SBC Politics beyond Beth Moore (or will Southern Baptists save evangelicalism?)

I was listening to the Quick to Listen interview with Thomas Kidd about his new book, Who is An Evangelical, and heard a startling advertisement. Just about 32 minutes into the discussion, I heard Truett Seminary, the Southern Baptist institution for training ministers at Baylor University, plug its programs. Although the seminary describes itself as “orthodox” and “evangelical,” in that order, it also trains women to be pastors. The advertisement was explicit about that part of Truett’s endeavor. Here‘s an excerpt from a piece on Truett’s female alums:

Another reality for many Baptist women called to preach is whether to remain inside the Baptist denomination or to move to a denomination more open to female pastors. As Lillian enters her final semester at Truett, she is considering another denomination. As the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a Baptist all her life, this is a difficult decision to make. But Lillian is a woman in her fifties who has been divorced and she has to accept the fact that there may not be a place for her in Baptist life. She says, “I have already been turned down by one church as their music minister, because I was divorced. Being a woman and talking about preaching makes most people uncomfortable so I have to be careful what I say.” Lillian believes she is called to preach, not to divide churches. She loves the church and the people of God and believes that she will be a good pastor. Although the future is unclear, she resolves to remain hopeful, positive, and faithful to her call.

Leah also faced changing denominations, but says that she could not move because she is committed to Baptist beliefs and core ideas. She says, “…I see myself committing to this and so at the same time calling churches to committed to calling women, because I am not giving up on the Baptist church and the Baptist church doesn’t not need to be giving up on women either.”

Now, see if you can follow the bouncing balls.

Kidd has written a book about Protestants who have been generally opposed ordaining women. Evangelicals typically affirm traditional family values and roles for women (though that is not a big part of his book). Kidd is also a regular blogger at The Gospel Coalition which is firmly in the complementarian camp. The editors at Christianity Today who interviewed Kidd, at least one of them, is in a mainline Protestant denomination that ordains women. And the podcast is being sponsored by a Southern Baptist seminary that supports the ordination of women.

To add to potential confusion, maybe you younger readers have the visual dexterity, Kidd is going to teach part-time in the graduate programs at Midwestern Baptist Seminary, a school that admits women to the M.Div. but does not train them to preach:

Purpose: The Master of Divinity degree, Women’s Ministry concentration, cultivates a Christian lifestyle, offers instruction in classical theological disciplines, and develops theoretical understanding and practical skill related to women’s ministry.

Objectives: In addition to the Master of Divinity degree objectives, students graduating with the M.Div., Women’s Ministry concentration will be able to do the following:

Demonstrate understanding of the biblical and theological foundations of women’s ministry in the local church.

Demonstrate increased skill in the practice and leadership of women’s ministries in the local church.

In fact, women at MBTS take courses not in preaching but teaching.

If you want an additional shell to follow, consider that Ed Stetzer went from Lifeway Christian Resources to Wheaton College. Lifeway is the publisher for the SBC but also controlled by conservatives, the ones who are inerrantists and generally oppose female pastors. The moderates in the SBC look to Smyth & Helwys as their publisher for theology and biblical commentary. Wheaton College has many faculty in denominations that ordain women and even has had some female professors who are ordained to preach.

So, go ahead, try and correlate Southern Baptist conservatives with evangelicals. I dare you. See if it makes any sense for evangelical (what used to be a Yankee word in the SBC) institutions to establish closer ties with Southern Baptists except for increasing readership, audiences, enrollments, and subscriptions.

It makes you wonder about looking to conservatives in the SBC for leadership in evangelical circles if only because the Convention may be as soupy as evangelicalism. Look at what Trump has done to turn Southern Baptist conservatives from supporting Republicans to dabbling with progressives. Withdrawing support from the GOP is fine. It’s a free country. But it took Trump to do that?

And yet, because of their size and their presence in evangelical institutions like Christianity Today, Wheaton College, and The Gospel Coalition, Southern Baptists, no matter the previous identification with Republicans and their opposition to female preachers, are in a position to dominate an evangelical world that has no obvious successor to Billy Graham and the institutions that grew up around his endeavors.

