I am still trying to wrap my mind around the Christians who are rallying to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins from Wheaton College for her decision to wear a hijab during Advent to show solidarity with Muslims. During Advent? Whatever happened to the integrity of the church calendar!!!! What about the feelings of high church Anglicans? We’re not even supposed to sing Christmas carols before Christmas day, but an Islamic head covering in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth? Someone’s feelings are always going to be hurt.
The trouble I’m having is that such shows of solidarity with Muslims come most recently after the shootings in southern California, the shootings in Paris last month, and the Charlie Hebdo killings of over a year ago. And then there is ISIS and ISIL — hello. Are all Muslims guilty of all these circumstances? Of course, not. But why do some evangelicals have such trouble understanding why Americans (not to mention Frenchmen and women) are a tad worried about Islamism and don’t know for the life of them exactly how to tell the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist (especially when some of the Muslims most likely to turn radical are the least observant)? Why also is it so easy for evangelicals to know that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is unworthy of solidarity if he recommends carrying guns when some Muslims actually do carry guns and use them?
The best I can do is come up with two American traits. The first is the American habit of identifying with the underdog. We like to root for the team with a remote chance of winning (except for Roman Catholic converts). Muslims are a small percentage of the American population. That makes them an underdog (though resorting to acts of terrorism does not).
The second trait is tolerance. All Americans, both on the left and right, affirm freedom of religion and speech in some fashion. We have a Bill of Rights and everyone loves liberty. Christians don’t celebrate freedom for gay rights activists and gay rights activists don’t go out of their way to protect the freedoms of cake decorators. Consistency is not the point. America should not exhibit bigotry. We should welcome anyone and not profile on the basis of race, religion, economic status, or place. Profiling on the basis of political party (Hilary identifies Republicans as her enemy) is fine. But no one teaching at an institution of higher learning wants to be confused with Donald Trump.
Still, Dr. Hawkins’ decision about how to observe Advent and the Christian support for her seems to go beyond these basic American ideals. It suggests an identification with the exotic, opposition to bigotry, and displaying one’s own progressive credentials. After all, it’s the Fox News watchers who are worried about Islam. It’s Jerry Falwell, Jr., a fundamentalist, who is seeming guilty of Islamophobia. So the logic seems to go — I’ll run the other way to show that I am not like them. Why showing solidarity with Christians who are afraid of political Islam doesn’t also display love and empathy is not at all obvious.
For Pete Enns, it’s a classic case of inerrancy vs. xenophia:
People are watching, and they haven’t read Wheaton’s statement of faith or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
They’re just interested in seeing how Christians respond to a global crisis right here at home.
They want to see whether the rumors are true and their suspicions accurate, that Christians are as bigoted and xenophobic as they accuse others of being.
They want to see whether our actions are different from those of any other ideology.
As if not identifying with killers in southern California is bigoted.
Miroslav Volf tries for an analogy between Islam and Judaism, as if to suggest Christians should grant the same breadth to Muslims that they do to Jews:
Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?
Well, some Christians don’t think Jewish people and Christians are people of the same faith; they’ve read Paul (for starters).
John Fea, who quotes Volf, wonders if Hawkins is simply trying to say something generic by resorting to theology:
I think Hawkins is trying to say that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged. And they should be acknowledged, and even celebrated, for Christian reasons–namely the Imago Dei. So I am not sure that someone saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a statement that is necessarily out of bounds at a Christian college, but it must be carefully nuanced and explained.
Fea is on to something, more below, but should theology really function like this precisely when doctrine has historically divided people(even Christians)?
But here’s the thing. While many Christians are trying to distance themselves from xenophobia and bigotry, are they really prepared for the illiberality of Islam? After all, it’s not as if Islam is on the side of liberty, democracy, equal rights, and progress — all the things that those identifying with Muslims would likely affirm in the most whiggish of terms.
