At the end of 2019, PBS began airing the documentary “Same God.” The film follows Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor who was “constructively dismissed” from her tenure position at Wheaton College after asserting Christians and Muslims serve the same God in a December 2015 Facebook post. The post accompanied a photo of Hawkins wearing a Hijab, which she committed to wearing throughout Advent in a show of solidarity with Muslim women. Her post went viral.
For commentators on this blog, it was Hawkins’ comments, and not her intention of solidarity, that was problematic. Specifically, this comment: “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.”
Hawkins’s “same God” comments placed her at the center of a fiery theological debate. The experience, she said, taught her that”if you haven’t been exiled for seeking to liberate, then you’re not trying hard enough.”
In July, during an interview with Episcopal Priest Barbara Brown Taylor at Wild Goose Festival 2019, Hawkins discussed the documentary and opened up about her reaction to the uproar surrounding her Facebook comments.
Embodied solidarity with Muslim women, Hawkins said, was the goal of her controversial Facebook post.
The adverse reaction was something of a shock to the professor of political science. “I did not think I was going to get constructively dismissed from a university…for wearing a Hijab,” she said. “I did not think about that. It was something I was supposed to do, and I did.”
“Certainly, the symbolism of a black, professing Christian woman at a predominately white evangelical institution–that calls itself liberal arts–on Facebook was something of a roadblock for administration and supporters of the institution,” Hawkins told Taylor. “Whether the school says it wasn’t about the picture of me in a hijab, that it wasn’t the hijab itself, it was the theological import of the statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.”
At Wild Goose Festival, a popular annual gathering among the Evangelical Left, Hawkins shared that she is now a professor at the University of Virginia. She was quick to add that she is not on a tenure track, saying, “because those are the consequences” of the controversy surrounding her.
She continued: “I lost tenure. I lost my students whom I loved. I lost friends. And I’m about to move from Chicago to Virginia to a place that Thomas Jefferson built on the backs of my ancestors. So now I get to deal with that sh*t every day. I’m serious. Having monuments haunt my every step. And no one acknowledges the natives there, right?”
Hawkins also said, with some sarcasm, that she is often accused of not being a Christian and that “nice white men” send her direct messages on social media to “explain things that I might not understand or know.”
“It’s not mansplaining,” Hawkins insisted. “It’s white evangelical-splaining.”
These are the gatekeepers of evangelicalism, according to Hawkins. They include Wheaton administration and supporters, she asserted, who “promulgate themselves as the gatekeepers.”
“For you to call me not a Christian, it’s water off of my back,” Hawkins declared. “I know whom I have believeth.”
Oddly, she then insisted God is a female, saying, “and it’s not a he, it’s a she” and “she is able to keep that which I have committed to her until that day, whatever happens…” (Honestly, it is unclear to me if this statement was said with sarcasm or sincerity.)
Hawkins asserted that she follows a “radical Jesus who embodies solidarity with the least and the last and the lost,” and this obliges her to seek liberation for the oppressed.
“So if you haven’t been exiled for seeking to liberate,” Hawkins claimed, “Then you’re not trying hard enough, and you need to do some soul work about why it is that you haven’t been exiled from some community.”
Another way to show solidarity, according to Hawkins, is to go to a mosque. This action, she said, is a way to follow Jesus, who traveled through Samaria “where the halfbreeds lived” as a means to show embodied solidarity with “the last and the left out.” She disagreed with the trend of switching pulpits with a local Imam because, she argued, “it’s the checklist approach to diversity and inclusion that most universities and white institutions do.”
She then began to chastise Wild Goose participants for their failure to divest privilege and power. “Sleeping in a tent is not a divestment of your privilege and power,” Hawkins asserted. “When you drive your Volvo and your BMW and your $80,000 camper. So what does it look like for you to embody solidarity? Only you can know that.”
“It probably looks like taking something off,” she continued. “Namely, your power, and your privilege, your status. Having done this soul work to know, this is going to cost you something dearly.”
When asked by Taylor what she wanted the audience to take away from her experiences, Hawkins urged Wild Goose attendees to “set dangerous intentions, pray dangerous prayers, [and] to never make peace with oppression.”
It’s amusing here that Hawkins belittles the sincere theological debate over her “same God” comments. Instead, she focuses on bashing the “gatekeepers” without addressing the weight of her words and goes on to set a new litmus test for Jesus’s followers. You must be exiled a traditional community in order to be a real, radical Christian. The role of gatekeeper appears to be acceptable, so long as it belongs to Hawkins.
It is possible to show compassion and love for hurt and oppressed people without compromising our theology–something the Religious Left needs reminding of from time to time. Guest writer Megan Pavlischek Grant, a Wheaton alumna who lived among Muslims in Morocco and worked with Iraqi refugees, addressed Hawkins controversy shortly after news broke. She wrote, “despite my commitment to show compassion and solidarity with some of my closest [Muslim] friends, I would never say, as Dr. Hawkins did, that my empathy is because of some sense of theological similarity.”
Grant aptly concluded, “Doing so would both defile my own theological integrity and cheapen the sincere and profound love I feel for them despite the incompatibility of our theologies.”