Religious Schools and Religious Tolerance



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.” (, 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, 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.



8 thoughts on “Religious Schools and Religious Tolerance

  1. Is it really fair to compare a Catholic university with one founded by evangelicals? I’m not being rhetorical. My experience of Catholics and Catholicism is one of far greater tolerance than some other Christian traditions. I have found evangelical Christians, in particular, to insist that their way is the only way. In fact, that IS their dogma. I don’t recall learning anything similar in CCD.

    Regarding the professor at Wheaton College. She said that Christian and Muslim (gonna get this not-exactly right) faith is based on the same book. I wish I remembered things better, but in one of her statements, she used the word “book” and that may be the hangup.


    • She did say “people of the book,” which I found to be a bit cryptic. But she was basically pointing out that the starting point of both religions was the same God. And yes, it is fair to compare the schools. That’s exactly my point. Evangelicals do not tolerate dissent. Ironically, Protestant religions developed due to the Catholic Church’s refusal to brook dissent back in the day.


      • I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree about the comparison. While I condemn intolerance, evangelical religions are intolerant of other religions as part of their dogma, in that they believe they are charged by God with saving the world. To not convert the heathens is to sin. How could they possibly be tolerant given that belief? Tolerance of other belief systems is impossible and heretical to them.

        Asking evangelicals to be tolerant is asking them to give up a core belief. Kind of like asking Catholics to stop believing Mary was the mother of God. Hm…that sounds familiar. 😉


  2. Catholics share the charge to convert others to Christianity. The difference is in the methods. As a Catholic saint (forget which one) once said, “Evangelize constantly. When necessary, use words.” Loving others where they are is a big part of the Catholic message.


  3. mikek0525

    My son is a sophomore at Benedictine (we are Catholic as well) and I find the merging of the worlds really, really interesting. From his point of view, he says most of the Muslim students he’s met are great kids, and he counts a few of them as friends. Very proud of him for that.


  4. anonymous

    Religious schools have a mission statement and a statement of faith, with a religious affiliation, behind them. This whole thing with the professor at Wheaton college needs to be seen in the light of that. She went AWOL from her employer’s ideology and standards, and since she represents them, I don’t view their decisions as a sign of personal intolerance. Also, she didn’t just speak out, she also wears a hijab, associated with sharia law (not just modesty–really, how immoral is anyone’s hair?). That’s not showing solidarity, IMO, it sort of identifies her with much more than making a statement of religious tolerance.

    This view that Muslims & Judeo-Christian all worship the same God is nonsence! I don’t care who says differently. There have been been many Judeo-Christian sacred sites desecrated & destroyed, dating back as far as what some believe was Jonah’s tomb. When regions & countries become Islamic states, anyone & everyone who does not convert to their religion either runs for their life, or is savagely slaughtered. They aren’t just singling out evangelicals, Catholics and others too are being killed. You won’t find a Catholic church standing in those areas. Muslims obviously don’t see Catholics & themselves as worshiping the same God. People, wake up!

    Jesus Himself said to (even) love our enemies. He means people, it’s not a statement to accept & promote false/harmful ideologies under a guise of tolerance. I applaud Wheaton College for their integrity to stay true to their mission statement, and not compromise on a public level. They were showing tough love, not hate.


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