|Dr. Hawkins in her hijab|
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he began with the Shema, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD your God is One. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."
Not surprisingly, he linked it to a verse from Leviticus (19:18), commanding that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The rabbis believed that the love of others was implicit in the love of God. You cannot love God if you do not love your neighbor.
For Jesus, this was the summary of the Torah: love God and love your neighbor.
I have been meditating on the great commandment while reading the story of Dr. Larycia Alaine Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College (this would be the Illinois Wheaton, not the Massachusetts Wheaton). She announced that during Advent she would be wearing a hijab as a sign of “embodied solidarity” with her Muslim sisters and brothers, and posted an explanatory note on Facebook in which she said that we all worship the same God.
I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind--a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.
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.
But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.
It was a beautiful statement, but it elicited a punitive response from the college. Dr. Hawkins was placed on administrative leave, not for wearing the hijab, but for what they called “significant questions regarding the theological implications” of her action. “Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” the college declared in their public statement. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”
Most prominent among those who took to social media to support the college and denounce professor Hawkins was Franklin Graham, who posted his response on Facebook:
Can you believe this Wheaton College professor who says she’s going to wear a hijab for the holidays this year to show solidarity with Islam? Shame on her! She said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Well she is absolutely wrong—she obviously doesn’t know her Bible and she doesn’t know Islam. The God of the Bible, has a Son named Jesus Christ. The god of Islam doesn’t have a son, and even the thought of that would be sacrilegious to Muslims. The God of the Bible sent His Son to earth to die in our place and save us from our sins. The god of Islam requires you to die for him to be sure that you’re going to heaven. That’s a huge difference—and there are many more examples! I’m thankful the school is dealing with this and has put this professor on administrative leave. Wheaton College is one of the premier evangelical universities in this country—and on top of that, my father Billy Graham and my mother graduated from Wheaton in 1943.
Many Christians understand Jesus very differently than Franklin Graham does. But he is right that what Christians believe about Jesus is very different from what Muslims believe. For Islam, Jesus was a prophet. For Christians, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Word of God incarnate.
But does that mean we believe in a different God?
If God is One, then we cannot believe in a different God. We may understand God differently. We may experience God differently. But God is One.
Telling Muslims that they do not worship the same God that Christians do is the same as telling them that they do not worship God at all. It is telling them that they worship something less. It is hard to imagine anything more insulting.
If the critical factor is what we believe about Jesus, then we would have to conclude that Jews also do not worship the same God.
And that would mean that the historical Jesus, the rabbi who kept the Sabbath and attended Synagogue, who was a devout and observant Jew, also believed in “a different God.”