The Strange Theology of Wheaton College

Wheaton College in Illinois is preparing to terminate its first tenured female African American professor, political scientist Dr. Larycia Hawkins. The charges against her--which will cost her her job-- are theological: She believes that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. Hawkins, by all reports, has been popular with students (you can read glowing comments about her on rate my professor), and her scholarship is not in question. She is also tenured, a feature of Higher Education that exists for the sole purpose of protecting scholars from the sort of witch-hunt she is experiencing.

Hawkins has struck fear into the conservative leadership of Wheaton College by rejecting the anti-Muslim agenda that has taken root in right wing America. To show--and encourage in her students-- solidarity with Muslims who are being persecuted in the United States Hawkins has taught class wearing a hajib, the traditional head covering for Muslim women.

I don't know Hawkins, but I am certain that--as a black female academic --she understands injustice far better than the almost exclusively white male constituency that runs Wheaton College. And she has literally put her money--or at least her salary--where her mouth is: "Wheaton College," she recently stated, "cannot scare me into walking away from the truth that all humans -- Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed of any ilk -- are all my sisters and brothers and I am called by Jesus to walk with them in their oppression."

Hawkins pending dismissal is based on whether her pro-Muslim Facebook post is compatible with the Wheaton College statement of faith that she has signed. She wrote:
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.

The relevant portion of the college's statement of faith reads:
WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.

An analogous "Islamic statement of faith" would be based on the Qur'an, where God tells Muhammed precisely how to respond to people who ask who God is:
He is Allah, the One God, the Self-Sufficient, who has not begotten, nor has been begotten, and equal to Him is not anyone.

The Qur'an goes on to state that Allah is the Creator of everything. He is the guardian over everything. Unto Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth...

The similarities with the Wheaton statement are clear.

Hawkins theological crime is identifying the "Allah" of Islam with the "God" of Christianity. Muddying the waters, however, is the fact that Allah is the proper name for God in Arabic, just as Elohim is the proper name for God in Aramaic in the Old Testament. In Arabic Allah denotes "The One True Deity worthy of all worship" and is in fact the term used to refer to God by Jews and Christians who speak Arabic and read the Bible in Arabic.

The glaring difference between the Christian and Islamic concepts of God relates to the Trinity. Islam considers it blasphemy to make Jesus--or any other figure--a part of God.

But here things get really murky. What if Hawkins had claimed instead that Jews and Muslims worship the same God? We cannot invoke the doctrine of the Trinity here to claim a heresy, because neither faith accepts the divinity of Jesus. And Muslims state specifically that Muhammed's lineage goes back to Abraham, through his son Ishmael, just as Jews claim Abrahamic ancestry through his son Isaac. It would be impossible to dispute that Islamic monotheism and Judaic monotheism were not based on the same God--the one that Abraham taught his sons to worship.

Christians, however, have been quite insistent that the Jewish God of the Hebrew Scriptures--the Old Testament--is the same as the Christian God of the New Testament. They speak, generally, of Jesus providing a "fuller" revelation of God, rather than a "different" one. And, in a highly creative, albeit patronizing, way they often read a Trinitarian God back into the Hebrew Scriptures : "The one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals himself to us in the Old Testament as both severe and merciful."

Claims that the Christian God is the same as the Jewish God but not the Islamic God are, in a most literal sense, illogical. If Allah is the same deity as Elohim, and Elohim is the same deity as the Christian God, then Allah and the Christian God are the same deity. This is known as the transitive property of mathematics and most of us learn it in high school.

Dr. Larycia Hawkins is on solid ground. The illogical inquisitors calling for her termination are not.