Maybe the solution is Beth Moore. Maybe she can transcends all the parties and unite moderates and conservatives in the SBC along with evangelicals. Maybe she is the next Billy Graham. That way, if you like her, as George Marsden had it about Graham, you can be an evangelical.

Selective Implicit Bias

The journalistic treatment of the Larycia Hawkins controversy at Wheaton College is out (written by a lapsed Orthodox Presbyterian no less). Once again evidence of academic naivete cloaked in a pose of dissent and asking hard questions emerges.

I have no problem with Dr. Hawkins questioning jingoistic American patriotism or American Protestants who wrap themselves in the flag. American civil religion is national patriotism at it worst and Protestants have been especially egregious in their fawning over American greatness (though for the last 30 years they have had lots of help from Neuhaus Roman Catholics). But if you challenge Americanism, don’t you also have to question Islam?

A year or two after arriving on campus, [Hawkins] developed a distaste for performances of patriotism and decided to stop saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. “I feel very strongly that my first allegiance is to a different kingdom than an earthly kingdom,” she told me. “It’s to a heavenly kingdom, and it’s to the principles of that kingdom.” Evangelicals tend to emphasize righteousness on an individual scale, but Hawkins was becoming attracted to theological traditions that emphasize systemic sin and repentance.

In particular, she was reading a lot of black liberation theology, a strain of thinking that emerged from the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Jesus’ central mission was to liberate the oppressed, the philosophy argues, but mainstream American Christianity is beholden to irredeemably corrupt “white theology.” The tone of black liberation is often angry — think of Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God damn America” sermon — and conservative evangelicals are wary of it because of its theological pessimism and its politically radical roots. But Hawkins was beginning to view many of the Bible’s commands through a lens of race and class. “Theology is always contextual,” she told me, a core idea of black liberation theology. She said that evangelicals have trouble confronting “an ontological blackness of Christ.” Responding to Wheaton’s charge for professors to “integrate faith and learning,” she took these ideas into the classroom.

Fine. But an academic’s job is also to ask hard questions about Islam, liberation theology, and Jeremiah Wright. It’s not fair selecting which ox you gore.

Why Expect Mid-Westerns to Transcend Time and Place?

If other folks are products of their environment, why should the faculty and administration at Wheaton College be any different? Alan Jacobs, though, thinks that Wheaton College is provincial (and implicitly that non-white evangelicals coming through graduate school and advanced degrees hold on to their inherited culture):

I believe — I have good reason to believe — that Wheaton really, truly, seriously wants to have a faculty and student body that is more reflective of the ethnic and cultural range of worldwide evangelical Christianity. But I also saw, during my twenty-nine years on the Wheaton faculty and several years as director of the Faculty Faith and Learning program, far too many situations in which non-white faculty members were treated, if not with outright suspicion, then at least with bemusement and puzzlement, because they did not express themselves in ways that matched the cultural practices of white midwestern evangelicalism.

Heck, if the Vatican curia can’t escape the cultural blinders that come with Rome, why would we expect little old Wheaton to do so much better? I mean, with all the efforts to make Christianity of late into a cultural project, all of a sudden we’re going to expect Christians through regeneration and sanctification to act like this world is not their home, but they’re just a passin’ through? As if that pietist outlook was not the product of time and place?

If Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God, Can't the Forgiven and Unforgiven Too?

The latest from Wheaton College is that Larycia Hawkins and the College have agreed to part ways. In the leaks that led to this apparently amicable determination was an email from Wheaton’s provost, Stan Jones, who apologized for his handling of the incident. According to Alan Jacobs, Jones wrote:

I asked Dr. Hawkins for her forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the fracture of our relationship, and to the fracture of Dr. Hawkins’ relationship with the College…. I apologized for my lack of wisdom and collegiality as I initially approached Dr. Hawkins, and for imposing an administrative leave more precipitously than was necessary.

But according to some of Jones’ critics, this apology doesn’t go far enough, as Jacobs explains, “because it does not acknowledge Wheaton’s history (and present) of structural racism and sexism.”

Jacobs then asks:

What if, when a brother in Christ apologizes and asks for forgiveness, one were to grant that forgiveness — instead of immediately criticizing him for not having provided a fully adequate account of the reasons he went astray?

