New Documentary on Wheaton College's 'Same God' Controversy to Be Shown at LA Film Festival
A new documentary focusing on the departure of professor Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College after she declared on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God will be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival later this month.
The film, "Same God," will be shown as part of the festival's competition lineup on Sept. 24, and will focus on the political science professor's experience with the Illinois-based evangelical higher education institution after she took to Facebook in December 2015 to declare that she was going to wear a hijab during advent.
But it wasn't Hawkins' vow to wear a hijab that drew the ire of Wheaton administrators. Her assertion in her Facebook post that Christians and Muslims worship the same God that led administrators to question if she had violated the school's statement of faith.
After being placed on administrative leave, a school administrator moved to recommend her for termination proceedings. Although Provost Stanton Jones later rescinded the recommendation to terminate Hawkins after much backlash from Wheaton professors and a student-led protest, Hawkins and the school would later part ways. Hawkins would go on to get a job at the University of Virginia.
The new documentary was directed by Emmy-award winning producer and Wheaton College alumna Linda Midgett and her Midgett Productions company.
In a director's note posted to Facebook, Midgett explained that she first learned about Hawkins after reading a "small news blurb" in 2015 about a professor at her alma mater deciding to wear a hijab for Advent to show solidarity. She admits she didn't think much of Hawkins' post at the time until she later found out that Hawkins' post was creating "an uproar with alumni and in the larger evangelical community."
"A rift quickly formed. On one side were those, like me, who felt her gesture was unmistakably Christian in nature. On the other side were those who felt she was guilty of heresy, and deserved to be terminated," Midgett wrote. "This wasn't about race, Islamophobia or religious freedom, they insisted. Or was it?"
As the two-month long controversy gained many headlines, Midgett admits that she began to question, "Do evangelicals worship the same God?"
"It's the question that led me to direct this film, and one I continue to ask as evangelicals split over Donald Trump," Midgett explained.
In a trailer for the film, Hawkins briefly discussed the controversy.
"I didn't think of it as dangerous," she said of her Facebook post. "People call me naive. I had no inkling that Christians would target me."
The trailer showed several social media posts that condemned Hawkins for asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. One of them included a post from leading evangelist Franklin Graham that read in part: "Can you believe this Wheaton...Shame on her!"
The trailer also showed some of the nastier and more threatening responses Hawkins received on social media.
"When a group of Arabs rape her continuously for 30 hours like that 13 year old girl in Germany, she will see Islam in a new perspective," one commenter wrote on Facebook.
The trailer also shows video of students protesting the administration with calls of "Reinstate Doc Hawk!"
"She went on Facebook and represented the student body and the staff and said that this is what we believe," one student in the trailer was quoted as saying. "That is right and I don't think there should be consequences."
The trailer concludes with Hawkins stating: "If I lose a job and if I lose a friend, that is the cost."
The college's board of trustees later admitted in October 2016 that the school erred in how it handled the Hawkins situation. In response to the controversy, the school launched a scholarship named after Hawkins that is designed for students pursuing summer internships in peace and conflict studies.
While many have supported Hawkins' assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, some theologians argue that it can't be inferred that the "the character of the God of the Quran is the same as that of the God of the Bible."
"In fact, we would have to conclude ... that these are two different gods, for the difference in the two love commands suggests by his own logic two different characters," Gerald McDermott, professor of religion at Roanoke College and senior fellow at the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, wrote in an op-ed.
Graham, the son of legendary evangelist and Wheaton College alumni Billy Graham, argued in his Facebook post at the time that Hawkins is "absolutely wrong."
"[S]he obviously doesn't know her Bible and she doesn't know Islam," Graham's post stated. "The God of the Bible, has a Son named Jesus Christ. The god of Islam doesn't have a son, and even the thought of that would be sacrilegious to Muslims."
Supporters of Hawkins have pointed out that she was referring to the fact that Islam and Christianity both claim Abraham as a forefather.