Monday, December 21, 2015

"Bear one another's burdens"


     In 1897, the city of Nashville built a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, the Greek temple in Athens, as the centerpiece of their Tennessee Centennial Celebration. In 1990, the city added an enormous statue of the Athena, the Greek goddess, within the temple. Nearly 42 feet and covered in eight pounds of gold leaf, Athena is the largest indoor sculpture in the Western hemisphere.
     When I first stepped into the building, I grinned in awe, thinking: "They built an enormous pagan temple . . . including a giant golden pagan god . . . in the heart of the Bible Belt!"
     Up to last week, asked to name the most glaring example of inadvertent Christian celebration of pantheism, I'd have pointed to Nashville.
     But now Wheaton College has seized the laurel, when it suspended political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Not for wearing a hijab headscarf in solidarity with beleaguered Muslim Americans — no, never! Too gross an infringement on personal freedom, even for an administration at a conservative college.
     Rather, they suspended her for this statement, posted on Facebook:
Larycia Hawkins
   "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."
     That is why Hawkins is suspended until summer, because her statement "seemed inconsistent" with Christian values, and "to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements."  
     Does Wheaton College really suspect that Christians and Muslims don't "worship the same God?" That perhaps there are two gods, one for Muslims, one for Christians ? Or more: Jews with their God, Hindus with theirs and so on. An Edith Hamilton pantheon of gods.
     Okay, that isn't what Wheaton College suspects. They're just another inept college administration bungling employee relations in the most public fashion imaginable and trying to blunder its way out. And we thought the University of Illinois had a monopoly on that.
     That second week in December was a frightening time, with Donald Trump urging the United States be sealed off from the contagion of Islam, and the Republican Party rolling like puppies at his feet. It felt like the house was on fire. Hate crimes against Muslims tripled. Hawkins posted her statement on Dec. 10. Two days earlier, I posted the green Muslim star and crescent as my Facebook profile photo, with this explanation: "There comes a time when decent people have to stand up. If Donald Trump is coming for the Muslims, he can sweep me up too."
     I was thinking of King Christian X of Denmark. He never did wear the Star of David that the Nazi occupiers forced upon Jews. Danish Jews were never required to wear the star. He did, however, speak out, and write in his diary:

When you look at the inhumane treatment of Jews, not only in Germany but occupied countries as well, you start worrying that such a demand might also be put on us, but we must clearly refuse such, due to their protection under the Danish constitution. I stated that I could not meet such a demand towards Danish citizens. If such a demand is made, we would best meet it by all wearing the Star of David.
     Wheaton College's actions are the equivalent of some board of rabbis denouncing King Christian X for volunteering to wear the Star of David because, you know, he's not circumcised.
     One more irony. The most famous Wheaton College alumnus is the Rev. Billy Graham. The Billy Graham Center is at the heart of the campus. Within it, the Billy Graham Museum, outlining the life of a preacher who rose to fame counseling presidents and holding enormous prayer rallies, while resolutely sitting out the great moral crises of his day, from civil rights to the Vietnam war to gay rights. Obsessing over fine points while missing the big picture. Ignoring the pressing moral imperative of a situation is pure Billy Graham. It never says this anywhere in the museum, but the great lesson — the great tragedy — of Graham's life is that a person can pay lip service to Jesus while steadfastly refusing to put his teachings into practice in the real world. Larycia Hawkins was punished for being Christian, for acting like a Christian toward our Muslim brothers, to the extent that Christianity teaches to care for the oppressed, which — stop the presses — it clearly does.
     "Bear one another's burdens," instructs Galatians 6:2. "And so fulfill the law of Christ."
     Perhaps while parsing Hawkins' words, Wheaton College can also decide whether the Apostle Paul misspoke.

24 comments:

  1. It's always heartening to hear about the exploits of people of virtue, like Larycia Hawkins. If Wheaton College administrators harbor any doubts about the wisdom of their decision, perhaps they will be reassured when the scum crawl out of the woodwork to congratulate them.

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  2. When I was in Wheaton Symphony, the middle concert was show tunes w vocalists. One year we performed "The Night They Invented Champagne," and "Damn, Dman, Damn. I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." Holy cow were the pearls clutched at that. The conductor was told if we ever played such dirty works again we would lose the performance space. If they were so freaked out at a song, I can see them overreacting about this profs post.

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  3. Some years back they fired an English teacher because she converted to Catholicism...oh dear!

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    1. I was thinking the reference to Pope Francis might have been more damning that the "people of the book" statement.

      john

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  4. Back when Eric Zorn's blog still had easy-to-submit comments, there occasionally would be a post involving religion, and the number of folks who insisted that Muslims, Jews, and Christians did not worship the same god was pretty high. It's always hard to parse Internet comments, but I gathered that the general theology behind it was that somehow the existence of the Christian Trinity changed the deity that spoke to Abraham into a different deity -- that the God of the Torah/Old Testament no longer existed now that God was Father/Son/Holy Spirit. To be sure, this doesn't match any theology I ever read/heard back when I studied religion, but folk theology does catch on for reasons good and ill. It would be interesting to learn if this is the theology recognized by Wheaton College.

