Professor: 'No hatred in my heart' for Wheaton College
A Wheaton College political science professor put on administrative leave last month for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God thanked supporters Wednesday during a news conference in Chicago, and she promised to continue standing up for her beliefs.
More than 50 supporters -- including Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy and Wheaton College faculty and alumni -- gathered on the chancel and in pews at Chicago Temple to hear Larycia Hawkins speak about a notice she received Monday from the provost of the evangelical school.
The notice recommended the initiation of Hawkins' termination proceedings and included about 40 pages of charges against her, the "most shocking and egregious ones," she said, related to claims about her beliefs.
"Wheaton College cannot scare me into walking away from the truth that all humans, Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed … are all my sisters and brothers and I am called by Jesus to walk with them," Hawkins said.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Wheaton College officials said they will continue the internal review process set in place for tenured professors.
"While Wheaton College disagrees with some of the facts presented in the press conference, the college admires Dr. Hawkins' commitment to caring for our Muslim neighbors," the statement said. "As previously stated, at issue are the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins' statements and requested explanation."
Hawkins, who is Christian, was placed on administrative leave Dec. 15. Her Facebook posts days earlier included written support for Muslims, such as, "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book," and, "As Pope Francis stated ... (Christians and Muslims) worship the same God."
Hawkins also posted photos of herself on Facebook and Twitter wearing a hijab during Advent to show solidarity with Muslims. She said Wednesday -- which also happened to be the Christian feast day of Epiphany -- that her decision to wear a hijab was not a political statement or social experiment, but instead an effort to "walk a mile in my Muslim sisters' shoes."
"Our love for Jesus compels us to make no peace with oppression," she said. "That drove my solidarity with women in the hijab, particularly Muslims in hijab, because you know Jesus' mother, Mary, wore a hijab, too."
College officials said Hawkins was put on leave to "give more time to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements."
"As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college's evangelical Statement of Faith," college officials said in a written statement.
Hawkins said she has "no hatred in my heart" for the college but is "flabbergasted" by the accusations its administrators made against her and the events of the past two weeks.
"A woman on a spiritual journey is who I am, a journey that for me has always pointed to Jesus," she said. "Throughout my years of service at Wheaton College, I have never wavered from my commitment to the Christian doctrines elucidated in this statement of faith."
Hawkins added that while it is within the college's right to ask employees to sign and adhere to the statement of faith, they "did not give me Jesus and they can't take him away from me."
One of Hawkins' co-workers, Ezer Kang, said he and other professors are greatly concerned about the way the school is treating Hawkins.
"We urge Wheaton College to proceed with transparency and integrity," he said. "We hope that the conversations in the days ahead will honor the spirit of the college's mission as well as Dr. Hawkins' desire for reconciliation."
The Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, the interfaith workplace group that hosted the news conference, said Hawkins has experienced "incredible persecution for speaking the truth, that we are one human family from one creator." She praised Hawkins' actions and expressed the gratitude for the "palpable" unity she felt among the Christians, Muslims and Jews in attendance Wednesday.
"We're all very, very grateful to her," she said. "I think this is a moment in Christianity that people not only in Chicago, but across the country, and across the world, are watching what happens. Are Christians going to live out the essence of Christianity, by loving their neighbor? Or are they going to live out a fear-based way of life?"
A Houston mother, Ruth Reitmeier, flew into Chicago to speak at the news conference. She spoke of a positive experience her 16-year-old daughter had a few months ago when Hawkins gave her a tour of Wheaton College. The administration's recent treatment of Hawkins, however, has swayed Reitmeier's opinion on the school.
"I will not send my kids to Wheaton because I do not want my kids insulated in a Christian bubble that discourages open discourse and squashes controversial ideas out of fear," she said. "I do not want my kids shielded from voices that represent the diversity of the Christian community."
Clara Kent, a 2014 graduate of Wheaton College, said she enjoyed her time at the school and wants it to succeed.
"Wheaton needs to learn how to lead with love," she said. "I feel hopeful for Larycia because of who she is and I know that no matter what happens she will be OK. Do I think Wheaton will do the right thing? Unfortunately, no."
The termination proceedings will begin with a hearing within the next 30 days before a committee of nine tenured faculty members. The committee will make a recommendation regarding Hawkins' tenure that will be considered by the college president.
A recommendation will then be forwarded to the college's board of trustees, which is responsible for making a final decision regarding Hawkins' employment.