God is Love, the rest is commentary.

This is an a priori presupposition born of faith. When I contemplate the simple sentence – God is Love – I contemplate the power and the mystery of a life force that defies words. We give God, this Divine Love, anthropomorphic qualities so that we can make God thinkable and speakable. We make God father, mother, friend so that we can wrap our minds around the concept that we are in relationship with a Love that existed before the beginning and will exist after the end, a Love that is as vast as the still expanding universe and as finite as a single grain of sand or a single drop of water, a Love that contains within itself all the laws of physics and mathematics and biology, a Love that loves us personally, knows our names, who understands the language of our laughter and of our tears.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

The Gospel of John tells us that: In the beginning was the Word. I say the Word is Love. The Word, the logos is at once a signifier pointing beyond itself to the stuff of creation and to a divine logic. It is the logic of love. When the Word becomes incarnate in humanity, when the Word becomes flesh, the is-ness of Divine Love becomes a statement, a sentence, a subject and a verb. It becomes Divine Love loving through nature and creation, through flesh and blood.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

When we think of the oneness of God, we also ought to think about the question of theological reconciliation between religions that say God is one and Christianity that says that the one God contains three persons. One way to think about the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – is to think about God in three dimensions – the height, breadth and depth of God. Imagine walking into a beautiful room. We walk into a singular entity, but when we look at the ceiling, that is one perspective. When we notice the walls on either side, that is another perspective. When we notice the front and back of the room that is yet another view. No one would say that we are standing in at least three different rooms. It is one room with different aspects.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

So it is with a Trinitarian idea of God. We can understand the Father God as our relationship with the creative transcendent aspect of God. Our relationship with God the Son is analogous to our divine connection to humanity, nature and creation. God the Holy Spirit can be understood as God the Mother, the Comforter, the wisdom, the fecundity of God.

Three aspects, three kinds of relationships three perspectives do not mean we are not in relationship with a divine unity. This is a unity with many names. Christians call God by many names, some of which originate in the Old Testament sources. Various names of God include: Jehovah-M’Kaddesh, the God who sanctifies; Jehovah-jireh, the God who provides; Jehovah-shalom, the God of peace; Jehovah-rophe, Jehovah heals; Jehovah-nissi, God our banner; El-Shaddai, God Almighty; Adonai, God is Master and Lord; Elohim, God is strength or power.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

On December 10, 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, associate professor of political science at Wheaton College in Illinois, a Christian evangelical college, posted on Facebook her intention to wear a hijab, a head covering, in solidarity with the Muslim community during the advent season. She said, among other things: “I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of his/her human dignity. She wrote of human beings all born from the same primordial clay. Her act of solidarity was a demonstration of embodied politics. It was an example of the logic of love incarnate.

She decided to wear the hijab not only in human solidarity but also in religious solidarity. According to Islam, Christians and Jews are People of the Book. She quoted Pope Francis saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This is where she ran afoul of the Wheaton College administration. It thought her post violated the college’s Statement of Faith. Thus, the administration placed her on administrative leave until she clarified her views. Dr. Hawkins made an effort toward clarification, but the administration was not satisfied. At a certain point, she decided not to go any further. In the end, Dr. Hawkins and the school reached a mutual agreement that she would leave the school. March 3, 2016, the University of Virginia announced that it had hired her to join the faculty of its Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Her new title is Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow. It is a position “named for a 19ty century Algerian leader who was committed to intercultural dialogue. “(https://sojo.net/articles/former-wheaton-professor-larycia-hawkins-gets-new-post-uva)

It seems that all is well that ends well. However, this sad episode underlines an uncomfortable reality. When religion becomes tribalistic, it divides humanity into groups competing for economic and political power over other human beings and natural resources. The good news is that this event also demonstrated the willingness of scholars to stand in solidarity with one of their own. This episode also raises the question of the role of the scholar in public discourse.

I know of at least two letters of support that went to Wheaton College on behalf of Dr. Hawkins: one from the leadership of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and one signed by 11 womanist scholars. (Full disclosure: I am a member of PJSA, and I am a signatory to the womanist letter.) The PJSA says in part:

“Today our nation and world are divided in multiple ways but the field of peace and conflict studies helps us to interrogate and address many of those divisions. The decision to begin the process of firing a tenured faculty member who was modeling for her students the critical thinking process which is foundational to the academic world in general, and peace studies in particular, is at best deeply problematic.”

The letter goes on the say that it is “egregious that an institution of higher education which offers education in peace studies is actively sowing seeds of division.” The concern is also one of academic freedom. (https://www.peacejusticestudies.org/blog/pjsa/2016/01/letter-re-dr-larycia-hawkins/00268)

The womanist letter calls attention to the ways in which Dr. Hawkins’ actions were consistent with womanist ethics and not inconsistent with Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. It says in part:

“Womanist theology and ethics walk hand in hand. Womanist theologians have argued that the salvific power of Jesus is not only in his death and resurrection, but is also found in his life of compassion and care for the least among us. Salvation not only applies to life after death, but salvation happens in this world, in this life, when we are saved from anything that diminishes human dignity, anything that disrespects the imago dei that constitutes our humanity.”