I’d follow up with another question: doesn’t the spirit of Dr. Hawkins’ show of solidarity with Muslims provide an analogy for how Jones’ critics might reach out to Wheaton’s provost? I mean, if you can overcome the division between Islam and Christianity by donning a hijab during Advent, can’t you go without a latte for the month of February to show solidarity with Wheaton’s administration?

Jacobs concludes:

So to those who say that Provost Jones’ apology is inadequate, my answer would be: of course it is inadequate. Every act of penitence, including yours and mine, is inadequate.

That could also be instructive for those who think Purgatory is going to take care of residual human guilt. Once humans sin — think one little bite of a piece of fruit — can you ever go back to being acceptable inherently?

No hope without alien righteousness.

We're Closer to Turkey than You Think?

This may be the most important context for considering the controversy over Islam at Wheaton College, namely, that Americans themselves are not all that comfortable with secularity and Islam reveals where the lumps in the mattress are. Rod Dreher quoted a poignant part of Ross Douthat’s column on how the West views Islam, as either as conservatives believe “radically incompatible with Western liberal democracy, and can never be reconciled to it; or, as many liberals believe, it is capable of assimilating to become as tame and non-threatening as most forms of Christianity and Judaism in the West.” In the Protestant world, either Larycia Hawkins or Tim Bayly. According to Douthat:

The good news is that there is space between these two ideas. The bad news is that we in the West can’t seem to agree on what that space should be, or how Christianity and Judaism, let alone Islam, should fit into it.

Devout Muslims watching current Western debates, for instance, might notice that some of the same cosmopolitan liberals who think of themselves as Benevolent Foes of Islamophobia are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.

They also might notice that many of the same conservative Christians who fear that Islam is incompatible with democracy are wrestling with whether their own faith is compatible with the direction of modern liberalism, or whether Christianity needs to enter a kind of internal exile in the West.

It almost sounds like Turkey’s war between Islamic friendly politicians and secularists, from a piece quoted sometime back from Mustafa Akyol:

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other. . . .

The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the French laïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.

What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power.

Unlike Turkey, though, and the conflict between religion and laicite, could the struggle in the U.S. be the one that animated fundamentalists and modernists during the 1920s? The political left in the United States, like modernists, does not advocate the removal of religion from public life. They like religion (think Martin Luther King, Jr.). Jim Wallis is not a threat to them.

So too, the right also likes religion of the right sort (see what I did there?). It used to be Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Now it’s Rick Santorum and Kim Davis.

The problem is that both left and right embrace a form of American exceptionalism that needs religion to endow the United States with a righteous or holy purpose.

In that case, if we are still living with the dynamics of the fundamentalist controversy, has the United States learned lessons it can pass on to the Muslim world?

Ecumenism vs. Going It Alone

The discussion of Larycia Hawkin’s situation continues.

Rod Dreher thinks Wheaton is right to protect its theological borders since it has refused employment to Roman Catholics:

Wheaton does police its margins carefully. Catholics are not allowed to teach there, not because Wheaton’s leadership think Catholics are bad people, but because they do not believe a faithful Catholic can affirm the institution’s standards. If I were a professor, as an Orthodox Christian, I couldn’t teach there either. Do I think that is excessive? Probably. But I admire Wheaton’s willingness to take a hard stand, even when they are mocked by outsiders. It requires the kind of courage and confidence that one doesn’t often see among Christian churches and institutions these days, and that will be desperately needed in the years to come, by all of us.

But Noah Toly, one of the first Wheaton faculty wonders if the goal posts move when Wheaton talks about theological borders:

The standard to which Dr. Hawkins is being held is that of “theological clarity” in embodying the identity of the college and Statement of Faith. It is immensely important to recognize this. Faculty may hold various controversial positions within the bounds of the Statement of Faith. The more complex those positions, the more they demand a sort of clear articulation – otherwise, they invite misunderstanding. The standard of theological clarity is not, in and of itself, problematic. But the operationalization of that standard is fraught. (Adam Laats’ commentary on this is good, if slightly overstated.) Is the same level of nuance, subtlety, complexity, and elaboration required of everyone? Or, given the insistence that theological clarity is particularly important when we participate in various movements and initiatives, is the same level of nuance, subtlety, complexity, and elaboration required regardless of the political, social, and cultural affinities of those movements? Has the college itself transparently offered faculty and other constituents the same level of nuance, subtlety, complexity, and elaboration that now seems required of us?

