This is an article about two Christian colleges on the outskirts of Chicago. One attracts Muslim students in large numbers while the other has begun taking action to terminate a professor over her solidarity with Muslims.
Wheaton College is an evangelical school that requires its staff to accept and confirm the college’s strict “statement of faith.” Recently, Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor, was censured by the college for a Facebook post in which she declared solidarity with Muslims on the basis that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Wheaton College officials were unhappy with what they regarded as an insufficient explanation on Hawkins’ part as to the vast theological differences between the two faiths. Hawkins countered that she was merely expressing solidarity with Muslim people, not repudiating the statement of faith required by the college. Wheaton College has begun the process of terminating Hawkins’ employment.
This is not the first time Wheaton College officials have displayed religious intolerance. In 2006, a teacher was fired for having converted to Catholicism. How can a college that is ranked 8th in the country for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” by U.S. News and World Report (wikipedia) show such narrow-mindedness?
In reference to the Hawkins issue, even another Wheaton College professor, Gene Green, remarked, “People should be able to have this as an object of discussion. There’s no direct violation of the statement of faith.” (christianitytoday.com, Jan. 6, 2016) He went on to call it an issue of “academic freedom.”
It is hard to fathom how true learning and exchange of ideas can occur in a college with such stringent regulations. Ironically, Wheaton College was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1800s and was the first Illinois college to graduate an African-American student.
Meanwhile, less than 10 miles away, the Roman Catholic institution Benedictine University has become a mecca of sorts for Muslim college students. Founded by Benedictine monks and ranked by Forbes magazine among “America’s Top Colleges” for the last five years, Benedictine University’s “inclusive religious environment” (diverse education.com, Feb. 4, 2009) has made it a welcome place for Muslims to earn a degree while being allowed to practice their faith. Such features as a permanent Muslim prayer space and cafeteria food that meets Muslim dietary requirements certainly facilitate such inclusiveness. In addition, the university sponsors an Islam Awareness Week, with lectures and programs to foster learning and understanding between Muslims and those of other faiths.
Benedictine University is proof that an institution of high learning can stay true to its religious principles while welcoming the diversity that is found in America. The philosophy at Benedictine is that its students will have to meet in the world outside college. Why not help them develop understanding and tolerance for each other before they are thrust out into “the real world”?
Religious tolerance may not be mandatory for a religious school. But isn’t it desirable? Christianity should be about welcoming the stranger, loving all of God’s children, not just the ones that share our exact beliefs. In my view, Wheaton College is failing miserably at that ideal.