Jewish and Christian views (5:18).

Nor is Abraham an ancestor. He isn’t the “father of many nations”, as he is in Judaism and Christianity. He is a role model, to be sure, but a fiercely intolerant one. Qur’an 60:4 specifies that Muslim believers should imitate Abraham when he says — to even his closest relative — that he hates someone and will hate him forever because he is not a Muslim. Conversely, believers should not imitate Abraham when he says that he will pray for a non-Muslim. So in the Qur’an, Abraham is an exemplar of intolerance and hatred for non-Muslims.

This isn’t to romanticize the Jewish and Christian ideas of God. The Jewish view is ultimately an ethnic supremacist one (God is father of all, but he does favor Jews), and the Christian view is a spiritually supremacist one (God may be the father of all on an equal basis, but following Christ is a pre-requisite for that salvific benefit). But it’s nonetheless a huge difference that the Islamic God isn’t outreaching or encompassing, but rather the opposite, and a model for hatred. If the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) can be spared slaughter, it’s only by paying for it and being willing to “feel themselves subdued” as second-class citizens (Qur’an 9:29).

Professor Hawkins chose to stand with Muslim people in an increasingly toxic climate. By her testimony she saw herself as simply following Christian and humanitarian principles. She also dared to make an equation between her God and Allah. Unqualified that’s a misleading statement, but it’s not wrong. And even it were, that’s no reason to be suspended from a university position. I mean seriously, how embarrassing for Wheaton.

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