Exactly. This is why I hope Wheaton does not eliminate Hawkins from its faculty. The college is mainly “evangelical,” but faculty have hardly agreed on the meaning of the institution’s minimalist statement of faith.

Dreher also invokes a piece by Alan Jacobs written almost a decade ago when Wheaton let go a faculty member who converted to Roman Catholicism. Jacobs wondered if Wheaton was wise to rely on its own brand of conservative Christianity:

…throughout much of American history and late into the twentieth century, evangelicals and Catholics had little to do with one another. They came, by and large, from different ethnic groups; they lived in different neighborhoods and even in different regions of the country; they went to different schools—in short, they were socialized into American culture in dramatically different ways. Throughout much of its history Wheaton College’s leaders would have reacted with horror at the thought of Catholics on the faculty—but they would have been highly unlikely to entertain that thought in the first place. Catholic scholars would have been equally unlikely to think of teaching at Wheaton. Duane Litfin is right to say that Wheaton is getting hammered for taking a position that, as recently as thirty years ago, scarcely anyone on either side of the Reformational divide would have questioned.

But times have changed. And here is where the correctness of Hochschild’s position comes in. He is not the only Catholic to look at Wheaton’s Statement of Faith and think, “Yes, that suits me very well.” Having served on hiring committees a number of times in Wheaton’s English department, I have seen dozens of applications from Catholic scholars who see nothing in Wheaton’s self-description that would rule them out.

But I sure wish Jacobs had considered where Roman Catholics may be coming from when looking at Wheaton’s doctrinal affirmation. After all, their bishops’ ecumenical discussions on justification have been with the most liberal sector of Lutheran communions:

Acting as it does as a summary and analysis of five decades of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, 2015’s Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist will undoubtedly be a helpful touchstone in future ecumenical discussions between the two traditions. For that reason, the representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Bishop’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) who authored the work are to be commended. The document is worthy of careful reading.

Of course, it is also important to note that the synthesis presented here represents an understanding of Lutheranism not necessarily shared by all churches who claim the name. The Lutheran side of these dialogues has been primarily represented by churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Other Lutheran churches, like those represented by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), may not agree in every respect with the Lutheran position as presented in these past dialogues, even as they praise other elements of the discussions.

Meanwhile, the bishop responsible for identifying doctrine infallibly helped to produce a video that has him walking along side religious expressions far more objectionable than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Why This Won't End Well For Wheaton

If Bill Smith thinks Michelle Higgins’ endorsement of Black Lives Matter at Urbana won’t end well for the PCA, imagine what will happen when the BLM folks figure out that a black professor may be about to lose her job at a white-dominated college. An African-American tenured professor!!!! HELLO! And students at Princeton think they need to be worried about “safe” spaces.

And if that happens, it is really too bad. I was almost persuaded by Dr. Hawkins’ theological explanation of her remarks. I am convinced that she is trying in thoughtful ways to maintain the College’s standards. When she said, “I understand that Islam (and Judaism) denies the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and leaves no room for the Cross and the Resurrection,” I was encouraged. She seemed to be ready to recognize the particularity of Christianity and the uniqueness of Christ.

But then she added, “my statement is not a statement on soteriology or trinitarian theology, but one of embodied piety. When I say that ‘we worship the same God,’ I am saying what Stackhouse points out, namely that ‘when pious Muslims pray, they are addressing the One True God, and that God is, simply, God.'”

Well, what about a piety that embodies soteriology or the Trinity? How can you have a Christian devotion that only embodies the first article of the Nicene Creed?

Hawkins continued by trying to justify her remarks on the basis of the doctrine of creation: “it is on the basis of our very statement of faith that ‘We believe that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of original righteousness,’ that I am compelled to address all human beings as my ‘brothers and sisters.'”