Consider, for instance, the current political footprint of Islam in nations where its followers have power. Again, I am not trying to engage in outrage porn. But consider the people who monitor liberal causes and then see if the Christians identifying with Islam are ready for everything involved with that identification.
For example, have these folks considered the significance of wearing a head scarf in Iran?
Women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran, to the point where women are even forbidden from watching men’s sports in stadiums. That ban includes Iran’s national obsession – volleyball.
Human Rights Watch is launching a new campaign, #Watch4Women, to support Iranian women fighting this ugly discrimination. What we’re asking is simple: that the International Volleyball Federation, known as the FIVB, uphold its own rules and agree not to allow Iran to host future tournaments – unless it allows Iranian women to attend. . . .
You see this played out across women’s lives. Women in Iran are forced to wear the hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, in public. This even applies to young schoolgirls, who are required to wear the head covering to attend elementary school.
Moreover, married women can’t even leave the country without their husband’s permission. In fact, in September the captain of Iran’s female football (soccer) team, Niloufar Ardalan, couldn’t play in an international tournament in Malaysia because her husband forbade her from traveling.
Iran does allow women to play sports, like football and volleyball. But none of these women are allowed to do something as simple as watch men play volleyball, even if their brothers, sons, or husbands are playing. In fact, Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, a dual Iranian-British national, was arrested when she tried to attend a volleyball game in Tehran. Police are often posted around stadiums, in part to keep women out.
Or what about what’s going on in Saudi Arabia under the rule of an Islamic monarchy?
At last, Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record is getting media scrutiny, thanks in part to news that Saudi authorities plan to lash 74-year-old Karl Andree, a British cancer survivor, 350 times for possessing homemade alcohol. Flogging in the kingdom entails a series of strikes with a wooden cane, with blows distributed across the back and legs, normally not breaking the skin but leaving bruises.
This ruling comes after a year of bizarre and cruel punishments meted out by the Saudi judiciary, including the public flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi in January and a death sentence for Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi man accused of protest-related activities allegedly committed before he was 18 years old.
Or does identifying with Islam include the anti-blasphemy laws in Islamic Pakistan?
Earlier today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the death penalty conviction of Aasia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Bibi fell afoul of the law in June 2009 following an altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was “unclean” because she was Christian. On November 8, 2009, the Sheikhupura District Court convicted her under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and ruled that there were “no mitigating circumstances.” In January 2010, a security officer assassinated the governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, for visiting Bibi in prison and denouncing her conviction.
Do evangelical academics really want to show solidarity with Muslims now? Some journalists even question whether the progressive New York Times should sponsor tours to Iran because of the authoritarian character of the nation’s Islamic government. Do folks like Hawkins, Enns and Wolf read the news? Showing solidarity with Islam now seems as confused as identifying Woodrow Wilson as the most profoundly Christian statesman of the twentieth century at precisely the same time that people at Wilson’s university don’t share that opinion.
Once again, as is so often the case when Christians opine about matters of common interest, the real problem is a confusion of categories. So two-kingdoms theology again to the rescue. What’s wrong with showing solidarity with Muslims a little more narrowly than John Fea proposed? Why can’t we identify with Muslims living in the United States as Americans (or people who want to be citizens)? As such, Christians and Muslims would be people who support freedom of religion, speech, association, as well as laws against murder. The way to do this might be to wear the hijab or (for men) shemagh on Presidents’ Day, July Fourth, the three weeks of March Madness. What does Advent have to do with it? And such an identification allows us to affirm something that we really do have in common — the greatest nation on God’s green earth as opposed to the places of worship that actually keep Muslims and Christians separate.
But if you think that Christian identity goes all the way down, if you fear the dualism of the sacred and secular, if you want religion in the public square, if you think faith must inform your judgments even as you carry out duties as a citizen, then you will have to resort to something like theology to identify with Muslims.
This is all the more reason why recognizing the difference between the secular and sacred realms frees Christians to be Christians rather than having to smuggle it in to do something it was never designed to do — turn Islam into Christianity.