Editorial: The Wheaton Tiff: Christianity, Islam and — Surprise — Remarkable Tolerance

Wheaton, an evangelical Christian school, responded that while Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, the two faiths shouldn't be conflated.

The college wants to protect its expression of its beliefs — how it carries itself in the world. Wheaton’s desire to consistently project its Christian message isn’t therefore contemptuous of Islam. Unlike those who merely espouse a faith, Wheaton wants to live it. And Hawkins? She seems to understand this, hence her statement of support: “I think Wheaton takes very seriously its role as a Christian liberal arts institution. And I respect the institution.”

 

Consuming all the news accounts and kitchen-table chatter about Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins, it’s easy to conclude that we’re witnessing a mighty tussle between an institution and a tenured — perhaps mistreated — member of its faculty.

We’re not so sure. Unravel this situation, which has left Hawkins suspended, and you find more expressions of tolerance than most disputes rooted in religious pluralism include. Walk through this with us and see if you don’t respect the principles of everyone involved:

All of us are talking about Hawkins because she declared on social media that Christians and Muslims share the same God. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted Dec. 10 on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” She also is wearing a traditional headscarf, or hijab, in support of Muslims who feel harshly scrutinized, particularly since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Wheaton, an evangelical Christian school, responded that while Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, the two faiths shouldn’t be conflated. “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 said. “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.”

Hawkins says she hasn’t violated that statement, which she and all instructors sign. Wheaton sees it differently. And you can set aside any gut reaction that includes the First Amendment; that crucial protection restricts what governments and their institutions can do, not what a private college can require of its teachers.

Wheaton College professor wears hijab in solidarity

Ronald Allen, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University, tells us that employment relationships typically are governed by explicit contracts, or by agreements that are enforceable even if they’re not in writing, or by conventions any of us would be silly to deny.

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