The Record interviewed associate professor of political science Larycia Hawkins on Saturday, Jan 30. The answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Wheaton Record: How do you respond to Provost Stanton Jones’ statement that “the college has no explicit position on what can or cannot be said on the question of whether Christians or Muslims worship the same God?”
Larycia Hawkins: I would say that that’s what I’ve been saying all along. My understanding of when I entered the community of Wheaton College was that we all assent to the Statement of Faith and I assent to working at a liberal arts institution and I assent to that with the full knowledge that … we would have disagreements on theological specifics. My scholarship, as well as my teaching and the kinds of things that my students explore in the classroom, are predicated on this notion of broad theological freedom.
I think that’s the beautiful part of Wheaton. For the provost to say that, I say, of course! There are many various theological commitments at Wheaton and there is no specific position and there never has been. What I would add is that my statement — “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” — that wasn’t the center of my Facebook post. That wasn’t the central point, although it’s become a real launching point for a lot of conversation. As a professor, I welcome conversation.
It would have been natural for me to assume that I was in good company at Wheaton College, given the fact that the provost himself had signed the 2007 statement and also in 2011 when Miroslav Volf was welcomed with open arms on campus, when I entered into that debate. I was at the talk. I remember that the person sitting next to me was a theologian who disagreed vehemently with Volf’s position. But we were allowed to do that within the confines of our Christian community because diverse theological ideas have never been deemed dangerous at Wheaton. They’ve always been deemed welcome.
WR: Would you feel comfortable coming back to campus if they chose to reinstate you?
LH: The fact that my administrative leave was made public — that was the choice of the institution. On Dec. 15, I was placed on leave. Before I got home from work that evening, I received a phone call from a reporter asking about my leave. The reporter was stunned when the reporter realized that I had no idea that my leave had been made public. So Wheaton College made my leave public and began this nexus of a media maelstrom that has occurred as a result of the Dec. 15 administrative leave. Prior to this, it was a debate that was being played out on social media. That action of publicizing my leave on Dec. 15 (made the situation) enter into a new sphere and realm.
The question of whether or not I would feel comfortable at Wheaton is one that has to be answered by the institution. Is the institution going to create a space where different theological ideas can proliferate within the context and confines of our shared Christian beliefs and our shared evangelical commitments? What I’ve never done is stray from my faith commitments, my testimony, I’ve never signified that I was unwilling to remain committed to the evangelical community that is Wheaton College.
I’m committed to the process that Wheaton has laid out even though I would say that my due process was abrogated in this from the beginning. Administrative leave is nowhere in the faculty handbook and it’s not written in the employee handbook. So there have been many steps along the way where my due process has been abrogated. I’m going to follow through with the FPC and the charges of termination that came from the provost.
Again, the provost and the president have said that this is part of my due process. That part of the due process comes after my due process was denied in the beginning. The institution has a lot do to assure me that we’re ready to come back to Wheaton College, I would actually be welcome, and that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again. Because this isn’t the first time that (I) have been asked whether or not (I) affirm the statement of faith.
WR: Under what circumstances would you restart theological conversation with the administration prior to the Feb. 11 hearing?
LH: The reality is that at no point in time have I ever said I wasn’t committed to conversation with the college. I’ve insisted all along that I’m open to conversation with the administration. On Dec. 15 I was put on leave and I was in email communication with the provost up until Dec. 19 when we met in person. That being said, the reason I said that, is because — when does it end? The goalposts keep changing throughout this process.
So first, it was: If the theological statement is sufficient, no further conversation will be necessary. What’s confusing for me is that my affirmation of the Statement of Faith in the Dec. 15 meeting wasn’t enough for the provost. Now, I saw the charges. I affirmed the Statement of Faith. And the provost put words in my mouth — I never had a conversation with the provost between Dec. 10 and Dec. 15 when he made up things. Like, assuming that I don’t believe in the Trinity or that I must believe that Muslims and Christians are the same … That’s preposterous. Islam and Christianity are two distinct religions. Calling Muslim women my sisters is not a conflation of two distinct religions. I’m not heterodox, I’m orthodox … and to mention for the fourth time, that I affirm the Statement of Faith, and the provost has admitted that there has been no one in his career who has been asked as many times as (I have) to affirm the Statement of Faith outside of the regular parameters. I said, that’s peculiar and curious.
Why is it that my students think I’m a Christian but you don’t? You trust me to teach these classes, you trust me to give me a faculty teaching award, you give me tenure, you let me lead the Peace and Conflicts Studies program, but as of Dec. 15, you are passing doubt on the veracity of my faith. And the provost said, “I’m not saying you’re not a Christian,” and I say, “Sure you are. You can’t have it both ways.” It’s in this context that I’ve said, “No more theological conversation.” Either you believe I’m a Christian or you don’t. There’s nothing I can do.
