Wheaton College’s Challenge for 2016
Wheaton College’s provost, Stanton L. Jones, is under a lot of pressure right now due to the recent debacle his College has found themselves in, a debacle that has garnered national and international attention.
For the month of December, a political science professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, the only tenured black female professor at Wheaton ever (and only since 2014), decided to don a hijab in solidarity with Muslims. She did so in response to the backlash on the Muslim community after the San Bernardino murders. Along with the hijab she affirmed a statement regarding the relationship between the Muslim and Christian faith on Facebook made by the Pope writing, “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
That might be in relationship to this new provocative and unprecedented video the Vatican released:
Asking Too Much of Dr. Hawkins?
Following up on her statement, the Provost of Wheaton asked her to clarify her statements to make sure she was still in line with Wheaton’s doctrinal statement, something all professors have to sign on to each year they teach at Wheaton – and so she did. Her response makes it clear that she is well within the boundaries of Wheaton’s doctrinal limitations as has been attested by the support she received from a current Wheaton student from Iran and a number of her colleagues such as Dr. Noah Toly, Dr. Peter Walhout and New Testament professor, Dr. Gary Burge. Evangelical and non-evangelical professors from other institutions including Miroslav Volf, Bruce Lindley McCormack (one of the best theological responses), Ben Myers, John Stackhouse, Kelly James Clark and Rev. Dr. David Gushee have also written and spoken out in her defense.
But apparently, her clear affirmation of Wheaton’s statement of faith and an adequate explanation of her Facebook comments wasn’t good enough. Immediately after affirming the doctrinal boundaries of Wheaton, she was asked to clarify them further. When she rescinded that request, believing she had done enough, as has been attested by her colleagues and other staff, Dr. Jones took things a step further and put her on administrative leave for the Spring semester. He also suggested she resign or agree to have her tenure suspended for two years to give he and his administration time to reevaluate her commitment to Wheaton’s doctrinal boundaries. She resisted these attempts and and as of January 6th, she has been accused of not continuing the dialogue, deemed as non-cooperation (likely viewed as insubordination), causing the administration to call for the only female black tenured faculty member in Wheaton’s history to be dismissed. Her response below:
I first read about this on Christianity Today’s report from the 15th of December, but have since read numerous accounts, mostly in support of Dr. Hawkins. One of my first questions was how this move on Wheaton’s part would be perceived by missiologists and Christian leaders in the Majority world, many of whom are daily working out the tensions of living and working among Muslims or majority Muslim populations. Some have spoken out from a missiologist’s perspective. Most notable have been two responses in her defense: the first is entitled, Pocket-Sized Gods?, by the eminent scholar and Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement at the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra and the second response was written by a missionary from South East Asia who has worked directly in the Muslim community. These responses made it very clear that Wheaton’s response to punish Dr. Hawkins is a travesty in the eyes of many people who work in Muslim communities outside of North America. Excerpts of their responses are worth quoting in length:
“The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel…If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.” – Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra
“In my personal relationships with Muslim background believers who are serving the Lord as pastors and evangelists, every one of them would affirm that the God they worshiped before becoming a Christian was the same God. They understand that they worshiped in error, but they definitely affirm that the Christian God is Allah…I will never forget my experiences in worship with brothers and sisters in Christ who came out of Islam. They pray using the familiar Arabic terms, they sing of the greatness of Allah, but they do it in knowledge and truth. Just as Jewish-background believers, they understand that they have come to a complete knowledge of Allah through Isa-al-Masi or Jesus the Messiah.” – Missionary from South East Asia
M.I.A., Sandra Bland and Doc Hawk
I couldn’t help but think of two other very prominent women of color that have experienced similar treatment by largely white male dominated communities. M.I.A., an electric phenomenon in music has been producing top shelf music for over a decade now, but still struggles to get recognized for her work in the western dominated music industry scene. She’s a genius both in her music and videos, especially her latest production “Bad Girls”. In it she is also donning a hijab at different points, but even more controversial for some has been the presence of Keffiyeh wearing Arabs in the video as well as numerous other cultural icons pulled from around the world. It has been reported that “The top comments on her “Bad Girls” video currently gripe about having to see ‘towelheads’ to hear her song.”