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    1. It's nice to know that God has evolved...or not depending on the religion.

      The Catholics from Zorn's blog always defended their God as the one, true god, as if the creation Holy Trinity nullified past versions. Yet, they cling to the prejudices of the Old Testament, from the god of Abraham and later Muhammad.
      Go figure.

      I think Wheaton should be renamed Salem College.

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  5. I thought the same. This little thing called "The Reformation."

    And if Billy Graham was something of a closet bigot, his son Franklin doesn't bother to hide it. Islamophobia is only one of his enthusiasms.

    These uncharitable Christians bring to mind something said by Walter Bagehot, author of 'The English Constitution' and an early editor of 'The Economist:' "Nothing is quite so unpleasant as a virtuous person with a mean mind."

    Tom Evans

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    1. Of course that goes for mainline Prots., not the fundamental fanatics that sound like Puritans.

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  7. Neal - Billy Graham has screwed up badly and unlike some other evangelists he's been willing to admit it. However, Graham did confront the issue of racism. He integrated his crusades and personally removed the barrier lines back in 1953. He bailed MLK Jr. out of jail after he had been arrested during a civil rights demonstration. Graham refused to lead any crusades in South Africa for two decades until it was finally permitted to be integrated. Graham was wrong on a lot of things but not this point.
    David P. Graf

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    1. I just had my "Steve Harvey" moment when I referred to "Neal" instead of "Neil". Or, maybe, it's just premature senility. My apologies.

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    2. You are correct he refused to hold segregated rallies. The bailing out MLK is news to me, but he certainly failed to respond to the greater Civil Rights struggle. One swallow does not a summer make.

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    3. Neil - I think that you are right that Graham did not do all that he could have regarding civil rights. However, given the times, it was a revolutionary act to have integrated crusades and to have bailed MLK out of jail. Graham was a product of his times where racism was so much a part of the society that it was taken for granted. Baby steps they might have been but necessary to open the door to greater steps.

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  8. The concern of the Wheaton administration is apparently over the idea that if Christians are worshiping the same God as the Muslims, then that reflects a denial of the idea that one can come to God only through Christ. If anything, Pope Francis making a similar statement automatically raises the hackles of many evangelicals. As for myself, I leave matters like this in God's hands. Like C.S. Lewis, who is highly prized for some reason at Wheaton, I agree with him that: “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”

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    1. But it's a torture logic. It's as if I said that Republicans live in a different country than I do, because they come to politics through a different perspective. I can disagree with their worldview, and do, But if I suggest they live in another nation I've drifted away from reality. If Muslims don't worship the same God as Christians, then they by definition worship a different one. But Wheaton College doesn't recognized a different one -- maybe it's their way of saying that unless you're Christian you don't worship God, because only their God is real, which I suppose would be par for the course too.

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    2. Others representing Wheaton should really speak for them not I. However, it has been an opinion held by many Christians over the centuries that non-Christians do not truly worship God and that God does not hear their prayers. In fact, some have said that non-Christians are worshiping demons. This should bring back for you memories of the pogroms justified by the rejection of Christ by Jews. Of course, you wonder how they square that with Christ's statement to love their neighbor but I digress.

      In my opinion, the concept of God as represented in Islam does not match the concept of God as represented in Christianity any more than does the conception of God held in the LDS church (Mormons) and so forth. However, it is not for me to determine who is acceptable to God and who is not. That is God's prerogative not mine. Instead, I am called to love God, others and to share the good news with respect and gentleness. If someone does not want to listen to the gospel, that's their choice and I have to respect it. I leave judgment in God's hands. I believe in a final judgment but not that I am the judge.

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  9. I get it that Christ died for our sins and belief in him will preserve us from the wrath of God -- meaning an uncomfortable afterlife. But am not sure why this invalidates the notion of a single deity. As a practical matter, many of us consider ourselves to be Christian because we ascribe to the moral teachings of Jesus but can't really bring ourselves to believe in what Jefferson referred to as the supernatural aspects of the faith. Christ was, in my view, the most humane of the prophets and would approve of Ms. Hawkins' gesture because it embodies kindness. He would, unlike the rulers of Wheaton College, probably give her minor doctrinal transgression a pass.

    Tom Evans

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  10. Some of the conservative "Christians" I know are foaming at the mouth.

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  11. Used to be pals with some and had to dump them after a while. They were too nutty, unlike those in mainline religions.

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  12. OT - sad indeed

    BEERSHEBA, Israel (AP) — When Avihay Marciano completed his schooling, he didn't know how to use a computer or speak English and had only elementary math skills. Now, Marciano and 50 others who left the insular ultra-Orthodox community are suing the state, claiming they were denied a basic education and left lagging far behind secular Israelis.

    The case has shined a light on Israel's separate education system for the ultra-Orthodox, which experts say is keeping a sizeable chunk of Israelis from integrating into the workforce and is a ticking time bomb for the country's long-term economic health.

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    1. Extremism is a curse for whatever religion it lodges itself into.

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