Wheaton College Matters
Wheaton College Matters
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   01.13.16

Renowned Evangelical flagship Wheaton College has been embroiled in a controversy generated by the Facebook statement from associate professor of political science Larycia Hawkins that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She made this statement when she announced that during the entire Advent season, she would wear a hijab, the traditional head-covering required of Muslim women when in public. Hawkins viewed this as an act of “embodied politics, embodied solidarity” as opposed to what she deems “theoretical solidarity.” Wandering around America wearing a hijab was Hawkins’ rather peculiar application of James 2:26: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

Hawkins also strangely believes that her claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not a theological statement. Perhaps she didn’t intend it to be a theological statement, but it quite definitively is.

In a justifiable attempt to discern how closely Hawkins hews to the Statement of Faith that all Wheaton faculty sign, she was asked to clarify her theological beliefs and subsequently to clarify her murky “nuanced” clarification (Her clarifying theological statement has a curious explanation of the Eucharist), at which point Hawkins took umbrage, arguing that her annual signature on the Statement of Faith is sufficient. She has been suspended, and Wheaton is under attack from within and without the Wheaton College community.

Poisonous allegations have emerged from those who detest the biblical orthodoxy of Wheaton and the cultural beliefs that emerge from it that Wheaton administrators and/or trustees are treating Hawkins unfairly because of hidden or not-so-hidden racism. Less poisonous but problematic nonetheless are complaints that the culture of Wheaton restricts academic freedom and limits diversity.

Hawkins’ suspension and the debate about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God reveal a troubling fissure created by a handful of Wheaton faculty members who tilt leftward on both theological and so-called “social issues.” This divide needs to be more comprehensively and clearly exposed to all Wheaton College stakeholders, including alumni donors.

With dancing-on-pinheads complexity, Wheaton urban studies associate professor Noah Toly, Princeton systematics professor Bruce Lindley McCormick, and Yale theologian Miroslav Volf have all assured the nation that there are strong (though abstruse) arguments to defend Hawkins’ theological view of the sameness of the god of Islam and the God of the Bible. But then there are others, like president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dr. Al Mohler, Moody Bible Church pastor Dr. Erwin Lutzer, theologian Peter Leithart, and Christian apologist for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Nabeel Qureshi, all of whom, though acknowledging the complexity of the theological issue, argue that the god of Islam and the God of the Bible are not the same.

What is most interesting about the debate is that those Wheaton professors most ardently supportive of Hawkins’ liberal-ish theological views are also those professors most ardently liberal on social issues. Coincidence?

Two of the most prominent defenders of Hawkins are also likely sitting port-side on the flagship Wheaton: Michael Mangis and Brian Howell.

Professor Michael Mangis

Dr. Michael Mangis is a psychology professor who on Monday, the first day of the new semester, shivered around campus and to his classes wearing his academic regalia (i.e., cap, gown, hood) to signify solidarity with Hawkins and to show his commitment to “learning,” which he asserts Wheaton has lost as evidenced by their effort to ensure that Wheaton faculty affirm theological orthodoxy:

The academic robe has long been a symbol of learning. And learning requires humility and a willingness to be changed….[The] college as an institution is refusing to learn. I’m going to wear this robe as a reminder and a call to us to return to learning.

I wonder if Mangis is open to learning and willing to change.

Christian parents of Wheaton students, Wheaton donors, trustees, and administrators should be deeply troubled by the comment that Mangis left under Hawkins’ initial Facebook post: “If you get any grief at work give me a heads-up because I’ll be leading my spring psychology of religion class in Muslim prayers.” Even liberal supporter Mangis could see the problematic nature of Hawkins’ theological claim even before the imbroglio began.

A young pastor and friend who attended Wheaton for both undergraduate and graduate school asked the question that parents, trustees, and administrators should be asking: “In what universe should Christian instruction include Muslim prayers?”

In an interview about the controversy, Mangis shared that he’s volunteered to teach about “white privilege” at a student-organized “teach-in.” No need for Wheaton students to travel to the annual White Privilege Conference when they’ve got ever-learning, ever-changing psychology professor Mangis right there at Wheaton.