Since womanists employ the lives and wisdom of African and African-American women in particular and woman in general as sources for scholarship, the womanist letter referenced the theological, inter-religious conversation that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well.

“In this exchange, Jesus says God is spirit and seeks those who will worship God in spirit and in truth. He does not issue a requirement that includes the doctrinal elements of a yet to be invented Christianity. . . . Thus from this passage of Scripture, Jesus could not sign your Statement of Faith.” (http://justpeacetheory.com/files/HawkinsSupportLetter.pdf)

Whether or not she intended it, Dr. Hawkins has demonstrated womanist virtues of love, commitment and responsibility. Dr. Hawkins’ statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not a particularly revolutionary or cutting edge statement. She is not extreme. Wheaton College’s response was extreme. Now the questions are: Is there something inherent in Wheaton’s brand of evangelicalism that needs to say that Muslims worship a different God? What is the logic at work here? If Muslims and Christians worship different gods, is that an admission that there is more than one god? Does it mean that if there is only one god and two different religions are worshipping different gods, that one religion is worshipping the true god and the other worshipping an idol? How do we determine whose god is the true god? Does this thinking take us backward to a moment in the history of ideas when every tribe and nation worshipped its own god? Every war becomes a war of the gods. The true god is the god who wins the war. Thus, might is not only right, but might is holy. If this brand of evangelicalism needs to maintain the notion that Christians and Muslims worship different gods, to what extent does this give theological cover to the idea of the holiness of violence against Muslim nations and against Muslims as individuals? To what extent does it give theological cover to the anti-Muslim rhetoric we hear in our presidential elections?

At this writing, Donald Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican party’s nomination for president of the United States. On December 7, 2015, Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. He said: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The statement on the Trump website references polls by Pew Research and the Center for Security Policy to support his claim that “there is a great hatred toward Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.” (https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration)

In an interview with CNN”s Anderson Cooper on March 9, he again stated that Islam hates America. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a press conference on March 10 to demand an apology from Trump. In the March 10th GOP debate, Trump refused to apologize for his statement. The problem with Trump’s proposal for a “temporary” ban is that he does not say which representatives of the United States will be tasked with learning what is going on inside Islam that helps us to understand the hatred that he sees. He has not said what piece of information will be necessary to this understanding. Trump has also advocated the surveillance of certain mosques. It is little wonder that the Islamic community in the United States feels under siege.

The role of the scholar in our public discourse is to help us to understand what the discourse means. Not everyone will agree, but a healthy exchange of ideas is necessary to scholarly work. The contestation of ideas helps a society reach consensus about what is just. In the case of Dr. Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College, the school sought to punish her for her actions. It is altogether Wheaton’s prerogative to have its faculty sign a statement of faith and to decide what speech or actions violate its statement. At the same time, it is a public prerogative to critique the school’s Statement of Faith. It is the prerogative of other scholars to question Wheaton’s commitment to academic freedom. It is the prerogative of the general public to reach conclusions that may damage the school’s reputation.

In an essay written in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson outlined the sources of knowledge and the duties of the American scholar. According to Emerson, s/he learns from nature, the mind of the past, and from action. For Emerson, action is essential. The duties of the scholar are with eye and heart s/he preserves and communicates “heroic sentiment, noble biographies, melodious verse, conclusions of history.” It is the work of the American scholar to help us see through the fog of ignorance, bluster, and demagoguery. Emerson writes:

“The world is his, who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold, is there only by sufferance,–by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its moral blow.”

And, I say the black scholar has an even greater burden which is to stand for the liberation of humankind. African-American people have suffered the harsh realities of slavery, legalized segregation, and the disrespect and disregard of our humanity in all the various areas of scholarly inquiry. Yet, we have prevailed to show the narrative of our inferiority to be a pernicious falsehood. When Dr. Hawkins decided to stand in solidarity with Muslim brothers and sisters by wearing the hijab, she very likely was mindful that there are inter-religious African-American families where Christians and Muslims break bread together regularly. We see black women in hijabs walking through our neighborhoods and working in the stores where we shop. There is a history of Islam in Africa that goes back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Christians and Muslims have worked together in the liberation struggle in the United States. El Hajj Malik el Shabazz a.k.a Malcolm X gave us a declaration of radical humanism when he said: “We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

Scholarly work and the courage of action are means to the ends of justice and peace. Understanding that God is one is also a means to the ends of justice, peace and love that helps us to see the unity of humanity.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

 

 

 

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”


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