If my theological statement doesn’t convince them that I’m a believer, I don’t know what will. There’s no more theological clarification or conversation that will happen.
Will I talk to them? Absolutely. And I’ve spoken with them. Contrary to the way that the provost and the president and the institution have presented things internally, I have only spoken with them twice, but not because I won’t talk to them, because they have not asked.
WR: The question underlying all of this is the question of consistency. What in your opinion is the reason why you believe the college administration is not treating you with consistency?
LH: One thing that has become very clear is that I’m the only female black tenured professor for nine years. One thing that’s always been true is that because of that, I’ve been called on often to speak truth into some very difficult situations on our campus. These are things that have to do with community.
Because I am a woman of color, students on campus see me as a resource. My specialty is race, religion and politics. I realized early on in my career that gender has to be an area. All of a sudden, at Wheaton College, I get to be a person who speaks a lot into issues of gender or class or sexuality.
But it has become the case that, as an underrepresented voice at Wheaton, I’m asked to speak into a lot of different situations on a lot of different kinds of topics, and I do that willingly. I welcome those queries, and I see that as part of my institutional service. What that does is it puts me in the position of being a lightning rod on campus surrounding the most controversial issues.
Much of the time, the administration is asking me to speak into these issues. I grew up in the black church tradition, and in the black church tradition, we talk about speaking truth to power in a prophetic voice. Power doesn’t always want to hear the things we have to say.
As someone who’s an outsider to evangelical institutions — I didn’t go to a Christian college, I went to Rice University — I think that sometimes the outside voices at Wheaton College are seen as too shrill or a clanging gong as opposed to being said in love. What’s difficult is that I love Wheaton College, but even when administration asks me to speak into things, they don’t want to hear it. The answer can be painful when we’re called to look into ourselves, me included.
I think the difficulty of me being at Wheaton is that there are times when I’m called to speak, but what I say is not received or heard. There’s been this relationship of: “Larycia, we want you to speak, but then again, we want to control what you say.” Or: “Don’t say this, or don’t go there.”
What Wheaton College needs to work on is welcoming voices that are different and that push us and stretch us in areas where we need to grow. And to appreciate the voices inside Wheaton College who come from a different perspective or background or educational pedigree, because I think that what we’re able to see is something different than what folks in the administration see. And we need one another. It’s like what Scripture says: we can’t all be a hand.
WR: While you were conversing with Stanton Jones, were you offered different terms of employment, and what were those options?
LH: I could resign, and additionally, that we could agree to part ways, essentially. The option was for two years of multilayered, ongoing conversation during which I would voluntarily revoke my tenure. That was what he presented as the best possible option and the best possible outcome. That was option one. Option two was resigning and me walking away. That would be really, really hard for me, so it didn’t sound like an option.
WR: Some believe there can still be a win-win situation. What would that look like to you?
LH: We would be reconciled to each other. It’s not overspiritualizing — win-win to me is that the world knows that we are Christians by our love. We would bless one another. Like I’ve said from the beginning, I will bless Wheaton College, I will not curse it. This isn’t me vs. Wheaton. What the world needs to know is that we’re Christians by our love, and that’s win-win for me.
WR: During a press conference, you came out saying some strong things about the college, saying that you wouldn’t kowtow to them. Some would say that that didn’t sound like blessing, that sounds antagonistic. What would you say in response to that?
LH: I don’t know what people mean by strong statements. I think it’s a strong statement when the institution that I worked for for nine years basically charges me with not being a Christian. That’s a strong statement.
I also think it’s a strong statement when that same institution calls the press and makes it to the press before I get home and before my family knows that I’ve been put on leave. That’s a strong statement.
It’s a strong statement when Wheaton puts out frequently asked questions that are later taken down that are intonating lots of things about other kinds of behaviors or other things they’re planning on charging you with behind the scenes.
It’s a strong statement to present notice of termination charges because I said I will not kowtow to further theological demonization or character assassination. So if people think that Larycia is being too strong with her language, I would say that being Christian isn’t sitting in a corner and taking false accusation against me. If people are angry with me because I went to the press, I went to the press because Wheaton went to the press.
What I said at the press conference is that I won’t be backed into a theological corner. If people are mad that I said that, I don’t apologize for speaking the truth. And if they don’t believe that, then they can read the charges. I am convinced that most people have formed their opinions about this without knowledge. Read my original Facebook post and the followup Facebook post. Listen to every interview in which I’ve talked about and upheld the institution and said that Stanton Jones has diversified faculty at Wheaton.
