who’s God?/whose God?

On December 15, 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College (Illinois), was placed on paid administrative leave. She had worn a hijab, an Islamic head scarf. Explaining her action, she wrote in a Facebook post: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.[1] We worship the same God.”

That last statement led to her suspension. The college administration considered Dr. Hawkins’ position violated the school’s Statement of Faith, which, in part, reads: WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God…the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life…(God) has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ…(Who), conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was true God and true man, existing in one person and without sin…

The professor’s action and the school’s reaction provoked a variety of responses. A number of students protested, demanding that Dr. Hawkins be reinstated. Christians, well known and not, have expressed views supportive and critical of the professor and the college; some taking sides in the debate on the sameness or dissimilarity of the God of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim revelation and understanding. Discussions were held between Dr. Hawkins and the administration granting an opportunity for her to clarify her beliefs and for the school to examine further the inconsistencies of her stance with its tradition and doctrine. An impasse was reached, leading, earlier this month, to the presentation of a Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings, the initial step of the school’s process for employment actions regarding tenured faculty.

I am sympathetic to Dr. Hawkins. I believe that the love and justice of Jesus call me to be in solidarity with all people, believers and non-believers of every kind. I also am sympathetic to Wheaton College. I believe that an institution, by the very necessity of its existence, has the right and authority to establish and maintain a coherent set of principles. Therefore, I perceive, sadly, that this conflict will have no mutually agreeable solution.

Regarding the issue of whether Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, I have three answers.

Yes, given that the three faiths claim Abraham as their common ancestor.

No, given that the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity (in one fashion, articulated in Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith) distinguish Christianity from Judaism and Islam.

And, given that the God in whom I believe is larger than my understanding (and that of any person or group, religion or faith tradition), only God knows.


[1] “People of the book” is a common, shared descriptor for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all who ground their religious comprehension and devotion in a sacred text, the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Koran, respectively.