Every journalist in America has been secretly attending seminary, and now understands Christianity better than most Christians do. This is the only conclusion I can draw after months of theology lectures from reporters whose most recent encounter with religious terminology was Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.”
To those of us for whom church isn’t a metaphor for sex, it’s been a frustrating few months. First, the chattering class endlessly assured Christian bakers, restaurant-owners, photographers, and florists that Jesus would be totally down with making same-sex nuptials fabulous (and presumably, with paying the $135,000 fine for those who felt differently).
Then, in the wake of June’s gay “marriage” decision at the Supreme Court, we got an earful about how mean and un-Christian it would be not to attend same-sex “weddings.” (Wouldn’t you know it, we’ve been reading the Bible wrong all these centuries!) Then the Kim-pocalypse struck, and we were treated to smug editorials on how the Kentucky clerk’s faith represents the dark side of Christianity, while those who ignore tertiary topics like—say—God’s design for human sexuality in favor of social justice issues, are the good Christians. (I once was blind, but now I see!) But this month, the media got an opportunity to bestow their theological insights on us like never before. Did they ever.
Shock: Christian College Upholds Christianity
When Wheaton political science professor Larycia Hawkins was suspended after wearing a hijab during Advent, writers at outlets like The Huffington Post thought this headline was too good to resist: “A Christian College Placed a Professor on Leave for Wearing A Hijab.”
Except, they didn’t. Wheaton has made it clear that it has no policy regarding Islamic religious garb, or as Hawkins calls it, “embodied solidarity” with Muslims. Instead, the administration suspended Hawkins for her bizarre explanation of the stunt:
“I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind—a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014. I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Putting aside for a moment the question of how many Muslims would agree that mankind crawled from a cave in South Africa, Wheaton points out that its faculty and staff “make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity.” As part of the faculty’s jobs, the college asks them to “faithfully represent the College’s evangelical statement of faith.” In other words, what Wheaton professors say in front of students has to be recognizably evangelical. Obviously, the administration felt Hawkins failed this test by equating the God of Christianity with the god of Islam.
Ruth Graham at The Atlantic published a much-needed clarification that seemed like it might quell the cries of “bigotry” and “Islamophobia.” Alas, shifting attention from Hawkins’ headscarf to her statements only gave the media the chance to don again their theology professor bowties.
I Don’t Like Your Religion, So Change It
“Instead of debating the wisdom of bringing guns to campus to kill potential terrorists,” sneered David R. Wheeler at CNN, referring to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent remarks, “what about listening to the actual words of Jesus, such as ‘love your enemy’? What about 1 John 4:18: ‘There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear’?” (It’s a good thing we have CNN contributors to apprise us of these obscure Bible passages!)
Wheeler says a few rare-as-snow-leopards Christians still live by Jesus’ words—Christians like Larycia Hawkins—“But they get punished,” he writes, for exercising such virtues. In a huff over Wheaton’s decision to suspend Hawkins, he sermonizes: “She didn’t say Islam and Christianity were the same religion…She didn’t say Muslims believe in the divinity of Christ…All she said was that they worship the same God.”
Evidently, he believes this should be no problem. Wheeler, like so much of the mainstream media, has scrutinized the situation with the eye of a trained theologian and after much deliberation concluded that—surprise!—evangelical Christians are just being meanies.
We could multiply articles in the Christians-are-meanies-and-I-know-the-Bible-better-than-they-do genre like St. Peter multiplied the animals after they left Jonah’s Ark. But it wouldn’t change the fact that the Most Holy Synod of Journalists doesn’t have an inerrant track record on religion. For instance, they sometimes need reminders that the resurrection is an actual thing Christians believe happened.
Also, Religion Isn’t Interchangeable
So here’s a heads-up for the media: We also believe the Trinity is an actual thing—a description of God’s being—and not some footnote or appendix that won’t be on the test. It’s the first thing we confess every Sunday in our creed. (We even drew a neat diagram of it to help you understand.) It’s kind of a big deal, as is the incarnation of the second person of the trinity—an idea Muslims also find abhorrent.
You see, in Islam, Allah is a monad. Three persons who share a single nature cannot be one God, at least to the Muslim mind.
Only on the most pedantic grounds can it be said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Were both religions (along with Judaism) inspired by the dealings of YHWH with a Mesopotamian nomad named Abraham? Yes. But Islam, having originated in the sixth century A.D., is a smidge further removed from those events than are Christianity and Judaism. In fact, Muhammad taught that both of those religions are corrupt, which is why he recorded a new and “perfect” revelation from God: the Qur’an.
We’re not trying to be meanies. Really. We just think the triune God is a non-negotiable. We also believe the canon of Scripture closed with the death of the Apostle John, meaning Muhammad’s revelation misses the deadline by half a millennium.
And since the Apostle Paul told us not to believe anyone, “not even an angel,” who brings a gospel other than the one we received—well, I don’t know how to break this to you, but we tend to think Islam began with a visit from a demon. Given all of this, identifying our God meaningfully with the god of the Quran is not just difficult. It’s impossible.
Here, Try a Star Wars Reference
An analogy might help: Imagine a person who has never seen a Star Wars film, but has merely heard plot summaries from other people he doesn’t really trust. Then imagine he watches the “Jar-Jar is a Sith Lord” theory on YouTube. Then send him on a 20-year military conquest on camel back in Saudi Arabia. Then ask him for a synopsis of “The Force Awakens.” The answer you get will be more or less as accurate as Christians believe the Islamic scriptures are when it comes to God.
I understand and even admire the impulse to show human solidarity with Muslims. No student or professor should have to feel ostracized, no matter his or her religion. Wearing a hijab isn’t beyond the pale of Nicene orthodoxy. As a matter of fact, head coverings still show up on Christian ladies from time to time.
What matters, and what the media can’t for the life of them seem to understand is this: We, as Christians, do not worship a generic God-of-the-philosophers, non-trinitarian, and infinitely customizable to various faiths. Our God insists on being known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the New Testament.
When a Christian or a journalist demands we act like Jesus and just get along with everybody, I remind them that Jesus wrecked the Kumbaya of first-century Jewish theology by making exactly the claim about himself I’m making now: He is God in human flesh.
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same god? Well, is Jesus Christ God? You can’t answer “yes” to both, no matter how loudly the theologians in the media insist otherwise.
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