Wheaton College criticized second professor for online comments

  • Michael Mangis

    Michael Mangis

 
 
Updated 1/11/2016 6:21 PM

A second Wheaton College professor says he came under fire from school leaders for a Facebook comment that indicated he was going to teach Muslim prayer.

Psychology professor Michael Mangis was reprimanded last month by Provost Stan Jones just four days before fellow faculty member Larycia Hawkins was placed on administrative leave for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The school informed her last week that it was beginning termination proceedings against her.

 

Mangis said he was treated differently than Hawkins.

"I cannot tell you what a disaster this brief comment from you on Facebook is shaping up to be," Jones wrote in an email to Mangis on Dec. 11. "Larycia Hawkins also meant something similarly innocuous, but her theological comments are being taken up as an endorsement of Islam and a clear and emphatic statement that Islam and Christianity are approximately the same."

In early December, Hawkins posted on Facebook that she stood "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."

Mangis commented on her first post.

"If you get any grief at work, give me a heads-up because I'll be leading my spring psychology of religion class in Muslim prayers," Mangis wrote, according to an email exchange with the evangelical school's provost.

Jones urged Mangis to issue a statement "clarifying your fidelity to the Wheaton College theological tradition, clarifying what you meant, and apologizing for your casual response in a public medium."

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"Articles are already being written in a variety of news sources, and the media are pounding on our door asking for comments about our faculty who are endorsing Islam," Jones wrote. "We are being asked to defend why we have faculty openly rejecting (what) the institution stands for."

Mangis responded the same day that he understood that "in the current cultural climate the College is vulnerable" and asking Jones how he'd like him to proceed.

"I personally don't usually give much thought to how someone's paranoia might lead them to draw inappropriate conclusions from simple statements," Mangis wrote. "I respect what Larycia is doing and I am sure that when I responded I assumed that what I said would be interpreted as a faculty member doing a reasonable thing by engaging students with an extremely relevant and important topic."

Jones then sent Mangis a draft statement that he said "might be used by the College to respond to critics."

It clarified that Mangis' Facebook comment meant that he encourages "students to experiment with posture and bodily motion as elements of prayer, including the humble, prostrate position of praying face down on the floor," a "practice common in the ancient Christian church long before it was adopted as a standard practice in Islam."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The statement also affirmed Mangis' commitment to the college's Statement of Faith.

"I am not a syncretist," it read. "I do not teach students to pray to Allah or consider Islamic spirituality equivalent to Christian faith."

College officials did not respond to phone calls, texts and emails requesting comment.

But in a statement released to Time magazine, the school said: "Dr. Jones was similarly concerned about the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins' December 10 Facebook post regarding Christianity and Islam, despite viewing her intention as presumably innocuous. Dr. Jones hoped that once the issues regarding the theological content of her post were brought to her attention, Dr. Hawkins would offer a retraction or a satisfactory clarification."

"Unlike Dr. Mangis' immediate apology, retraction, and collaboration in preparing a public statement," the college said, "Dr. Hawkins' second Facebook post did not adequately clarify the theological issues raised in the first post, and instead created significant concerns about her alignment with the college's Statement of Faith."

Mangis said Monday he felt Jones was "supportive and engaging of my desire for students to have richer experiences" and questioned whether there were "other pressures" that led to Hawkins being put on leave.

"I didn't experience him as being threatened or upset about this," he said.

For the past two or three years, Mangis said he has taught about different body postures used in prayer, including those in the Muslim and Christian religions, and plans to continue to do so this spring semester.

He also expressed support for Hawkins, saying the college needs to "have different voices like Larycia."

He vowed to wear a cap and gown in all of his classes in solidarity with Hawkins until she is reinstated.

The college has said it has had frank conversations with Hawkins on doctrinal issues as it pursued the possibility of reconciliation with her but that "Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations."

Mangis said he remains hopeful that "there can be reconciliation" between the two sides.

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