A tenured professor from Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university in Illinois, was placed on suspension for suggesting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
According to The Chicago Tribune, professor Larycia Hawkins made her comments on Facebook, filled with references of the belief that Muslims, Jews, and Christians share a common religious bond. She also added that her beliefs are shared with Pope Francis, who made the same statement last week.
Hawkins’ comments stemmed from her growing frustrations following Islamophobic incidents since the shooting in San Bernardino. From New York to California, mosques have been vandalized and Muslim store owners have been physically attacked. The professor has worn a hijab during the advent season to stand in solidarity with Muslims and Muslim-Americans. A student suggested to her that all students should wear hijabs on flights home for the holidays.
Hawkins planned to wear hers on her flight home to Oklahoma. Islamic law has been banned in the state, The Chicago Tribune reports.
As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town, in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic), and at church.
I invite all women into the narrative that is embodied, hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters–for whatever reason. A large-scale movement of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs is my Christmas #wish this year.
After stirring up a debate with Christians on campus, she explained her reasoning again before she was placed on suspension that will run into the Spring 2016 semester.
The conservative college released a statement following Hawkins’ suspension.
“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement. “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. We believe there is nothing in Dr. Hawkins’ public statements that goes against the belief in the power and nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit that the Statement of Faith deems as a necessary requirement for affiliation with Wheaton College.”
Many speculated her hijab was the reason behind the suspension, but the school insisted her comments on Facebook are what led to their decision.
Still, students remained divided on the issue that has plagued religious communities for years.
Protesters on Wednesday insisted that Hawkins had remained faithful to the college’s 12 core beliefs. Dozens gathered on the front steps of the college’s administration building to deliver a letter to President Philip Ryken and Provost Stan Jones, demanding Hawkins’ reinstatement.
“Dr. Hawkins is an essential part of the community here,” said Wyatt Harms, a senior political science major, who has taken several of Hawkins’ classes. “She’s a refuge for so many students on campus.”
Abbie Brigham, a 20-year-old junior majoring in history and music, from Jacksonville, Fla., said that for Hawkins to say that Christians and Muslims “unite under the same beliefs” insults both religious groups.
“I think that, as an evangelical school that has a statement of faith, it is wrong for us to call Muslims brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said.
Think Progress reports over 400 students have joined a Facebook group supporting the professor. A Change.org petition was also created to address her reinstatement. Religious leaders in the community came to Hawkins’ defense in addition to Yolanda Pierce, an associate professor of African-American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Hawkins thanked her supporters Wednesday morning on Facebook.