Editorial: Heed Wheaton College prof’s message of unity

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These are times when Americans need solidarity. Not just with like-minded Americans, but also with fellow citizens of all classes, races and religions.

So we were discouraged to see Wheaton College announce on Tuesday that a Christian professor was placed on administrative leave pending a full review after she said she would wear a head scarf to show solidarity with her beleaguered Muslim fellow citizens.

The college said it was concerned about the “theological implications” of statements by Larycia Hawkins, a tenured associate professor of political science. In a Dec. 10 Facebook post announcing her decision to wear a hajib during the pre-Christmas season, Hawkins wrote, “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.”

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That probably didn’t sound like a controversial religious statement to many people. But evidently, college officials don’t feel those words “faithfully represent the College’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The college certainly has an interest in ensuring it sends a clear religious message as an institution. Some people have interpreted Hawkins’ words as conflating Christianity and Islam.

But we wish everyone had instead focused on her powerful call to stand by our Muslim neighbors at a time when they are suffering alarming verbal fusillades. More people should speak out as eloquently as Hawkins, who even checked with the Council on American Islamic Relations to ensure her wearing of a hajib didn’t offend Muslims.

Donald Trump has called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and almost all of the Republicans running for president have called for blocking Syrian Muslim refugees. Trump also has suggested using a database to track Muslims and requiring Muslims to carry identification showing their religion. Governors, including Bruce Rauner, have said they would bar Syrians fleeing civil war. Vandalism and attacks on mosques and Muslims followed shootings by two Islamist extremists that killed 14 people at a Dec. 2 holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif.

That steady drumbeat has an effect. The Associated Press reported the story of 8-year-old Sofia Yassini of Plano, Texas, who — after seeing presidential candidate Donald Trump call for barring Muslims from entering the United States — checked the locks on her home, fearing the Army would take her family away.

On Wednesday, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken made it clear the college has no objection to head scarves and supports the free exercise of religion. But we wish he had included a message of solidarity with Muslims as forthright as the one Hawkins put on her Facebook page.

This is, after all, the same college where student leaders called on evangelical Christian leaders to “stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters” and condemn a Dev. 4 statement by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. at a school convocation that “ … if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”

On Wednesday, Wheaton College students were protesting again, this time calling for Hawkins to be reinstated.

We hope the administration listens.

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