My time at Wheaton College has been occasionally enigmatic. Initially, a little over three years ago, I visited our beautiful campus and was blown away by the way people were allowed to have questions and explore their faith in unusual ways – this may be because I had come from a high school where there was only “one way” for a lot of things. From gender roles to race, Wheaton was actually quite liberal compared to my past exposure to education with Christian influence. I had been raised in a home with two parents that were very equal in their authority over my siblings and me, a mom that worked full-time, and was exposed to a diverse range of viewpoints on controversial topics in the church. These life experiences contributed to my feeling incredibly out of place at my high school, and I was ready to graduate.
Coming to Wheaton felt like I had finally gained freedom to educationally explore what I had already learned from my parents and some other very important adults in my life, because in many ways that had not been permissible without risk of reputation previously.
My freshman year I was blessed to have a wonderful RA who I happily call a close friend and confidant today. We regularly talked about race, gender roles, and sexuality, and she proudly boasted the title “feminist” which gave me courage to do the same. In addition, in my three years at Wheaton College, my life has been touched and changed in many ways, especially by my professors.Many of them have been intentional in how they love on students and provide safe spaces for meaningful and needed conversation about issues we may face inside and outside of our college years.
Because I have had so many life-giving moments at Wheaton College, the recent controversies regarding Dr. Hawkins, and Christian interaction with Muslims in general, have been more frustrating to me than I can really express. I have always tended to be more “liberal” on many social and church issues, which has often led me to have different opinions and beliefs than many Wheaton College students, but this was particularly upsetting to me.
I love what Wheaton College has given me – relationships with teachers and peers that challenge me to be a better person. But I also am genuinely confused that this same institution that impressed me with its ability to employ such a range of beliefs, all with the common denominator being a love for Jesus Christ, can use that same Jesus Christ as an excuse to, not only fail to love our Muslim brothers and sisters well, but turn a woman’s beautiful act of embodied solidarity into something shameful. I have never had the opportunity to take a class with Dr. Hawkins, but because I share similar convictions and attitudes, I stand with her, not in spite of my love for Jesus, but completely because of this love.
On January 16th, I was privileged to attend the “Day of Solidarity” at the Islamic Center of Wheaton. The purpose of the event was to confront the issue of the website hacking that happened recently through unity regardless of religion or race. Upon walking through the doors, I was warmly greeted by women who gave me a name tag and directed me to a room full of hot (and delicious) food and various people of the community sharing conversation. I chatted with some girls who were also college students, talking about everything from our majors to the recent events on campus. Eventually some men came and sat with us, and one asked me what my feelings were towards Dr. Hawkins’ suspension, as well as the general tension in the Evangelical community towards Muslims. After some thought I told him, “Sir, I believe, and I think that you do too, that faith that is based in fear is not good faith. I think that what has been happening recently is about fear, not religious conviction. Everyone believes what they do for a reason, but if it’s just because they’re afraid of others, or even God, that’s a pretty bad reason.” He looked at me and nodded, and I felt at home and part of a community–simply because a stranger asked for and validated my opinion.
We were soon called into the main room of worship, where Wheaton College professors and students, local Muslims, and other community members sat barefoot listening to the words of a panel of speakers from both Evangelical Christian and Islam faith. The overarching theme of the conference was that, while we may not believe all the same things, we do all believe that it is a sin to not stand against social injustices. It is a sin and it is wrong to bully and manipulate others. It is a sin to use your faith as an excuse to treat others poorly. It is also wrong to speak about people groups that you’ve never actually known a member of – I promise you that as soon as you add a relationship and a face to the “issue”, there no longer is a debate or a problem, because people are not problems.
I went simply expecting to eat some falafel, and I stayed for three hours wishing that all of my peers at Wheaton College could hear what I was hearing, because I believe with all my heart that what I was experiencing, the unity and sense of belonging that I felt in that room, was a moment of Heaven.
The bottom line is, we as Christians could argue for days on end about what we think the Bible does and does not say, who we believe God is and is not. But there are important things happening, matters, quite literally, of life and death – that you will probably miss if you’re busy arguing all the time. When we demonize people of other faiths, we are demonizing people made in God’s image. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we fail to take care of others, and when we mistreat people, we are mistreating Him. May we not dare to use His name as a way to exclude people. May we stop victimizing ourselves for the sake of “Truth”, because manipulating and hurting other people is the farthest thing from the God of Abraham’s truth. Our love for Christ drives us to take risks to love people in profound ways, even when we may have our character called into question, or find ourselves labeled as “heretics” or “liberals”.
Our love for a Savior that deeply and sacrificially loves us is what drives us to deeply and sacrificially love others. It is what drives us towards pursuing social justice. And, in the pursuit of social justice, there is peace in the unity of common purpose.