For nine years I have signed a statement of faith which avers that all human beings originate from the same parents and bear the unalterable imago Dei – though no specific reference is made in the statement as to the process of that historic, original creation. Yes, when we Christians speak of our unity in and as the body of Christ, of course our unity stems from our identification with Christ. But my statement is not a statement of ecclesiology or baptismal regeneration or identification with Christ. It is simply and clearly a statement on the imago Dei, and a reflection of my African-American cultural heritage. It should not be misconstrued as anything different.

So, yes, when I call “fellow humans who happen to be Muslims [or Jews or atheists] my brothers and sisters” I am standing in full agreement with the Wheaton College statement of faith, identifying each person as an image-bearer of God.

Why can’t the distinction between creation and redemption (think 2k) supply the way out here? Why can’t Hawkins recognize the unity of the human race in the ex nihilo creation of the world by the only living and true God? Why isn’t that enough to affirm the worth of Muslims? Why not even appeal to the status of Muslims as citizens of the United States?

But as is so often the case with those who don’t distinguish between the temporal and eternal, the affirmations of unity based on creational norms lose momentum for accomplishing something truly noteworthy. Hawkins wants to seem to say this unity with Muslims goes somewhere special, so the sphere of redemption comes to the rescue. But that is precisely the area — in Christ — where Christian unity excludes Muslims. The former worship on Sunday in a church. The latter on Friday in a mosque.

Why can’t they simply get along on all the other days? Hawkins is right to resist letting redemption separate Muslims and Christians in creation. What she doesn’t seem to recognize is that the unity of creation can’t make up for the antithesis that Christ introduced:

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10)

No matter what Black Lives Matter finds out about Hawkins, Christ’s words don’t encourage me to think this will end well.

Wheaton College: For Christ, His Kingdom, and Islam?

Thanks to John Fea I now know about a graduate of Wheaton College, Aaron Griffith, who thinks that Dr. Larcyia Hawkins is simply doing what the institution’s founder, Charles Blanshard, would do (WWCBD?):

With this history in mind, Hawkins’s activism on behalf of Muslims begins to look a lot less like an aberration and more in keeping with the original vision of the college. The antebellum evangelical tradition Hawkins drew upon was one primarily concerned with upholding human dignity and advocating for those on the margins. Muslims facing discrimination and threats of violence in present-day American life surely fit that description.

In 1842, Jonathan Blanchard preached a sermon on slavery before a church synod in Cincinnati. Over eight pages, he presented forceful arguments against slaveholding Christians, pointing out flaws in their Biblical exegesis and showing how “the property-holding of men is the worst conceivable form, and the last possible degree of oppression.”

During his sermon, Blanchard spent two short paragraphs in the sermon talking about the doctrine of God, where he argued that “Whatever leads men to regard Jehovah as something different from what he is, prevents their acting towards him as they ought.” It was clear from these few lines that Blanchard saw theological precision as an important good.

But Blanchard was not especially worried about muddled theology in and of itself. Instead he argued that slavery corrupted “true religion.” Failure to love one’s neighbor or denounce oppression was the real theological problem.

Hawkins, with her stress on “embodied solidarity” with her Muslim neighbors, would have found herself in good company in 1842. She drew not on liberal theology, secularized notions of human rights or shared American identity, but on a robust evangelical tradition of the biblical call to advocate on behalf of people made in the image of God.

So what happened to Wheaton? According to Griffith who follows John Schmalzbauer, it’s fundamentalism’s fault:

In the early 20th century, dancing, card playing, and theater attendance replaced slavery and mistreatment of Indians as Wheaton’s moral bugaboos. Focus on the fundamentals unfortunately meant that social concerns were often swept aside, and, as religion scholar John Schmalzbauer has shown, fundamentalists tied to Wheaton propounded their own brands of Christian bigotry (in this case anti-Semitism).

