When Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins stands before a group of her peers next month for their judgment, at stake will be not only Hawkins but the future of evangelicalism.
Or that’s how it can feel these days on the campus of the Illinois college sometimes dubbed “the evangelical Harvard.” Evangelical debate has been intense about whether the hijab-wearing political science professor went too far in saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The debate has raised larger questions: How large is the evangelical tent, and who decides who is included?
There is no official hierarchy for one of the country’s largest faith communities, and the debate over whom can be labeled an evangelical is particularly relevant as presidential candidates clamor for the “evangelical vote.”
This week, Wheaton’s faculty council, which represents the college’s 211 faculty, unanimously voted to recommend the administration withdraw its efforts to fire Hawkins and to end her administrative leave, citing “grave concerns” about the process.
The dispute is splitting those affiliated with the college, the alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham and considered one of the standard-bearers of U.S. evangelicalism. Alumni have flooded the college with letters and the evangelical magazine Christianity Today — without picking a side — warned that the issue “threatens to undo” the college.