Wheaton College students are demanding the institution reinstate tenured political science professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who was placed on administrative leave earlier this week for asserting that Muslims and Christians worship the same God in a Facebook post.
Hawkins, who announced on her Facebook page last Thursday that she was going to wear a hijab throughout Advent to show solidarity with Muslims, also made the theological assertion that "we worship the same God."
After the Evangelical school near Chicago, Illinois, suspended Hawkins on Tuesday pending a review of whether the "theological implications" of her comments violated Wheaton's statement of faith, students launched a petition calling for the administration to reinstate Hawkins.
Hawkins has been a member of the Wheaton community since 2007 and is the only tenured black female professor at the school.
As the petition has now garnered over 1,700 signatures, students at the college peacefully protested outside the institution's administration offices on Wednesday and delivered a letter demanding that Hawkins be reinstated, while chanting "Reinstate Doc Hawk!"
"In the midst of a toxic socio-political environment where Muslims are the target of stigmatization, acts of aggression, and proposed policy which targets and alienates them, Dr. Hawkins acted in love and in solidarity to be an example of how Christ would respond," the petition reads. "We believe there is nothing in Dr. Hawkins' public statements that goes against the belief in the power and nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit that the Statement of Faith deems as a necessary requirement for affiliation with Wheaton College."
After the students delivered the letter to Wheaton President Philip Ryken, Ryken thanked the students for their peaceful protests and for letting their concerns be heard.
"I really want to affirm your right to disagree with the administration about a decision that has been made. I really appreciate the peaceful spirit with which you have come to demonstrate today. I just want to value those things," Ryken said. "Also, I want to affirm the things that you see in Dr. Hawkins. Those are things that I have seen first hand as well and have affirmed both privately and publicly. At some level, I think I understand the frustration and also feel the pain of what we are going through right now."
Ryken added that he was open to further discussion with the students.
"We love and support Dr. Hawkins and see her as an essential part of our community," student Wyatt Harms told a local ABC station. "I think Wheaton professors should be able to speak on Facebook without fear of retribution."
The college posted an updated statement Wednesday explaining that Hawkins will continue to be on paid administrative leave.
As Hawkins has not backed down from her "same God" comment and even defended her view by posting links to op-eds on the subject by Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, the school's updated statement added that the Hawkins' recently expressed views "appear to be in conflict with the College's Statement of Faith."
"In her most recent statement, Dr. Hawkins seems committed to her personal theological stance, as stated in social media posts and subsequent media interviews; she has not yet reconciled her beliefs with the College's theological position," the statement reads. "[The review process] will include an assessment of her views related to our Statement of Faith through respectful and fair dialogue on these matters of strategic importance to our institutional identity and mission."
Hawkins issued a brief statement to reporters on Wednesday saying that she will continue to stand strong in her faith through this difficult time. Although her decision to wear the hijab was not the reason why Hawkins was suspended, she reiterated that she will continue to stand in solidarity with Muslims by wearing her hijab throughout Advent.
"I will continue to do this until Christmas. I have learned a lot about my faith, my self, about the community around me, about the various levels of support that I have as a human," Hawkins said. "I just feel lucky, like I am beginning to see my own funeral. One doesn't usually get to see that in their lifetime."
In a Thursday Washington Post op-ed, Volf argued that there is no "theological justification" for Hawkins' suspension and contended that claiming Christians and Muslims worship the same God does not violate the school's statement of faith.
"She did not insist that Christians and Muslims believe the same things about that one God. She did not state that Islam and Christianity are the same religion under a different name, or even that Islam is equally as true as Christianity. She did not deny that God was incarnate in Christ. Neither did she contest that the one God is the Holy Trinity," Volf wrote. "In fact, by having signed Wheaton's Statement of Faith, she affirmed her belief in God as the Trinity and Jesus Christ as God and man, fundamental Christian convictions which, among other things, distinguish Christian faith from Islam."
"Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy," Volf continued. "It is about enmity toward Muslims. More precisely, her suspension reflects enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy."
In a Thursday op-ed for The Catholic Thing, conservative Catholic theologian Francis J. Beckwith also defended Hawkins. While, Beckwith argued, Hawkins was wrong to say Christians and Muslims are "people of the book," she was correct to state that Christians and Muslims worship the same God; plus, nothing in Hawkins' remarks were in opposition to Wheaton's Statement of Faith.
"So the fact that Christians may call God "Yahweh" and Muslims call God "Allah" makes no difference if both "Gods" have identical properties. In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise," he wrote.
Although many Wheaton students are siding with Hawkins, there is at least one who disagrees with Hawkins' statements.
"To say we worship the same God is completely not true and it misrepresents the student body, it misrepresents the institution itself," student Nathan Simon told ABC 7.