Schmalzbauer alleged anti-Semitism was part of Wheaton’s past (even though the dots were pretty disconnected):

In 2010 I returned to campus to deal with some of these ghosts. In a lecture series commemorating Wheaton’s 150th anniversary, I lamented the history of Protestant bigotry in my native Twin Cities, focusing on two fundamentalist firebrands. Together, they led journalist Carey McWilliams to declare Minneapolis the “capital of anti-Semitism in the United States.” Welcoming the paramilitary Silver Shirts to the First Baptist Church (“Why Shiver at the Sight of a Shirt?”), William Bell Riley actively promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion throughout the Upper Midwest. Preaching a similar message, Luke Rader’s River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle was deemed “the worst place, barring none in the Twin Cities, as far as anti-Semitic vitriol.” Both men had ties to Wheaton College. While Riley preached the funeral sermon for Wheaton’s second President Charles Blanchard, Rader’s brother Paul was a college trustee.

But what do these Wheaton grads think Wheaton was back in the days of Jonathan Blanchard? Lena Dunham’s Oberlin? George Marsden’s reasons for including Wheaton’s founder and founder’s son in his history of — ahem — fundamentalism were sound, even common sensical:

These fights [against Masonry and Roman Catholicism] were simultaneously conservative and radical. Blannchard, who had by now been joined in his campaigns by his son Charles, believed that America was a “Christian nation” and worked for a Christian amendment to the Constitution. Their concepts of Christian ideals, however, showed little regard for prevailing middle-class stands. The 1874 platform of the National Christian Association included recognition of Christianity in the United States Constitution, Sabbath and prohibition laws, outlawing secret lodges, preservation of the “civil equality secured to all American citizens by articles 13th, 14th, and 15th of our amended Constitution,” international arbitration for peace, that “land and other monopolies be discountenance,” “justice to Indians,” abolition of the Electoral Colleges, and election of the President and Vice President by direct vote of the people….

Jonathan Blanchard’s son Charles, thought deeply dedicated to preserving his father’s views, completed Wheaton’s transition into the new evangelical and eventually fundamentalist outlook. The alliance with the Moody forces was clearly the crucial step…. By the end of his career, Charles was a significant figure in the fundamentalist movement. In 1919 he drafted the doctrinal statement of the Word’s Christian Fundamentals Association and in 1926 arch-fundamentalist William Bell Riley delivered the eulogy at his funeral…. Among [Blanchard’s] favorite texts, recalled from his anti-Masonic forays, were “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” and “Come out from among them and be separate. (Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 29, 31)

We don’t need selective history to justify cherry-picked theology.

Yes, it’s a shame if Dr. Hawkins loses her position over her remarks. Yes, it’s tough for administrators to protect faculty privileges while also maintaining institutional identity (not to mention satisfying alumni and donors).

But we don’t need to make up theology or history to justify our own rooting interests. The idea that the Blanchards would have been on the side of Muslims is risible, almost as funny as thinking that anyone would want to justify an institutional policy or personal conviction today by appealing to — wait for it — Jonathan and Charles Blanchard. Those guys would chew any contemporary Protestant up and spit us out. If they’d do that to Protestants dot dot dot

It's Not A Reason to Re-Think Islam but to Wonder about Graham

John Schmalzbauer has an intriguing point about the kerfuffle at Wheaton over Christians and Muslims worshiping the same God. Previous administrators (before Phil Ryken) had signed a statement affirming solidarity between Christians and Muslims:

In November 2007 Wheaton’s president, provost, and chaplain signed a major statement on Christian-Muslim understanding that appeared in The New York Times. Calling for peace between the two religions, the document affirmed “our common love for God and for one another.” The 300 signatories included megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In January 2008, the statement drew strong rebukes from Minnesota Pastor John Piper and Southern Baptist educator Albert Mohler. Though Wheaton’s leaders later retracted their signatures, they continued to embrace the goal of peacemaking.

Schmalzbauer also adds details to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab during Advent. A visit to a local Islamic center greased the skids:

On December 10 a group of faculty visited the Islamic Center of Wheaton. As they noted in a handwritten card: “We were inspired by another to also bring these flowers as a sign of our love and friendship. Our Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus show us that everyone is a brother and sister created in the image of God. We are glad you are part of the community.” That evening Larycia Hawkins announced her decision to wear a hijab on Facebook.

