As the controversy over, perhaps soon-to-be ex-tenured associate professor of political science at Wheaton College Larycia Hawkins continues to boil, it is worth thinking about the statement that got her into trouble.

Referring to Muslims and Christians, Professor Hopkins wrote on her Facebook page, these words –

as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

(Professor Hawkins’ whole post should be read here: https://www.facebook.com/larycia/posts/10153326773658481)

“Same God”? Different God?

If there is only One God as Muslims, Jews and Christians all believe, the distinction “same” or different in reference to the One God is, at best redundant and, at worst, simply nonsense.

Different faiths have different ways of approaching this One God. Muslim, Christian and Jewish understandings of the ways this God works in the world may diverge at certain points. We may believe that this One God calls us to different behaviours depending upon our cultural background. We may formulate our concept of this One God in different ways.

There is no question, both Islam and Judaism differ from Christianity in their understanding of Jesus. Christians affirm that Jesus is the unique embodiment/incarnation of the presence of God in human history. Christians believe Jesus is one of the three Persons of the One God who is known as Trinity. We believe Jesus revealed the fullness of God in human form and opened the way to an awareness of God’s presence that is for us a unique avenue to God.

Jews and Muslims understand Jesus as perhaps a prophet, a teacher, a religious radical and reformer or possibly in some cases, a deluded religious fanatic.

Does the fact that Jews and Muslims understand Jesus differently from Christians necessarily disqualify everything Jews and Muslims believe about the nature of God?

The Christian understanding of precisely how God was at work in and through Jesus, and the way God’s work is carried on in the world today, diverges at a number of significant points.

Does the fact that even among ourselves Christians, we differ in how we articulate God’s work in the historical person of Jesus, mean that those who differ from the dominant opinion (if there is such a thing) about the precise nature of Jesus do not worship the same God as those who hold the majority opinion?

At their best, the dominant belief systems of the world share much in common in our understanding of the nature of the One God in whom we believe.

This One God is the source of all creation and the means by which that creation is sustained.

We share the belief that this God is all-knowing and all-powerful. We believe the God we desire to honour is best approximated using terms like love or mercy. This One God is compassionate and benevolent, desiring the greatest well-being for all people.

‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6)

Jesus: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

Then God replied: My mercy extends over all things. (Qur’an 7:146)

The One God in whom we believe seeks to bring peace on earth and is best expressed by actions and words that lead away from violence towards a world of increased peace.

Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:14)

Let us then pursue what makes for peace. (Romans 14:19)

God loves the tolerant. (Qur’an 60:8)

Certainly, there are extremists in all faiths who twist the traditional understanding of the One God to serve narrow self-interested social and political agendas and whose theology is abhorrent to all believers who seek a life-giving understanding of the One God whom all believers seek to know.

It is irresponsible to characterize any belief system by its extremist fringes. In the current cultural climate, we are better served by focusing on those aspects of our deepest beliefs that we hold in common than by emphasizing our differences and pointing to those things that give the impression of separation.

It is only intellectually responsible to acknowledge that there are clearly certain beliefs that distinguish the great faiths from one another.

As a Christian I want to hold my beliefs about Jesus with deep conviction. But, I also want to pay attention to and respect those beliefs I hold about God that resonate with Jewish and Muslim ways of speaking about the One God whom we all desire to know.

The human community will only prosper as we seek to identify the common ground we can genuinely share and raise up those beliefs and practices that overcome division and support the unity of the human community.

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Bloomberg View columnist and professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard Noah Feldman points to the tangle theology can create by using his fine legal mind to explore the question “One God for Christians and Muslims?”

Here are some excerpts from Feldman’s arguments which should be read in their entirety here:

http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/noahfeldman/noah-feldman-one-god-for-chritians-and-muslims-good-question/article_bc9b682f-0e0f-5e12-83fa-101e81609a68.html

If Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God, then neither do Christians and Jews.

….

