Assuming presumably that they have not already exhausted the potential of conversation, “Christianity Today” editor Marc Galli recently urged Wheaton College and suspended political science professor Larycia Hawkins to sit down and  “Reason Together.”

In the noble conviction that, in any dispute, there is always wrong on both sides Galli argues there are,

plenty of reasons to be disappointed with the actions of both Hawkins and the administration.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/january-web-only/wheaton-hawkins-let-us-reason-together-please.html?start=1

So, Galli suggests both sides need to step back, calm down, take a deep breath, and talk.

But he goes on to strike a gloomy note, suggesting that the likely outcome in a dispute between a faculty member’s right to speak freely and the employer’s right to preserve the college’s particular identity, is that the

faculty member looks like a martyr, the college looks like a bully.

But, what hope is there in the conversation if the faculty member really is being martyred on the altar of some unacknowledged college ideology?

I know the mature thing to say is that in any dispute there are always two sides and both are partly to blame. But there are times when employees are genuinely wronged by their employers due to some hidden agenda or power struggle that is never fully acknowledged, just as there are times when an employee genuinely needs to be disciplined.

From the outside, given the details that have been made public, it is difficult to see the wrong for which Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ deserves to be fired. She chose before Christmas to wear a headscarf in a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In explaining her reasons for her action she stated that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” To my knowledge, the fact that Hawkins made this claim in public is the only reason Wheaton has given for the suspension and likely termination of this tenured professor.

Hawkins has claimed that she continues to abide by the Wheaton College statement of faith which she states she signed in good conscience.

So what is the real problem here?

For Marc Galli, the problem is that there are “eight salient values at stake” in this debate. As far as I can tell from what information is available on the internet, Larycia Hawkins could only possibly be seen to have violated #’s 1 and 4. But Galli’s “salient values”bear reflection.

I am not sure how much reflection I have on all eight; but certainly #1 raises some thorny issues.

1. The theological integrity of a Christian institution. Evangelical Christians want their institutions to have and maintain standards of belief and behavior. We’ve seen too many historical examples of Christian institutions that let their theological guard down, and the result has been the sabotaging of the institutions’ Christian identity.

Of course any institution must maintain some “standards of belief and behavior.” If you come into almost any organization with an intent to prey on children, you will quickly discover that there are “standards of belief and behavior” to protect children. These standards will hopefully quickly come into play as soon as your intention is discovered.

But, child abuse is not what we are talking about here. Mr. Galli is concerned about what he calls “theological integrity.”  What exactly is “theological integrity”?

Presumably the Wheaton College statement of faith exists to protect the institution’s “theological integrity.” Why is a statement of faith that Hawkins has signed and declares she continues to believe not adequate to protect Wheaton’s “theological integrity”?

According to Mr. Galli, there is a legitimate fear here. Apparently “Christian institutions that let their theological guard down,” risk “sabotaging the institutions’ Christian identity.” Mr. Galli gives no examples of this nefarious unraveling of a Christian institution that failed to keep up its “theological guard.” Presumably the examples are so obvious to the informed observer that the hinted at examples leap immediately to mind. They don’t for me.

Does Wheaton genuinely believe they may lose their Christian identity if a faculty member does not believe all of article four in their statement of faith literally as expressed? Article four of the Wheaton College statement of faith commits every faculty member to the firm conviction that,

WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race.

http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose

This is the problem with “theological integrity”. It is never quite clear how much “integrity” is enough. At what point does a faculty member stumble into a doubt or even just an uncertainty that indicates he or she no longer holds to the statement of faith as expressed by the institution by which they are employed? How much doubt or uncertainty is compatible with “theological integrity”? And, most troubling of all, what happens when there are unexpressed clauses in the statement of faith that are generally agreed upon without being spelled out?

When did belief that Muslims and Christians worship a different God become an article of faith in Wheaton’s statement of faith? The issue of non-Christians believing in a different God than Christians does not appear anywhere in Wheaton’s statement of faith. How many other unexpressed theological deal-breakers might there be that the Wheaton administration has not revealed?

How is it justified to punish a faculty member for violating a doctrine she had no way of knowing was on the list of agreed upon requirements of faith for continued employment?

 

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