In a biased Chicago Tribune “news” story yesterday, Mangis whined about lack of diversity at Wheaton:

We have been entrenched in a white male evangelical groupthink for so long….We need to get out of that. It has come by bringing fresh voices and new perspectives. But when you have those fresh voices, you can’t say you don’t sound enough like a white male evangelical. [Hawkins] was not sounding enough like the old school way of doing things.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want any old-school, white, male perspectives on the nature of God to interfere with political science professor Hawkins’ fresh perspective on it.

But wait. I’m confused. Those arguing that, yes, indeedy, Christians and Muslims worship the same God explained that such a perspective is old, very, very old, and espoused by a boatload of men, many of whom had the distinct misfortune of being white.

It is true that the ideological diversity of faculty members is limited by Wheaton’s intellectual and moral commitments, just as the ideological diversity of faculty members at colleges that formally espouse liberal intellectual and moral commitments regarding homosexuality and gender dysphoria is limited. What liberals really desire is the eradication of institutional places for orthodox theological views and conservative moral views to be taught. If one exists, they seek to regulate it out of existence or infiltrate it and change it from within.

Professor Brian Howell

Mangis wasn’t alone on Monday. With his solidarity snazzily embodied, anthropology professor Dr. Brian Howell also sashayed about campus in his academic regalia. Howell first came to my attention following the resignation last July of Julie Rodgers, Wheaton College’s most recent and notable bad hire. (Interesting side note, Rodgers was standing behind Hawkins at her recent press conference.)

Rodgers is well-known for her self-identification as a “celibate gay Christian.” She was hired in the Fall of 2014 as a ministry associate for spiritual care in the Chaplain’s Office to counsel students experiencing same-sex attraction. When she was hired many people who love Wheaton College were deeply troubled because of Rodger’s perspective on and seeming flippancy about homoerotic attractions as revealed in statements like this:

When I feel all Lesbiany, I experience it as a desire to build a home with a woman that will create an energizing love that spills over into the kind of hospitality that actually provides guests with clean sheets and something other than protein bars…. This causes me to see the world through a different lens than my straight peers, to exist in the world in a slightly different way. As God has redeemed and transformed me, he’s tapped into those gay parts of me that now overflow into compassion for marginalized people and empathy for social outcasts

A year later, in July, 2015, Rodgers wrote that she had evolved and no longer opposes homoerotic relationships:  “I’ve quietly supported same-sex relationships for a while now. When friends have chosen to lay their lives down for their partners, I’ve celebrated their commitment to one another.” Rodgers then rightly resigned.

After her resignation, president of the Manhattan Declaration and Wheaton College alumnus Eric Teetsel wrote on his Facebook page that Wheaton College owed Wheaton students, their parents, and alumni an apology for hiring her. Howell arrogantly and hostilely replied both to Teetsel and to other commenters:

Eric, you are being a jerk here. Wheaton does not need to “apologize” for Julie. She did not “affirm” or counsel students into same-sex relationships. She SAYS, if you will READ it, that she assumes some, in their desire to follow Jesus, will find themselves in same-sex relationships. I knew this would happen. People who make a living stoking the fires of the culture war would throw this down. “See, told you so! Gay people! It’s how they are!” I just wish you could be better than that.

Sometimes bad behavior needs to be called out, and this sort of culture warring is un-Christian and reprehensible. I’m not impugning [Eric’s] salvation. Yes, he is a Christian. I just don’t think he’s acting like it right now….[Eric’s] post is just a smug little victory dance and is, well, jerky.

For the record, Eric was a student of mine (for one class) when he was at Wheaton, so, yes, I may take a condescending tone, but I will always see him as a younger brother and former student. That’s just how it goes.

As a parent of two Wheaton grads (who married Wheaton grads), I wholeheartedly agree that the Wheaton administration owed students and their parents an apology for such a terrible hire. The problematic nature of Rodgers’ ideas about homosexuality was clear before Wheaton hired her.

Leftist arrogance is on display when Howell claims that “this sort of culture warring is un-Christian,” while apparently believing his sort of culture-warring is Christian. Howell’s implicit accusation that Teetsel is stoking the fires of the culture war is absurd. It’s pyro-“progressives” who started the fires and unashamedly fuel them. Every politically engaged conservative I know sincerely desires for the cultural conflagration to be extinguished posthaste but not at the cost of sacrificing marriage, truth, and the eternal lives of those trapped within false religions or destructive ideologies.