What Francis probably believes when he says that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is that the conceptions of God in both faiths have enough in common to refer to the same being. That makes sense, because Christians and Muslims (and Jews, too) tend to believe in a single creator who is all-powerful and all-knowing.

After all, Francis hasn’t said that Hindus, say, worship the same God — probably because Hinduism, which could be characterized as a monotheistic commitment to a common truth, can also plausibly be described as pantheistic (God is in everything) or polytheistic (many gods).

What the administration of Wheaton College believes is that the distinctive features of the Christian God — in particular, the mystery of the Trinity and the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ — are so different from the Islamic conception of God as to make the two no longer the same.

This, too, is a perfectly logical view, if logic is the right word to discuss such matters of faith. Islam affirms God’s radical unity. Tawhid, the Arabic word for that affirmation, is at the core of Islamic theology. The Koran treats Jesus as a servant of God, but not God’s son, and certainly not as an element of the Godhead.

So if you think that the triune nature and incarnation are essential elements of the Christian God, you could easily conclude that Allah and the Christian deity are not the same. If you can feel the pull of that argument, then you should be able to understand what the Wheaton College administration is thinking.

Your answer to this question should also probably determine whether you think Christians and Jews worship the same God. Judaism doesn’t accept the divinity of Christ or the Trinity any more than Islam does, and doesn’t even consider Jesus a prophet like Islam.

If you think the triune God is essential to the Christian conception, then the Jewish God might be same as the Muslim God, but can’t be the same God as the one worshiped by Christians. This, in fact, was the view of some medieval Jewish authorities, especially those who lived in the Muslim world, who considered Islam monotheistic but thought Christianity was potentially idolatrous because of the doctrine of the Trinity.

So why don’t evangelicals walk around saying they don’t worship the same God as the Jews, the same way they’re insisting on saying it about Muslims? Here’s the kicker: Evangelicals do believe they’re worshiping the God of the Old Testament — they just think Jews have failed to understand his essence as revealed in the New Testament.

In evangelical theology, God revealed himself to the Hebrews without expressly making his triune nature known. The incarnation changed all that, and created the possibility of Christian salvation. The Jews failed to get the message. All along, they were worshiping the triune God. They just never knew it, and still don’t.

Hence, to an evangelical Christian, it would make no sense to say that Jews worship a different God — even though to the Jews, that God isn’t theologically very different from the God of the Muslims. To bring this full circle, note that Pope Francis might well believe the same thing. The difference is that he believes Muslims, too, are worshiping the God of the Hebrews. Given that the Prophet Muhammad himself believed that the God of the Jews and of the Christians was the same God he was serving, that view seems pretty convincing. The pope’s view would have the benefit of being consistent as among Jews and Muslims.

http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/noahfeldman/noah-feldman-one-god-for-chritians-and-muslims-good-question/article_bc9b682f-0e0f-5e12-83fa-101e81609a68.html

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What Larycia Hawkins actually said on her Facebook post:

I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.

I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.

I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind–a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.

As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town, in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic), and at church.

I invite all women into the narrative that is embodied, hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters–for whatever reason. A large scale movement of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs is my Christmas ‪#‎wish‬ this year.

Perhaps you are a Muslim who does not wear the veil normally. Perhaps you are an atheist or agnostic who finds religion silly or inexplicable. Perhaps you are a Catholic or Protestant Christian like me. Perhaps you already cover your head as part of your religious worship, but not a hijab.

***I would like to add that I have sought the advice and blessing of one of the preeminent Muslim organizations in the United States, the Council on American Islamic Relations, ‪#‎CAIR‬, where I have a friend and Board colleague on staff. I asked whether a non-Muslim wearing the hijab was haram (forbidden), patronizing, or otherwise offensive to Muslims. I was assured by my friends at CAIR-Chicago that they welcomed the gesture. So please do not fear joining this embodied narrative of actual as opposed to theoretical unity; human solidarity as opposed to mere nationalistic, sentimentality.

Document your own experiences of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs #wish.

Shalom friends.

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