Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.
In this article, rather than go deep into historical analysis, Dr. McKenzie is simply requesting prayers for God’s wisdom and grace as the Wheaton community undergoes a crisis in the matter of the pending termination of tenured political science professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins. In his link to the thoughtful essay of Dr. Chris Gehrz of Bethel University, he expresses admiration for Gehrz’s refusal to scapegoat either side. Learning empathy for all involved in a conflict is how we will release the mimetic power of compassion modeled to us by Christ.
I have intentionally not commented on the uproar currently swirling around Wheaton College. Probably most of you are at least vaguely aware of the heart-wrenching controversy that has been unfolding since Wheaton faculty member Dr. Larycia Hawkins made statements interpreted by some as effectively equating Christianity and Islam.
My purpose now is not to defend either Dr. Hawkins or the Wheaton College administration. Frankly, I don’t think I know nearly enough to speak confidently about the matter (and I am mystified by the cacophony of voices from across the country who claim to know exactly what’s going on and why).
What I do know is that I love Wheaton College, and I grieve for both Dr. Hawkins and for our president and provost, all of whom have been subjected to vicious abuse online and in print. The faculty met this morning to pray that God would bring a glorious resolution to this crisis, and I would love for you to join with us. We are fallen individuals laboring in a fallen institution and acutely aware of our need for God’s wisdom and grace.
In closing, let me recommend a recent piece by Bethel University’s Chris Gehrz who tries to think about the controversy in a broad historical context. Even more than Professor Gehrz’s thoughtful assessment, I was impressed by his even-handedness and touched by his closing exhortation. “Please try to show grace and empathy towards fellow evangelicals,” Gehrz urges.
. . . While I continue to think that Hawkins is being treated unfairly and unwisely by at least some of Wheaton’s administrators, I want to trust that what they’ve done is motivated not by anti-Muslim bigotry but by their commitment to take theology seriously, understanding that what we believe has implications for what we do.
Conversely, I hope that those who fervently support Wheaton in this matter are willing to entertain the possibility that Hawkins is being entirely truthful when she describes herself as an evangelical and professes her continuing affection for Wheaton and her commitment to the project of Christian higher ed. (As are those of us who support her.)
Grace and peace to you all.
Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author ofThe First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com.