But rather than using this precedent to advise Dr. Hawkins to follow suit and retract her statement, Schmalzbauer hopes that Wheaton will follow one of its most famous alumni and board members, Billy Graham, who wrote:

He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

As has been the case with many who side with Hawkins, Schmalzbauer thinks that theological rejections of Islam as false or of Muslims as non-Christian (well, duh) are akin to nativism and anti-Semitism:

Reverberating through history, these questions are at the heart of a recent dustup at my alma mater, Wheaton College. Swirling around the school’s relationship with American Muslims, they summon the ghosts of evangelicalism’s past, including some of my own. Known as the Harvard of the evangelicals, Wheaton College has often struggled with the problem of who is in and who is out. From the pugnaciousness of the World Christian Fundamentals Association (the source of Wheaton’s 1926 statement of faith) to the irenic spirit of Billy Graham (an anthropology major from the class of 1943), the college has shaped the boundaries of modern evangelicalism. Far from static, these lines have shifted over the course of the past century. So has the relationship between evangelicalism and other religious traditions. Once plagued by nativism and anti-Semitism (still a problem in some quarters), evangelicals have reached out to Catholics and Jews. Now some are befriending their Muslim neighbors, leading others to reassert the boundary between Christianity and Islam.

With a name like Schmalzbauer and with a chair in Protestant studies, you might think author had come across two-kingdom theology somewhere along the line. If he had, Schmalzbauer should know that keeping Muslims (or Jews or Roman Catholics) from membership in a Protestant congregation is not the same thing as restricting their movements either as immigrants or citizens. Which is more important is another matter. But without 2k, as we so often see, Christians both on the left and the right tend to collapse theology and political theory such that Christianity becomes a function of how you conceive of the United States.

Hawkins and Schmalzbauer are right to empathize with Muslims legally in the United States and to stand against expressions of Islamophobia. John Fea thinks it’s the best piece yet written about Wheaton, Hawkins, and Islam. I wonder: why do you need to be a Christian to stand up for the civil rights of Muslims? More pointedly, what happens if a devout Muslim thinks your solidarity is condescending (think men saying women are just as good as men)?

Postscript: it looks like not even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would endorse Schmalzbauer’s quotation from Billy Graham. Even before Charlie Hebdo, southern California, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., BGEA tapped Al Mohler to respond to Dr. Hawkins:

Does God care what we call Him? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same god? These are questions many Christians are asking these days, and for good reason.

For some time now, feminist theologians and a host of others have suggested that Christians should adopt new names for God. One denomination went so far as to affirm names like “Giver, Gift and Giving” in place of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to be used in worship. Feminist theologians have demanded that masculine pronouns and names for God be replaced with female or gender-neutral terms. But to change the name of God is to redefine the God we reference. Changing the name of God is no small matter.

As a matter of fact, God takes His name very seriously, and the Ten Commandments include the command that we must not take the name of the Lord in vain. We are to use the names God has given for Himself, and we are to recognize that God takes His name seriously because He desires to be rightly known by His human creatures. We cannot truly know Him if we do not even know His name.

Moses understood this. When he encountered the call of God that came from the burning bush, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answered Moses, “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15).

As these verses make clear, we are not to tamper with God’s name. We are to use the names whereby God has named Himself, and we are to recognize that any confusion about the name of God will lead to confusion about the nature of God, if not to idolatry.

Christians must keep this central principle from the Bible constantly in mind as we consider some of the most urgent questions we face in the world today. We must certainly have this principle in mind when we think about Islam.

Several years ago, a bishop in the Netherlands attracted controversy when he argued that Christians should call God “Allah” in order to lower theological tensions. He also argued that calling God “Allah” would be commonplace in Christian churches within a century and that this would lead to a synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

More recently, an Islamic court in Malaysia ruled that only Muslims can use the name “Allah” in print publications. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community,” the chief judge ruled. Oddly enough, Christians may well agree with this Islamic judge. To call God “Allah” is to invite confusion.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself to us in many names. These names are His personal property. We did not invent these names for God. To the contrary, God revealed these names as His own.

We have no right to modify or to revise these names—much less to reject them. Jesus Christ made this abundantly clear. In the simplest way imaginable, Jesus teaches us to know God as Father, and to use this name in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” By the grace that God has shown us in Christ, we can truly know Him as Father.

This is America, not The United States of Monotheists

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.