“Progressives,” on the other hand, seem to want the fires to die down only after they’ve engulfed the entire culture. They would like theologically orthodox men and women to pipe down while children, teens, and adults become entangled in deception and confusion. Far too many theologically orthodox Christians have been silent in response to the pernicious ideas torching the earth.

I spent some time on Howell’s Facebook page to see if I could figure out which “sort of culture-warring” is  Christian:

  • He’s glad about InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s controversial invitation to a representative from the far Left, homosexuality-affirming Black Lives Matter organization to speak at a recent conference.
  • He wants America to stop talking about building a fence on the border with Mexico.
  • He wants Nevada to go solar.
  • He wants more persons of color in academia (I haven’t seen any posts yet about the dearth of conservatives—both colorless and colorful—in secular academia).
  • He supports Bernie Sanders’ position on student debt.
  • He opposes palm oil plantations that harm rainforests.
  • He supports more government regulation of guns.

Since Howell posts a lot about injustice, I was eager to read his posts about the most egregious ongoing injustice in America—the genocide of the unborn—which became a huge national debate following the release of undercover videos that exposed the reality of abortionists’ view of humans in utero. I managed to find one post by Howell on this unspeakable American horror. He posted a piece from liberal Jesuit magazine America that he described as “a very careful and balanced perspective.” The article is an extended criticism of the Center for Medical Progress for what the writer believes is unfair, selective editing. The following day after intense criticism, the writer added a clarification that he opposes abortion. Howell posted his recommendation of the article prior to the clarification.

So, other than opposing unfair, selective editing of the undercover videos, Howell is silent on the legalized slaughter of the unborn.

Perhaps I overlooked them, but I also couldn’t find any posts about the gross injustice represented by the Obergefell travesty that imposed same-sex faux-marriage on the entire country—a decision with grave implications for children’s rights and the First Amendment.

I did notice a couple of Howell’s Facebook “likes” that are difficult to reconcile with theological orthodoxy. He “likes” Wild Gender, “an online art space born out of gratitude for the gift of full expression. Who would we be without those who walked so wildly before? As such, WG strives to provide a space for  queer and gender-variant art makers and purveyors to share work and praxis, aiming to amplify those with intersectional identities.

He also “likes” Rainbow Moms which invites “Proud Rainbow Moms [and] parents of LGBTQ kids! We are proud of our kids, and we are here to support each other in our new community! What is NOT welcome: Intolerance, Religious rhetoric, Anti LGBT speech or links.

While Wheaton is under scrutiny for the doctrinal beliefs of a faculty member and cultural application of those beliefs, perhaps it would be a good time to hear with clarity what Mangis, Howell and all other Wheaton faculty members believe about issues upon which theology directly appertains, like abortion, homosexuality, and gender dysphoria.

What is really revealed through this controversy is not hidden racism, white privilege, academic provincialism, or an institutional resistance to learning. What is revealed is spiritual warfare. The nature and intensity of the criticism directed at this small private college, which stands courageously for Christ and His Kingdom in the midst of an ocean of colleges and universities that stand arrogantly in opposition to Christ and truth, exposes nothing other than old-as-the-hills spiritual warfare. Make no mistake, doctrinal fidelity at Wheaton College matters.

Worldview Conference with Dr. Wayne Grudem

We are very excited about our second annual Worldview Conference featuring world-renowned theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Barrington. Click HERE to register today!

In the morning sessions, Dr. Grudem will speak on how biblical values provide the only effective solution to world poverty and about the moral advantages of a free-market economic system. In the afternoon, Dr. Grudem will address why Christians—and especially pastors—should influence government for good as well as tackle the moral and spiritual issues in the 2016 election.

We look forward to this worldview-training and pray it will be a blessing to you.

Click HERE for a flyer.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s writing center in Deerfield, Illinois. Her cultural commentaries have been carried on a number of pro-family websites nationally and internationally, and Laurie has appeared on numerous radio programs across the country. In addition, Laurie has spoken at the Council for National Policy and educational conferences sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. She has been married to her husband for forty-four years, and they have four grown children and nine grandchildren....
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