“No One Is Safe”: Larycia Hawkins Responds to Wheaton

Yesterday Wheaton College announced that provost Stanton Jones had recommended the termination of tenured political science professor Larycia Hawkins. (If you’re new to the story, here was my summary and reaction in mid-December, after Hawkins was suspended.) After a faculty committee makes its own recommendation, Wheaton president Philip Ryken will then take the matter to the college’s board for final action.

Today, Hawkins held a press conference to give her response to the Wheaton announcement. I haven’t been able to find a full recording or transcript yet, but CNN included some video from WBBM-TV in its story today. “I am flummoxed and flabbergasted by the events of the last two weeks,” began Hawkins, surrounded by Wheaton faculty, students, and alumni, plus local religious leaders. After recounting a timeline of her interactions with Jones, Hawkins stood defiant:

Wheaton College cannot intimidate me into cowering in fear of the enemy of the month as defined by real estate moguls, senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots, and fundamentalists of all stripes.

Then the Chicago Sun-Times posted a different minute-long video excerpt on YouTube:

Complaining that Wheaton had singled her out, among all others in the Wheaton community, “to answer for a Facebook post that was actually committed to living out the love of Christ and the principles of the statement of faith,” Hawkins concluded on a dire note: “No one is safe.” If this extended to what was said in the classroom, she warned, “that’s the end of liberal arts. That’s the end of Christian liberal arts. That’s the end of the academy. If no one is safe to teach, then we’re done. We’re done.”

I’m sure there’s more context here, and will look forward to reading further coverage of the press conference. But for now, I’m just curious how widely her comments about academic freedom resonate:

  • If you’re a Christian college professor, staff member, alumnus, or student, does the Hawkins case cause you to fear for the future of the liberal arts on such campuses?
  • Do you have a clear sense of the boundaries of what you may say and ask within learning communities that both value the academic freedom of the liberal arts and require affirmation of certain theological doctrines, ethical standards, etc.?
  • Have those boundaries shifted of late?

Feel free to message me privately on this blog’s Facebook page or send me an email if you’d rather not comment publicly. I suspect that Hawkins is tapping into concerns about academic freedom that are ever-present on Christian college campuses, but may have become more pressing — for a variety of reasons — in recent months and years. Just wondering if that instinct is on target or not…

26 thoughts on ““No One Is Safe”: Larycia Hawkins Responds to Wheaton

    1. Respectfully, Larycia Hawkins, please stop acting like a victim. You agreed to work at this conservative Evangelical college and signed a statement of faith. You will be greeted with open arms at virtually every other institution who doesn’t fit this category. Especially now you have made a media frenzy, which by the way shows that you really aren’t about peace, but about trouble for people trying to worship and teach as they believe is right.

      1. Surely the media frenzy started when she was suspended, and magnified when the college announced its desire to dismiss her. That’s the college’s fault. Her Facebook post – “innocuous” in the provost’s own words – didn’t contradict the college’s statement of faith, and was designed to bring people together. It needn’t have caused any ‘trouble’ for anyone, either worshipping or teaching.

  1. The only question that matters here is whether Wheaton College requires its faculty to sign and pledge to uphold their “Satement of Faith and Educational Purpose” (http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose) while they are employed by Wheaton. For reference, see the “Abstract of Principles” and its role in President R. Albert Mohler’s purge of all liberal and non-Christian faculty at Southern Seminary in the early 90s in Greg Will’s book: “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009”. If the same was expected of Dr. Hawkins, then she ultimately has no leg to stand on; neither legally nor morally.

    1. I sign a similar statement myself as a Bethel professor, and affirm the right of schools like Wheaton and Bethel to have such a requirement. But you might want to read Hawkins’ mid-December response to the Wheaton administration; in it she again affirms the faith statement you linked and offers a more detailed explanation of her comments about Muslims and Christians worshipping the “same God.” http://drlaryciahawkins.org/2016/01/06/theological-statement-by-dr-hawkins

    1. Yes, I think that’s still the crux of the matter. I addressed this in a previous post, so I won’t rehash it all. But I appreciated reading her clarification, since it both noted the breadth of Christian opinion on the “same God” question (even among evangelicals) and also explained that her answer to the question is really “Yes and no,” depending on how you understand it.

