WHEATON, Ill. (Christian Examiner) – When tenured political science professor Larycia Hawkins decided to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims during Advent, she posted a statement on Facebook about her decision that got her put on paid administrative leave.
"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," Hawkins wrote on her Facebook page on Dec. 10.
Her theological statement, although not her decision to wear a hijab, might oppose Wheaton College's statement of faith.
On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College placed Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins on paid administrative leave in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam," said the college in a statement.
Students chanting "Reinstate Doc Hawk" held a sit-in last week at the office of Philip Ryken, Wheaton College's president.
"In the interim, College leadership has listened to the concerns of its students expressed through social media, a peaceful demonstration and one-on-one meetings with the administration," the statement continued.
DIVIDED STUDENT BODY
"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," said students who support Hawkins' theology in a petition for her reinstatement.
Others feel Hawkins does not represent their views. "The Christian faith is fundamentally different from Islamic faith, and although it's admirable what Prof. Hawkins said, I'm in no position to try to advocate for her," said sophomore Luke Nelessen to the Washington Post.
Levi Soodsma, a senior, told the Post, "I trust Ryken and what he decides to do. Student leaders don't stand for all students."
Hawkins, the college's only tenured African American woman, has worked there since 2007.
In a news conference, Hawkins, wearing a purple hijab, said, "I think Wheaton takes very seriously its role as a Christian liberal arts institution. And I respect the institution," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Hawkins said she will wear a hijab throughout Advent in solidarity with Muslim women and invited other women in her Dec. 10 post to do the same. She added she sought the approval of a friend at Council on American Islamic Relations to ensure that this gesture was not forbidden for non-Muslims or likely to be offensive to Muslims.
Evangelicals have criticized Hawkins' theology. "This statement is unbelievable," Denny Burk, biblical studies professor at Boyce College in Louisville, tweeted, according to Christianity Today. "Really jaw-dropping."
In an editorial, the Tribune presents an argument praising the behavior of Wheaton, which wants to "protect its expression of beliefs" during the situation. "Wheaton's desire to consistently project its Christian message isn't therefore contemptuous of Islam. Unlike those who merely espouse a faith, Wheaton wants to live it."
The Tribune says Americans "ought to focus now on how that principle of religious tolerance extends liberties to the professor and to the school."
"In her most recent statement, Dr. Hawkins seems committed to her personal theological stance, as stated in social media posts and subsequent media interviews; she has not yet reconciled her beliefs with the College's theological position," Wheaton College said.
Hawkins responded to some of her critics, whom she said are "almost exclusively other Christians" by linking to an argument in support of Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God by Yale professor of theology Miroslav Volf, published in the Huffington Post in 2011.
"Whether or not you find this position, one held for centuries by countless Christians (church fathers, saints, and regular Christian folk like me), to be valid, I trust that we can peacefully disagree on theological points and affirm others" like the trinity or the resurrection, Hawkins wrote on Dec. 13. "Let there be unity in our diversity of views about all of the above."
"Dr. Hawkins will remain on paid administrative leave while the College continues the review process to which she is entitled as an employee and faculty member," said the college's statement. "This will include an assessment of her views related to our Statement of Faith through respectful and fair dialogue on these matters of strategic importance to our institutional identity and mission."