A Christian professor becomes a victim of anti-Muslim bigotry
Professor Larycia Hawkins
By: Dahleen Glanton
Source: Chicago Tribune
As it turns out, Donald Trump doesn’t have a patent on anti-Muslim bigotry.
Administrators at Wheaton College, a private evangelical Christian school in suburban Chicago, showed us last week just how easy it is to try and pass off religious intolerance as doctrine. That’s exactly what they attempted by suspending Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor, for posting on Facebook that Muslims and Christians served the same God.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Hawkins, like many of us, is tired of the constant degradation of Muslims since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. This, along with wearing a hijab, was her way of standing up to the bullies.
It was a simple gesture, one that most Americans would find endearing. But some evangelicals claimed it went against the university’s written statement of faith. There are fundamental differences between the two religions, they said, and Hawkins should have spelled them out in her Facebook post.
So the college relieved Hawkins of teaching duties for six months as she was grading papers before the Christmas break.
While Wheaton might have had a legal right to suspend Hawkins, it cast the liberal arts college in a bad light in the midst of a heated national debate over how Muslims should be treated in America. Instead of opening the door to an exchange of ideas, the college slammed it shut on any meaningful discussion.
We are used to Trump’s coalition of anti-Muslim crusaders spewing hatred and painting anyone who follows Islam as a potential terrorist. Most Americans loathe their loud, ruthless rhetoric and reject their mission to cultivate fear.
But when bigotry comes disguised as theology, it can throw us off guard.
It reminds us, though, that there is a quiet undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment operating in some religious circles, one that rejects any reference to similarities between Islam and Christianity. It places Islam, the fastest-growing religion in the world, in a cultlike realm and admonishes anyone who dares to refer to God as Allah.
To accept it as a religion of equal standing would mean those who want to paint all Muslims as terrorists would be forced to acknowledge that Islam isn’t the real problem. It’s the extremists who have hijacked the religion.
These extremists are no different than so-called Christians who use religion as an excuse to burn down black churches in the South, shoot victims outside a Jewish community center in Kansas or plant a fake bomb inside a Virginia mosque.
I asked a theologian at Yale University what he thought about what happened at Wheaton. Miroslav Volf, an author and founder of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, says a great many theologians agree that God and Allah are different names for the same Supreme Being. Arabic-speaking Christians, he pointed out, also use “Allah” to refer to God.
What happened at Wheaton College, he said, was not about theology and orthodoxy; it was about enmity toward Muslims.
He explained it this way: “Christians and Muslims disagree about immensely important things about God, but they are disagreeing about ‘God,’ not between ‘gods,’ so to speak.”
It’s interesting that in the midst of bitter debate over whether America should welcome Muslim refugees fleeing war-torn Syria or ban every Muslim from the Middle East from crossing our borders, an unusual image of Jesus is circulating around the world.
According to scientists who used forensics to reconstruct his face, Jesus looked like a typical Middle Easterner with brown skin and short, curly black hair.
Of course, no one knows what Jesus looked like. There are no pictures and no human remains to test for DNA. For centuries, all we have had to go on are illustrations derived from the vivid imaginations of artists. In the West, that was enough to convince the masses that Jesus was a white man, with light-colored eyes and long, straight brown hair.
According to a 2002 article republished this month in Esquire Magazine, British researchers used forensic anthropology — similar to techniques used by police to solve crimes — to recreate what some experts say is the most accurate image of Christ.
Some cannot fathom that Jesus might have looked more like a Syrian refugee than Jim Caviezel in “The Passion of the Christ.” For them, a Middle Eastern Jesus is as implausible as the 20-foot tall black Jesus sporting a big Afro and a dashiki depicted on a mural in the sanctuary of St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side.
Indeed, we are living in a difficult time when terrorism poses a real threat. But a very important element of the Christmas story is that Jesus was born in the midst of political strife.
Embracing solidarity with Islam as Hawkins tried to do on Facebook might be America’s best weapon against the army of bigots that has formed under Trump’s tutelage.
If we can focus on our commonalities, it might not be so difficult to accept the idea that Jesus could have looked entirely different than we imagined.
The Bible says that Jesus, a man born in the Middle East, is coming back one day. Let’s pray that some folks don’t mistake him for a terrorist.