  2. The main question is whether the Wheaton College Statement of Faith expressly states that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God–or something that amounts to the same very clearly and specifically. My suspicion is that the Wheaton administration chooses to interpret its Statement of Faith as so clearly implying that that everyone employed should know…. That has happened at other Christian colleges before. One influential pastor who pressed for my Bethel colleague Greg Boyd to be fired for his “open theism” acknowledge the Statement of Faith does not expressly forbid that view of God and the future, but he appealed to a “penumbra” of the Statement of Faith that he believed should have the same authority as the words of the Statement of Faith itself. (He was, of course, borrowing language from some constitutional scholars who argue that the U.S. Constitution has a “penumbra” that includes things like individual right to privacy not expressly stated.) Unless the Wheaton Statement of Faith expressly states that ONLY Christians worship God (meaning both that only Christians believe in God as they worship AND that the one true God ONLY accepts Christian worship as worship of him) then I agree with the statement that “no one is safe” insofar as it means that no one can know for sure, with confidence and assurance, what is safe to say and what is not safe to say. I blogged about this at http://www.rogereolson.com a few weeks ago. The statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is far more complicated than most people realize.

    1. Thanks, Roger. I appreciated your post on this — and have been referring it widely to give people some sense of the complexity of the question. Per your point, I wonder if we’ll see the Wheaton statement — and others like it — updated to address the “same God” issue more precisely.

  3. There’s no doubt as to her vast knowledge of theological tradition as well as to her erudition. This excerpt is from the letter that I believe you’re referencing (emphasis mine):

    But I also fully understand that on the simultaneous “no” side, as George notes, while
    “Christians, like Muslims, affirm the oneness of God…[Christians] understand that oneness not
    in mathematical terms (as a unit)” but as a tri-Personal, perichoretic unity. I understand that
    Islam (and Judaism) denies the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and leaves no room for the
    Cross and the Resurrection, but my statement is not a statement on soteriology or trinitarian
    theology, but one of embodied piety. When I say that “we worship the same God,” I am saying
    what Stackhouse points out, namely that “when pious Muslims pray, they are addressing the One
    True God, and that God is, simply, God.”

    The last statement in particular is simply wrong. Allah is not Yahweh. The most pious Muslims do not, cannot, and have never prayed to Yahweh. To me, any relationship that a human can have with the God of Scripture and the Christian faith must be done in a Trinitarian context. One example can be how we pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ while being inspired by the Holy Spirit. There is no access to the Father without faith in the Son.

    1. At the end of the day, I won’t be claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, even though I understand the “yes” arguments in that debate. (Here you might appreciate the nuanced way that Roger Olson handles this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/12/here-we-go-again-an-evangelical-controversy-over-whether-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god.) But I’m just not convinced — from what’s been made publicly available so far — that Hawkins has so clearly transgressed what’s stated in Wheaton’s affirmation of faith that tenure ought to be revoked.

  4. “…from what’s been made publicly available so far — that Hawkins has so clearly transgressed what’s stated in Wheaton’s affirmation of faith that tenure ought to be revoked.” We shall see what they ultimately decide on the matter. Neither will I. The point made by Dr. Olson will ought to be considered by those involved in Wheaton’s final decision and the future precedent that it will set for all Bible Colleges and Seminaries. This is a good reminder to us of the limited scope that confessions of faith, despite their important role in Church history, inherently carry. Thanks for the link!

