Reader Feedback on "What’s Going on at Wheaton College?"

We received a lot of feedback from yesterday’s post, “What is Going on at Wheaton College.” Most of it brings additional clarity, context, and insight to this issue.

George from Missouri writes:

 I don’t have an opinion on Wheaton placing this professor on administrative leave. (It’s rare that I don’t have an opinion, but in this case it’s true.) What bothers me is the request that women don a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, when donning the hijab is a theologically loaded practice within Islam itself. As I understand it, Islam does not require women to wear jihab, so donning one aligns the wearer with the most conservative forms of that religion. In some countries, donning hijab is imposed on women, Muslim or not, whether they want to wear it or not.

Given that, this request is, frankly, bizarre:

“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.”

How can her request be seen as anything but reactionary by Muslim women who are fighting the veil as well as by Christian women in Muslim-majority countries (e.g., Iran) who are forced to wear the veil?

Janine from Montana writes:

I would say that the hijab is both theologically loaded and theologically empty–it depends how important you think clothing is within the worship of God. Are my Western-styled button-down blouse and pants theologically loaded? From one perspecitve, they make a long list of statements on what I believe are the differences (or non differences) between men and women. On the other hand, they mean nothing at all. So also, priest vestments,…. etc.

To me, the hijab here is a signifier for Muslims and nothing more than that. I also choose to see the American flag as a signifier for the US nation rather than a symbol of the military industrial complex during the 1890s, for example.

Becky from New York writes:

I do not wish to speak for Muslims in general or Muslim women in particular, but among my acquaintance Hawkins’s announcement was met with both annoyance and appreciation. Some of my friends were annoyed because they saw her appropriation of the hijab as uninformed and not undertaken in the spirit of faith in which most Muslim women who wear hijab (outside of countries where it is required) choose to do so. On the other hand, many among my acquaintance were also heartened that a Christian woman would recognize the particular challenges that hijabis face daily in the US–the routine discrimination, nasty remarks, and often even violence (among women I know this has ranged from being spat on to being punched)–and be willing to share that. So, response was mixed, but I suspect Wheaton’s action on this will actually bring Hawkins more support from Muslim women.

David from New York writes:

I was taught by Larycia Hawkins and she is excellent, thoughtful, and empathetic in the best ways. I do not believe the hijab itself is at issue with Wheaton. Many western Christians in the middle east wear them and not many see it as oppression. By comparison, she didn’t put on a burqa. I agree that drawing the parallel between the God of Islam and Christianity is most likely the issue and is the only one that made me initially uncomfortable reading the post. The justification of a scholarly debate and a Catholic pontiff can’t stand on a leg to evangelical critics. The parallel between the two deities by extension draws a parallel between the special revelation of each (the Koran and the Bible). This is problematic as Richard argued.

The statement was well-intentioned, but rashly and naively given and was a minefield of controversy among potentially everyone, parents, alumni, faculty, board members. I’m very surprised she would have said something like that without a foreseeing a consequence. I think some evangelicals like to think that Muslims worship our God misunderstood through the lens of the Koran. A judeo-christian influenced gnosticism/heresy.

It is unfortunate that I think the media will now only see the issue as the hijab itself in the absence of a more specific statement from Wheaton. I sincerely hope that she will stay at Wheaton and all will be cleared and forgiven.

Caryn from Illinois writes (see her complete post at Patheos here).

I can’t help but think that race, both the racialization of Islam and the race of the suspended faculty member, is a factor. 

Jay from Tennessee writes:

I think Wheaton made it clear that they have no position on a Christian wearing hijab.  I’m sure they would have preferred she hadn’t, but it’s not what ruffled feathers.  The issue that got her suspended was (carelessly) conflating Muslim and Christian notions of God, calling them “brothers and sisters,” gesturing toward a broad pluralism/universalism.  

It’s the groundswell of support for her that I find most interesting.  Wheaton students  are rising up in anger.  Poor Ryken has people riled and angry in every direction!  Conservative alumni who are upset that someone like this was on faculty in the first place, an groundswell on social mediate who have conflated the issue of solidarity with doctrine, and enraged students (and faculty) who love their professor (and colleague).  Yikes.