News, Religion

Professor suspended for comments about one God

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by Frederick H. Lowe

St. Martin’s Episcopal Church parishioners formed a circle around Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a 43-year-old associate professor at Wheaton College, and prayed for her wellbeing five days after the school suspended her for writing on her Facebook page that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Officials of the private, interdenominational, co-ed Christian college in Wheaton, Ill., a Chicago suburb, charged that the Facebook postings were a violation of the college’s statement of faith and her contract with the school to teach there.

On Sunday, another group of Christians decided Hawkins’ views were courageous and Wheaton’s College’s response inexplicable except perhaps to school’s officials.

St. Martin’s Response

Father Christopher E. Griffin, pastor of St. Martin’s  located on Chicago’s West Side, led parishioners and guests, including Wheaton alumni, to form a circle of prayer around Dr. Hawkins, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, after she gave a short tearful speech to the congregation, updating them on her status.

Dr. Larycia Hawkins with members and visitors on Sunday St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Chicago.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins (center) with members and visitors St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on Sunday in Chicago. Photo by Frederick H. Lowe.

Dr. Hawkins, a native of Washington, D.C., attends St. Martin’s, a small church with a welcoming congregation.

During the circle of prayer, all of parishioners reached out and put their hands on Dr. Hawkins who wore a hijab.

The parishioners then bowed their heads in prayer, silent in the church’s high-ceiling sanctuary and surrounded by bright stained glass portraits of Jesus kneeling in prayer.

A NorthStar News reporter attended Sunday’s service and asked two questions, both regarding her suspension. Dr. Hawkins told the congregation the school had suspended her for six months, which means she will miss the school’s entire second semester.

She declined to answer if she could appeal the decision. Dr. Hawkins made it clear that anything she said during her brief and emotional remarks to the congregation were off the record.

Wheaton College’s comments

Wheaton College published a statement that the school placed her on paid administrative leave beginning Dec. 15 to to give her more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.  She posted her comments on Facebook Dec. 10; they are no longer available.

“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,” school officials said… . “Her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the college’s statement of faith.”

Either after or during the suspension, the faculty will review her statements; she is entitled to a formal review as a tenured faculty member.

She has submitted a theological statement pending her review, but she declined to discuss it.

Brett Nelson, a Wheaton College alumnus who in 1992 earned a graduate degree in communications, called Dr. Hawkins’ suspension a “bad decision.”

Nelson attended St. Martin’s to show his support for Dr. Hawkins. “There is one God but the school’s conservative administration doesn’t accept that,” said Nelson adding that many of the nation’s religious institutions plant the American flag next to the flag of the church so the American flag’s beliefs and the church’s beliefs become almost indistinguishable.

Father Griffin said he was disappointed but not surprised that Wheaton College officials punished Dr. Hawkins given the recent violent ISIS attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., Mali, West Africa, Paris and Lebanon. “I wish they [Wheaton College officials] would have done something different,” Griffin said.

Donald Trump, the front-running Republican candidate for president, has also stirred anti-Muslim hatred, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.


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