MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to begin the program today talking about what seems to be on the surface a personnel matter. But it's a story that raises larger theological questions, and it comes at a sensitive moment in interfaith relations. It's a story out of Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois, where associate political science professor Larycia Hawkins decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, she quoted Pope Francis, saying Christians and Muslims, quote, "worship the same God," unquote. Some evangelical Christians disagree, and Wheaton authorities this past week put Hawkins on paid administration leave, saying it needed time to review whether her statement puts her at odds with the faith perspective that is required of those who work at the college. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten with more.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Mainstream Muslims would probably say they do worship the same God that Christians or Jews worship. Zeki Saritoprak, a professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, points out that the Quran includes the biblical story of Jacob asking his sons whom they'll worship after his death.
ZEKI SARITOPRAK: Jacob's sons replied we will worship the God of your fathers - Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. He is the God. So this God that Jacob worshiped, this God that Abraham, Isaac worshiped, is the same God that Muslims worship today.
GJELTEN: Christians and Jews all see Abraham and his descendants as their faith ancestors. So Christianity, Judaism and Islam are considered the Abrahamic faiths. Christians, however, believe in a triune God - there's God the father, God the son - Jesus Christ - and the Holy Spirit. And many evangelicals will say that means Muslims and Jews do not worship the same God as Christians. Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
ALBERT MOHLER: The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the father. And it's Christ himself who answered that question most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father.
GJELTEN: But Christians themselves differ on this question. The Second Vatican Council, speaking to Catholics in 1964, affirmed that Muslims together with us adore the one merciful God. And Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews.
AMY PLANTINGA PAUW: To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God.
GJELTEN: One theologian with knowledge of both Christian and Islamic doctrine is Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States. Born Mark Hanson, he was raised as a Christian and converted to Islam. He quotes the Quran as saying that God is immeasurable, so to define God in some particular way is impossible.
HAMZA YUSUF: God is much greater than anything we can imagine. The Muslims have a statement in our theology - whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that.
GJELTEN: At Louisville Seminary, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, Amy Plantinga Pauw says she's preparing her students for ministries that are likely to involve work with people of other faith traditions. She says she'd like them to remember that no religious community can claim God's favor.
PAUW: No one is in a position of saying well, we know exactly how God works in the world, and my particular group has - has a monopoly on that.
GJELTEN: Well, sometimes it seems that people do say that.
PAUW: Yeah, there are certainly Muslims who will say that. There are certainly Christians who will say that. But it's out of my own Christian conviction that I think we have to approach these issues with a kind of humility and a kind of generosity towards others, simply because God's ways are not our ways.
GJELTEN: In its statement about Professor Hawkins' idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Wheaton College says it rejects religious prejudice and has a commitment to treat our neighbors with love and respect, as Jesus commanded us to do. "But our compassion," the statement says, "must be infused with theological clarity." Tom Gjelten, NPR News.
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