The question is: Once we have diverse faculty at Wheaton, how do we treat them? And do we keep them? That’s a question that’s fair to raise. Faculty recruitment is hard at a place like Wheaton. So is faculty retention. Not just faculty of color, women.
These aren’t new questions. The reality is that nothing that I’ve said in public I haven’t said at Wheaton College to the provost’s face, to the President’s face, at panels at Wheaton College. The question is, why are people offended that I’m defending myself against charges that threaten my livelihood, my tenure, and my reputation. The things that the Provost has put out sullied my reputation, not just within Christianity, but within the academy.
WR: Some have mentioned that you might be getting job offers from other universities.
LH: People who say, “Surely, she’s going to get job offers from other places,” don’t know how academia works. I work at a teaching-intensive liberal arts institution, which means that scholarship is a high priority, and it means that at a place like Wheaton, on average, coming out, I have fewer publications under my belt than someone at an institution where they’re teaching teaching two classes a semester or three classes a year. I’ve also created a program at Wheaton College that’s taken years to build and that was doing very well. These are the things that consume my time and that I love, but also that subtract time from publication. No academic in their right mind gives up tenure unless they’re moving to something that is demonstrably better.
It’s not that easy. If we’re talking Larycia getting a job and doing something comparable at an institution as excellent as Wheaton College, the chances are slim to zero.
WR: Stanton Jones has said that he’s done things in this process that he regrets. What was something you’ve done that you regret?
LH: I’m not a victim. That’s why I’m standing up for myself. I’m not going to sit down and lie down and be called apostate. I’ve not done any interviews that I regret. In every interview, I’ve upheld the dignity of Wheaton and of administrators.
The only thing I regret is on the macro level: I regret that Wheaton College made public that I was on leave and created a media firestorm that has brought down the institution’s reputation. I regret that. I don’t regret standing in solidarity with Muslim women. I don’t regret that I put out a rejoinder facebook post on Dec. 13, calling for Christians to be unified in our diversity, our diversity in theological opinions. My Facebook post wasn’t a theological treatise.
The only thing that I would change in my original Facebook post is that I said, “When I go to work at Wheaton College.” I would take out that one phrase. People think that this was Dr. Hawkins trying to provoke the institution.
I lament the negative attention that’s been brought to the school that I love and that I’ve worked to promote the reputation of while I’m at Wheaton and in the media and to love the people who remain at Wheaton, even the people who are against me and don’t want me there.
WR: What do you wish to tell the student body?
LH: Continue to work worthy of the gospel of Christ. Honor one another and honor the image of God in one another and walk in solidarity with one another. Remember the sum of the law and prophets is to love God and love self and love neighbor. That’s how we’re called to live and who we’re called to be as a community.
God is justice and that’s what we’re called to pursue in our lives, in our relationships, in society, and I want my students to continue to pursue peace. Peacemaking is not passive.
WR: There’s a group of more than 940 alumni who have signed a letter that includes that they would prayerfully reconsider their donations to Wheaton College. Is there anything that you’d say about that movement?
LH: What I see in all of the movements that have been spurred in the recent days, every group mobilized in doing what I think embodied solidarity is all about. And I tell my students to put feet to faith.
I applaud any effort of any Christians who are thoughtful and thinking about justice and what justice looks like and trying to hear what the Spirit is saying in our time. And what I see in these protests is just that — people living out their faith. To that, I say “Amen.”
To that, I say praise God for people moving beyond their desks. To all of them, I say: “Blessings and peace.”
People need to know that within the Christian community, people on the outside need to know that we’re Christians by our love. Protesting Wheaton doesn’t denote a lack of love for Wheaton. In most of these protests, what I see is a deep love for Wheaton and wanting Wheaton to be its best. So long as that’s the motivation, I encourage both. There’s a group called “I Stand With Wheaton.”
Well, I would say to them: So do I. Would you let me on your Facebook page? If you stand with Wheaton, you need to stand with Wheaton students and alumni that agree with you and disagree with you.
I applaud all of these groups. Even those galvanized against me personally. That’s okay, because I am for Wheaton College.
I am for Philip Ryken. I am for Stanton Jones.
I’m for people who think they hate me. I’m for people who love me. That’s what the gospel declares. God is love. If I were to say the groups that are protesting are the only ones that I approve of, that would be wrong. I approve of anyone who’s mobilized by a sense of what they think is right.
“I Stand With Wheaton,” to me, means “I stand with Dr. Hawkins.”
The Record conducted this interview on Saturday, Jan. 30. On the same day, The Record contacted Provost Stanton Jones and President Philip Ryken for similar interviews. Both declined interviews, citing privacy in personnel matters.