Until now, the rising tide of Islamophobia in our country has mostly made my heart hurt. It now has succeeded in making my brain hurt. Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of Political Science at Wheaton College in Illinois, was suspended for making a Facebook post which stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Prior to Wheaton College administrators taking offense to this statement, I believed that to be a generally accepted fact. Islam and Christianity join Judaism in being Abrahamic faiths. That means all three religions trace their ancestry to the same spiritual patriarch who worshipped the One God. Therefore, when someone rebuffs the statement that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews, it makes my brain cramp.
A statement from Wheaton College as reported in the Chicago Tribune stated, “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer.”
There are fundamental differences between the two faiths. Of course there are. That’s why they are unique religions each with their own sacred texts and rituals which define their relationship to God. The same can be said of the differences between Christianity and Judaism. There are vast differences between Jewish and Christian views of God. The Christian scriptures (New Testament) express theology and eschatological predictions which are not shared by Judaism, and those readings of the Christian Scriptures affect the way they read the Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures or Old Testament). We may share a book, but we read it very differently. All three Abrahamic faiths define their relationship to God differently and regard revelation differently, but through those revelations we seek to establish relationships with one and the same God.
I have a hypothetical question: Would the administration of Wheaton College proclaim that Christians and Jews do not share the same God?
My guess is “no.” While I am not expert on Christian theology, or Muslim theology for that matter, I can say with confidence that the connection to the Jewish God is foundational to Christian belief. We differ on whether or not God had a son of flesh and blood intended to be the Messiah and who will return to redeem the world. That is a fundamental difference in belief, but it is a difference in belief about the same God. I also point out the irony that in one key aspect Christianity is closer to Islam than it is to Judaism. That is, as I understand from sitting on panels with Muslim colleagues, Islam regards Jesus as a prophet, which Judaism does not. Judaism believes prophecy closed in the time of the Tanach. We therefore do not regard Jesus’s teachings as true prophecy (messages directly from God). While the administrators of Wheaton College may be holding Judaism close as partners in sharing God, they are pushing away partners who believe their most important prophet was truly a prophet.
I do not write this with the intent of starting a Holy War. To paraphrase Billy Joel, “I didn’t start the fire…” But I would very much like to put it out. We can start by accepting that we all, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, have strong similarities at the very roots of our faiths. I remember being astonished at first to learn that Jews living in Arabic speaking countries addressed God as—wait for it—“Allah.” After some reflection, though it quickly made sense. Allah means God. Whether in a mosque or synagogue, the messages being sent toward the heavens may differ in form and content, but the recipient of both messages is the same. We can also put out the fire by acknowledging differences between our religions and, without animosity, simply agree to disagree. After all, it is more likely that we are all wrong, than any one of us is entirely correct about the existence, nature, revelation, and intentions of God. (That is the essence of humility in religion, but that will be another article). We should all be able to agree that ultimate Truth will be revealed on God’s timetable, not ours. In the meantime, we can believe and worship differently with mutual respect and stop being offended when someone points out our sameness. Wheaton College is a private institution and can act virtually as they wish with Professor Hawkins’ status as it relates to their Statement of Faith which is binding upon faculty. However, they really need to carefully re-examine their reasoning and consider what they really mean when they claim to know whose God is whose.
There. My brain feels a little better, but my heart still hurts.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace. Amen.