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Dr. Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College in Illinois

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 11, 2016: The news media have been reporting the controversy involving Wheaton College's first tenured black female professor, Larycia Hawkins in political science.

Progressives and liberals should be concerned about the controversy surrounding Dr. Hawkins, because the Wheaton College administration has initiated the process of terminating her employment as a result of the controversy.

Initially, the controversy exploded after Dr. Hawkins posted a statement on her Facebook page on December 10th in which she explained that she would be wearing a hijab, a head scarf worn by Muslim women, at the evangelical Protestant college in Illinois during the Christian Advent season in December as a show of religious solidarity with Muslims.

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Dr. Hawkins' gesture of wearing a hijab came in response to Donald Trump's statement that the United States should temporarily suspend admitting Muslim immigrants into the country -- a suggestion that even Dick Cheney publicly denounced.

Like all private colleges and universities, Wheaton College, which has about 3,000 students, depends on benefactors for financial support. As a result, the college is vulnerable to possible financial fallout from the controversy surrounding Dr. Hawkins.

Polls show that white evangelical Protestants tend to vote for Republican candidates. Your guess is as good as mine as to how many white evangelical Protestants support Donald Trump's candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for president.

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As striking as Dr. Hawkins' gesture of wearing a hijab may have seemed, the subsequent controversy centered on two sentences in her Facebook statement: "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" -- the God of Abraham.

Of course many American Catholics, like many white evangelical Protestants, tend to vote for Republican candidates, and some American Catholics may support Donald Trump. But the news media have not been reporting any big outcry about the pope's statement. Why not?

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each claims Abraham as their exemplar of religious faith. As a result, all three religious faiths are referred to as monotheistic.

But orthodox Christians, including of course both Pope Francis and Dr. Hawkins, hold the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus (the supposed Messiah or Christ) and the doctrine of the divine trinity (the supposed three divine "persons" in the supposed "one" God).

However, like Jews, Muslims reject both the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of the divine trinity. But this difference did not stop Pope Francis from saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Nor did it stop Dr. Hawkins from quoting his statement with approval.

To make a long story short, the Wheaton College administration sent Dr. Hawkins on January 4th written notification that it was beginning the process of terminating her employment. On the college's website, the administration clearly states that what is "at issue are the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins' statements."

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In plain English, what is at issue are not specific statements that Dr. Hawkins made that might arguably violate Wheaton's perfectly legal "Statement of Faith" that all faculty agree to uphold as a condition of employment.

But in terms of the letter of the law, Wheaton's "Statement of Faith" contains no statements about Islam or, more generally, non-Christian traditions of religious faith.

As a result, in terms of the letter of the law, Dr. Hawkins does not stand accused of violating any explicitly stated provisions in the "Statement of Faith."

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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