White western music critics are confused by her and uncertain of how to classify her. She like Dr. Hawkins, has elicited the insecurities of a western dominated music industry causing her to receive more than her fair share of unwarranted criticism. A Noisey article by Ayesha A. Siddiqi from 2013 catalogues M.I.A.’s struggles:
“One of the most entertaining and frustrating things about being a fan of M.I.A has been watching white critics struggle to articulate her style while challenging her right to the aesthetic she cultivates. Artists of color aren’t often recognized for their sophistication or intent. Rather, they’re ascribed a “primitive rawness.”…American critics, unsure of the cacophony of identities and experiences M.I.A offers, commonly project their own uncertainties onto her.”
“By lifting imagery associated with the global south and restyling it with an unapologetically gaudy insistence on its ‘otherness,’ M.I.A empowers both herself and brown kids worldwide who had previously only been the subjects of Otherization, not the agents. Her re-appropriation of the exotic kitsch brands subaltern [subaltern refers to populations socially, politically and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure of the colony and of the colonial homeland] struggle with dance-pop cool, while triumphantly avoiding privileging white consumption.”
Sandra Bland and White Male Triggers:
Sandra Bland also underwent a similar treatment when she was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The white male office who made the stop had his insecurities challenged and triggered when Sandra legally refused his directive to put our her cigarette and then forced her from her vehicle with multiple threats. Many came to the officer’s defense, but it seems easy enough to see that the officer over-reacted, escalating the predicament far beyond what was warranted. As a result of a lie in an affidavit about his altercation with Sandra, he was recently indicted and charged with perjury and then summarily fired. One wouldn’t have to lie if one did not do anything wrong. But what did he do wrong? Many will argue on that point for a long time, but according to the officer, the thing that Sandra did wrong was for a black woman to stand up to an abusive white male power figure. According to his reaction, she should have never done that.
Whether in our subconscious or not, many of us white males have an insecurity when it comes to brown or black women, and for some reason, especially brown or black single women.
Turning the Other Cheek: The Nonviolent Resistance of Dr. Hawkins
When Dr Hawkins didn’t comply with further clarification after providing a sufficient theological response, she like Sandra Bland and M.I.A., elicited the insecurities of a white powerful male who over-reacted by over-critiquing her and then demanding more of her than he would of anyone else. Like the officer who brutalized Sandra Bland, Stanton Jones is now a bully abusing power entrusted to him. There is no coincidence here.
Walter Wink makes the case for an act of non-violent resistance in Matthew 5:39 of Jesus Sermon on the Mount in which he instructs his listeners, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Wink argues in his book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, that Matthew’s insistence on “the right cheek” indicates that one would have to have been backhanded to be struck on the right cheek, an indication of a superior or master slapping an inferior or a slave – someone considered of less worth than the aggressor. By turning the other cheek, the aggressor would be required to slap again, but with an open right hand because no one touched or slapped each other with their left hands. This act would indicate to the aggressor that, while the one being abused is not stopping the abuse, they are requiring the aggressor to do so as an equal. This is what Sandra Bland did, what M.I.A. continues to do by throwing off the stylistic expectations of a western music market and it is what Doc Hawk did by resisting Wheaton’s call for her to provide further clarification.
Dr Hawkins was turning the other cheek by not allowing the Provost to abuse his power, thereby calling him to account. If Stanton Jones and his administration are going to “slap her on her face”, she is going to require them to do so without relegating her to a lesser status than the rest of the faculty. The fact that he and his cohorts are predominantly, if not solely, white powerful males and that she is the only tenured black female professor is not lost on this conversation. She, a female of color, resisted their incredulous demands and most likely triggered the same type of insecurities the officer in Sandra Bland’s arrest triggered, the insecurities that many of us white powerful males have when a brown or black woman stands up to us.
While they are Christians, Dr. Jones and his administration have employed the fear tactics of Empire and in response, the courageous Doc Hawk has fully embraced the nonviolent fearless dynamics of the Kingdom of Heaven. By resisting his overt demands of her, Hawkins non-violently required Jones to do so as an equal and in doing so invited him away from Empire and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now all that remains is for him and his administration to walk through the door.