  5. Nothing in their statement of faith comments on philosophy of language, so how can what she said violate the statement of faith? Since they haven’t explained themselves in any way, I have to assume they hold to the arguments that are out there for their position. Most people taking that view are assuming early 20th century philosophy of language, and they think the proper name “God” is not really a proper name but a disguised definite description, such that when you use it you fail to refer to God if you have enough false beliefs about God. That’s not how proper names work in English or any other natural language that I’m aware of. Proper names can refer to something even if you have massively false beliefs about the entity you’re referring to. The dispute here is about how the word “God” functions in English and how its equivalent word “Allah” functions in Arabic. That’s not a theological debate but a debate in the philosophy of language, and someone can easily hold to the Wheaton statement of faith while agreeing with what she said about this issue. (I’m ignoring the political and ethical issues, because Wheaton was clear that they aren’t interested in those. They’re interested in what they’re falsely claiming to be a theological dispute.) I just can’t imagine how pretending a side issue in philosophy of language is somehow a major theological issue, where only one side is theological orthodox, can be compatible with being the kind of mainstream evangelical institution that Wheaton has always taken itself to be, as opposed to the fundamentalism that evangelicalism has always tried to distinguish itself from. This whole incident seems much more like what I would expect from the Bob Jones University of a couple decades ago. She’s clarified that all the things in the statement of faith that they claim she’s gone against are things she believes.

    1. Maybe I’m missing something here, but aren’t you both begging the question and attacking a strawman here? On one hand you seem to simply assume the other sides position that “God” is not proper name is incorrect (and issue which seems quite pertinent to the debate). Then you turn around and critique their position on the use of God from the perspective that they are in fact using it as a proper name when they seem to claim that they are not.

      1. I haven’t given my arguments here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them or haven’t done so. I’ve argued this at length. This isn’t the place for that. I’m simply stating what my view is. Stating a conclusion isn’t the same thing as begging the question.

  6. In 2007, Stanton Jones, then as now Wheaton College Provost, signed, along with its then President, this declaration, which, at length, discusses the God of Islam and Christianity being one and the same: http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/fullpageadbold18.pdf . It was placed as an advert in the New York Times. In 2008, he withdrew his signature, under pressure from fundamentalists. But it is intensely hypocritical for him to suggest the firing of a tenured professor for what he saw as an acceptable public message just a few years ago.

  7. I must admit to being a little torn on this one. On one hand it firing a tenured professor is no small matter and it appears that one could, hypothetically, fully affirm Wheaton’s Statement of Faith and make the statements Dr. Hawking did without creating a necessary contradiction (philosophically speaking). Like Dr. Olson it reminds me a bit of the situation with Greg Boyd at Bethel a decade and a half ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long). As I was reading comments from various individuals around the web though, one really struck me as having some weight from Lydia McGrew.

    “No theories in philosophy of language get around the need to decide how important the differences are between the Muslim and Christian concept of God. And if they are sufficiently crucial, then we should not say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God”


    Also this comment from Peter Leithart in response to a specific example from Beckwith and more general statements by Volk is interesting and slightly entertaining.

    “The precise analogy is this: Bob believes in a Thomas Jefferson who was not from Virginia, had no hand in writing the Declaration of Independence, never heard if Monticello, was not the Third President; Fred believes in a Thomas Jefferson who was did all these things. As the false beliefs and misrepresentations pile up, we have to wonder if Bob hasn’t confused Thomas Jefferson with a pretender…..The justification for Wheaton’s position is finally an evangelical one: The gospel events are the events by which Christians identify the God we worship, the God who is the God of the gospel. In the New Testament, “God” just means “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “the Father of Jesus who raised Him from the dead.” Those who disbelieve the gospel are talking about some other being than this. As Paul puts it in a Christological revision of the Shema, “For us, there is one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ.”


