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Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

“Is national grieving still possible?” Russell Moore asked yesterday, for good reason. The Orlando shootings have unmasked a sad reality which, if it continues to spread, doesn’t bode well for the United States going forward: that for many Americans, exploiting the angles of cultural identity politics is more important than expressing common humanity and compassion (e.g., by offered prayers, cries of lament, calls for aid). Not a few words of unqualified, unreserved grief and kindness have been met with something like: “Until you support legislation/programme X, your expressions of grief aren’t worth a single molecule of spit from your vile mouth.”

Also unsettling: several important facts from Orlando — like what the killer’s precise motives and associations were — are only just now being established with something like solid precision. But in many quarters the commentary, spin, and blame cycles ran faster than the investigative and reporting cycles. Instead of digging up and beholding the stubborn facts in all their terror and sordidness — and complexity — the priority of the day was to transform just outrage at a profoundly evil act into hatred against Group X.

Such responses haven’t, thank God, been universal or even predominant. But they have been common. Far too common. Where the expression of human grief and the practical alleviation of human pain are less weighty matters than which Reichstag Fire Narrative wins, there is a disease in the public mind. If you have been smacked down by Bizarro Nation for expressions of grief and sympathy, even for organizing or participating in relief efforts, do not be discouraged. Carry on. You are the sane ones.

That said, since it is imperative that our love “abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment,” none of us ought be obtuse about the following realities:

(1) The fifty persons who have died, and the one-hundred and three who were shot, were shot at a gay nightclub. The killer targeted his victims because they are gay. Therefore, while constructive responses to this act of terrorism must be general and national, not factional, it will not do to blind ourselves to the fact that all persons and communities which identify as LGBT, and friends and family of LGBT persons, are and for some time will be suffering from particularly acute grief for their loved ones and fear for their safety. Note that, respect it, and act accordingly;

(2) The murderer-terrorist in Orlando was a Muslim. Therefore, it will likewise not do to blind ourselves to the fact that Muslims and Muslim communities in the United States are and for some time will be uniquely subject to, and suffering from elevated fear of, backlash. Note that, respect it, and act accordingly;

(3) Whenever terrorists strike, two opposite errors will appear to tempt us: first, “the killer was a totally unique monster, an unhinged lone wolf”; second, “the killer is the true face of Bogeyman Group X which, given half the chance, stands ready to mobilize an army of people to go and do likewise.” Note both errors well, note that they are in fact errors, and avoid them.

May the recently departed rest in peace. Grace and peace to those whose homes and communities have been and will be particularly affected by this evil.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

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I thought I was done writing about the Dr. Larycia Hawkins-Wheaton College controversy before Christmas. Alas, Mercer Professor David Gushee has now felt the need to add his extraordinary motive-parsing powers to those of Brian McLaren and Miroslav Volf. Specifically, Dr. Gushee charges that Wheaton was motivated by “fear,” the fear of offending a politically conservative constituency. Like Volf and McLaren before him, Gushee supports his charges with lots of conjecture and no evidence.

But there’s a deftly-executed shift between the penultimate paragraph of Dr. Gushee’s article and his closing lament which ought not pass unnoticed. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of the basketball player who throws sneaky elbows when the ref isn’t looking, and flops when he is.

Here is Dr. Gushee’s penultimate paragraph:

So Wheaton is essentially saying this: Tenure will not protect you if you too visibly offend the conservative political views of our constituency. Whatever conservative politics looks like right now, that also is mandatory for faculty.

False. That is what Gushee (like McLaren before him) is “essentially saying.” The paragraph, and the speculations which lead up to it, are Gushee conjecture. Wheaton has said nothing of the sort, and to the extent its representatives have made any public statement on the matter, they have said Dr. Hawkins’s leave is about a question of theology. And — contra Dr. Miroslav Volf — it isn’t as though there are no conceivable theological objections to the statement that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” Nabeel Qureshi, for example, has carefully described the theological issues in this most elegant, charitable essay, where he concludes that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

No matter. Wheaton’s motives must be read as small, mean, and political. Tarring a college with accusations of bad motives — when it’s entirely possible that their motives were and are otherwise — is dirty work, but somebody has to do it. And that nasty attribution of craven, politically expedient motives to the Wheaton administrators makes Dr. Gushee’s closing lament all the more astounding:

That’s another victory for culture wars polarization and another loss for higher education — not to mention Christian witness in American culture.

