Wheaton College has come under fire for suspending professor Larycia Hawkins for what she wrote on her Facebook page when she explained her decision to wear a hijab to identify with her Muslim neighbors. In her words, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, are people of the book…And as Pope Francis stated, we worship the same God.” The College has placed her on administrative leave because her comments “raise significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.”
As might be expected, critics have shifted into overdrive in their criticism of Wheaton College. The school is being castigated for Islamophobia, hatred, discrimination, and intolerance. In a Chicago Sun Times op-ed (December 21, 2015 p.17), Neil Steinberg wrote that Hawkins was just doing her Christian duty, that she “was punished for being Christian, for acting like a Christian toward our Muslim brothers, to the extent that Christianity teaches to care for the oppressed, which—stop the presses—it clearly does.” Steinberg then quotes Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
These reactions should not surprise us, as our nation has only a superficial understanding of both Islam and Christianity. In a world where the icon of tolerance is readily invoked but not actually understood, we can understand the venom.
In a moment I will discuss how Christians can “bear the burdens” of our Muslim neighbors. But first I want to talk about theology.
Steinberg asks, “Does Wheaton College really suspect that Christians and Muslims don’t ‘worship the same God?’ That perhaps there are two gods, one for Muslims and one for Christians?”
Of course we do not believe in the existence of two Gods. We affirm that there is only one God, a personal triune God revealed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. When Hawkins, quoting the pope, says that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” she appears to have no understanding of the radical differences and contradictions between the two faiths. Christianity affirms the Trinity, a doctrine which lies at the heart of biblical teaching and the entire concept of redemption. The Christian teaching is that in Christ, God Himself redeemed us; the Son, in agreement with the Father, made atonement for our sins. God Himself supplies the Redeemer we need.
In Islam, Allah does not supply a redeemer; humans themselves pay for their own sins by trying to have their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, always unsure of how to keep score. In Islam, God is capricious and does not have fellowship with human beings. No Muslim would ever call God “Father.”
Furthermore, Islam vehemently denies that Jesus is the Son of God, and even denies that He died on the cross—indeed the Qur’an teaches that although they thought they were crucifying Jesus, some unknown person was crucified in His place (see Surah 4:157–159). Islam denies the very heart of the gospel which Wheaton Colleges believes and teaches.
The College had every right to suspend Hawkins; not to do so would be a betrayal of the doctrinal statement she had to sign each year as a professor. In part it 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 again, “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.”
Every one of these statements is denied in Islam. Whether or not Hawkins wears the hijab is her personal decision, but she cannot sign the doctrinal statement of the College with integrity and at the same time “stand in religious solidarity with Islam” or affirm that “we worship the same God.”
We thank God that Wheaton College had the courage to do what it must to protect the very doctrines that reconcile sinners to God. Anything less would be a betrayal of its history, its doctrine, and its many graduates who are spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
So, how can we bear the burdens of Muslims and still hold to our far-reaching doctrinal differences? First, we can assure them that we do not hold them responsible for the radical Muslims who terrorize the world. We are well aware that the radicals can justify their actions with explicit commands (understood in context) in the Qur’an and the Hadith. But there are also more moderate statements recorded, which many westernized Muslims prefer. And, no, we do not look upon each Muslim we meet with suspicion. Neither anger nor fear is a legitimate response from Christians who believe in the sovereignty of Christ and His eternal triumphs.
Second, we can befriend Muslims and show them hospitality, respectfully sharing our beliefs and traditions, and learning from one another. Perhaps in God’s good timing, we can share with them that while Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, Jesus claimed—and had the credentials to prove—that He is actually the Savior of the world, able to take away our sin and bring us all the way to the Heavenly Father.
We can be good and helpful neighbors without sacrificing the very truths that bring sinners into the presence of God. Jesus affirmed “Love your neighbor,” but He did not say that we had to agree with them doctrinally in order to do so.
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer
The Moody Church, Chicago