    1. If I tell you that President Obama is an alien who has been around for thousands of years and had engineered the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, I’d be saying something false. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be talking about him. You could even ask me, and I’d say the guy in the White House who runs this country. He isn’t human, and he’s immortal. The only way to kill him is to cut his head off. I’m getting a whole bunch of his essential properties wrong, but it’s clear that I’m talking about him, because I’ve stated enough information the refer to him. I’ve stated properties that connect to the actual person of Obama. Muslims have that, because the Qur’an refers to the God who appeared to Abraham, worshiped by Jews and Christians, discussed in the Bible. They tie their reference to the actual God and then say a bunch of false things about him, getting his essential properties all wrong. If the only reference-fixing language that they used were descriptive, then the reference might easily fail, but that’s not how reference works in English or any other natural language I know of. You can refer but get something radically wrong.

      Leithart is wrong because he hasn’t given an analogous example. There might be an epistemological worry about whether someone is referring. How do you know? You check to see if they have fixed the reference properly. If I say a bunch of false things and tell you I’m talking about Thomas Jefferson, you might not know if I know who I mean and might ask further questions to see if Thomas Jefferson really is who I meant. But if I make it clear that I mean the third president from Virginia and so on and then say a bunch of further false things, that would be more analogous to this case. He’s constructed an example that clearly isn’t referring, but that’s precisely because it’s a clear case of reference failure. The person doesn’t tie it to the actual person before saying the false things. If I say Obama is an alien, and I clarify that I know enough things to tie my reference to him, then I refer to him and say false things about him.

      1. Jeremy,

        I get the philosophy half of this which is why I found Leithart’s response more entertaining than anything, the last half is what I am more concerned with. Both Lydia McGrew’s statement and his kinda dance around my thoughts which are wondering if we aren’t asking the wrong questions with the philosophy of this issue. Perhaps this is a more theological question. When the Bible speaks of worshiping other Gods or preaching a different Gospel, do you think the Bible had the philosophy of language you, Feser, Beckwith, Volk, etc. have all expounded on in mind? The actions of God in the OT towards those who did not worship him property and the actions of Paul towards the Judaizers would seem to indicate that the Bible has a broader understanding of sameness than the de minimus understanding of philosophical referents. This seems to me to imply that the statement that Muslims and Christians serve the same God, while potentially true philosophically in a de minimus manner, is theologically unsound and therefore an inadvisable statement for a professor at a Christian college to make. It seems that one could express solidarity with the Muslims of this country who are experiencing persecution without resorting to such a statement.

      2. There are two questions. One is the question of whether a Muslim’s language of God refers to the actual God. I think the answer to that is not just yes but obviously yes, and it amazes me that anyone thinks otherwise without being a logical positivist.

        The other is the question of whether their worship of God is genuine, and no evangelical would say yes to that, including Professor Hawkins. Her clarifying document makes that utterly clear. She isn’t engaging in some kind of liberalizing of doctrine here, some pluralist ecumenism. Her stance on this is as conservative as you’ll get with evangelicals. Muslims are not genuinely worshiping God, and they are headed to hell if they don’t repent. Their worship of God is not proper.

        She makes it very clear that she thinks the question is ambiguous as stated, and her emphasis was on the sense in which it’s true that they worship the same God we do. She insisted in her clarifying document, though, that there’s a sense in which they don’t, because their worship is not proper worship of God. It doesn’t count as genuine worship.

        This is in fact the biblical view. It’s assumed behind the statements in I Kings 17, for example, where it is said of the Israelites who worship God and Baal that they are worshiping God while engaging in idolatry but also that in another sense they are not worshiping God. Both are true, and both as stated seem contradictory, but once you disambiguate it’s clear that you can hold both. Her view is exactly the one the Bible teaches, but they seem at Wheaton not to like one side of the biblical picture that she defends, and then they claim without argument that it conflicts with the statement of faith that it plainly does not conflict with, once it’s clear what she’s saying (and she did make it clear).

  8. As a Wheaton grad, this situation has moved me to prayer for the campus as well as opportunities to share my faith in discussions in my community. This is the most helpful thread that I have found to help me clarify my thoughts on the topic. Thanks for the well-thought and well-stated banter here!

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