Sorry, Dr. Gushee. You cannot charge a distinguished Christian institution with political cowardice and duplicity, and then lament “culture wars polarization” or “another loss for . . . Christian witness in America.”

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In my last post I took exception to Miroslav Volf’s unsupported accusation that Wheaton College’s action in placing Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave was “not about theology and orthodoxy,” but “enmity toward Muslims.”

Comes now Mr. Brian McLaren, who takes that accusation and gives it another run through the spin cycle:

The hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates – much of it spewed out to impress the “Evangelical base” of the Republican Party – seems to have swayed college administrators from their professed theology, which at Christmas should remind us all that God is in solidarity with all humanity, all creation …

Dr. Volf had set forth — with no evidence — an alleged motive for Wheaton’s action: enmity toward Muslims. Now Mr. McLaren sets forth the source of that enmity: the college administrators were “swayed . . . from their professed theology” by “the hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates.” I’m not holding my breath to see Mr. McLaren present actual evidence for that claim.

Is it so impossible to suppose that the Wheaton College administrators placed Dr. Hawkins on leave for saying “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” not because they were “swayed from . . . their professed theology,” but because — I dunno — they believed it? 

If Wheaton affirms the Incarnation — a mystery that Muslims flatly deny, and Christians adore — and then also affirms that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” Wheaton is equivocating about whether it believes in God’s supreme act of “solidarity with all humanity, all creation.”

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Recently Larycia Hawkins, a professor of political science at Wheaton College, claimed that “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” — a statement which, in the estimation of Wheaton’s administration, contradicted the college’s statement of faith. Dr. Hawkins, in defending the orthodoxy of her claim, cited Yale theology professor Miroslav Volf as authority. The Wheaton administration was unconvinced: it placed Dr. Hawkins on administrative leave.

This morning, Miroslav Volf himself waded into this controversy by publishing the following indictment of the Wheaton administrators:

There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims. More precisely, her suspension reflects enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy.

And what, exactly, is the evidence for the charge? Volf’s essay gives none. For example, Volf provides no evidence that other Wheaton professors had claimed that “Mormons and Christians worship the same God” or “Jews and Christians worship the same God” without consequence. Nor does Volf provide direct evidence of actual enmity — e.g. inflammatory statements about Islam made by Wheaton administrators. Volf’s general statement that “[m]any Christians today see themselves at war . . . with Islam,” and his allusion to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s recent asinine comments about “ending” certain Muslims, do not count as evidence against Wheaton.

Which means that Volf is mind-reading the Wheaton administrators — and interpreting their minds by a hermeneutic of suspicion — unless the claim that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God is plainly flimsy and pretextual.

But is it? Let’s play a game of identify-that-character: Say Jack is married to a dark-eyed brunette named Jane, whose nature is reserved, and whose conversation is plain, precise and rationalist. Then say that one day, Jack bumps into his old friend Jim, and Jim congratulates Jack on marrying someone as lovely as Jane — commenting on Jane’s strawberry blond hair, bright blue eyes, gregarious nature, and expansive, vivid conversation, full of jests, half-meanings and double entendres. Would Jack be inclined to accept the man’s congratulations? Would he think, “how interesting that two perspectives on the same woman can be so different”? I doubt it. More likely, Jack would tell Jim, simply, “there must be some mistake.”

Now let’s play another round: Say there’s a another man named John, for whom the testimony “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth” is the thing that moves him to wonder and worship. Say the story of Christ being slain and raised and made alive evermore, and having the keys of Death and Hades, is the story that keeps John afloat amidst all the troubles of the world. And then say John’s friend Amaar comes along and said, “we worship the same God! But all that stuff about the Trinity and Incarnation is incoherent, polytheistic and vulgar.” Why would John’s response to Amaar be any different than Jack’s response to Jim?

If the homeliness, grittiness and fleshliness of the Incarnation, Nativity, Passion and Resurrection are essential parts of the Christian story of God and the world, and if Christians adore these mysteries and hold that they reveal the essential character of God, then Christians cannot “worship the same God” as people who flatly deny that God ever did any such things.

It isn’t hateful to say so. No daggers need be drawn over it — and the Christian story supplies plenty of reasons why the Christian should leave his dagger sheathed, or at home. Dr. Volf himself states the chief reasons at the conclusion of his article: that God “justifies the ungodly” and commands us to love our enemies.

“Enmity demands exclusivity.” But does it follow — especially in a world where God commands love to enemies — that exclusivity demands enmity?

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