Wheaton College, that Evangelical dynamo, has gotten itself in trouble with the Opinionifiers by talking about firing Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins became famous for 1) wearing a headscarf “in solidarity with Muslims,” and 2) saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. #2 is of the greater weight with her employer, #1 with those Engines of Publick Ignorance, the Mass and Social Media. I have some minor sympathy for the position of the College: boundaries are important, as the miserable condition of my birth denomination, The Episcopal Church, shows. It fell into the hands of professional obfuscators who have made it difficult to describe what an Episcopalian believes, if anything. So it’s nice to see some sort of boundary defense. The #2 issue is interesting but maybe not determinable. For many Christians, the uniqueness of Jesus is foundational, and the common opinion, spread around for years by many, that Allah and Yahweh are sort of the same, strikes at that uniqueness. So it’s not trivial.
Watching the firestorm, it struck me that it might be amusing to revive an old technique: the Publick Debate. Let the Professor (pro) and the President of Wheaton (con) argue formally the question: Resolved, that the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same. Some ground rules would have to be worked out: perhaps the source material should be limited to the Scripture of the two faiths alone, and no appeal to other authority or hermeneutic allowed. Some sort of boundary, anyway. A jury (the number 11 comes to mind somehow) would determine the winner. The jury perhaps could be made up of
Wheaties Wheaton graduates now on the theological or philosophical faculties of other schools. How would they be selected? Would a bare majority be sufficient for a decision, or a supermajority? Details, details. And then there’s the question of a debate moderator: what fun there is to be had there. A neutral site might best be found, to minimize the risk of lightning strikes. If Hawkins is found to make a reasonable, approximately scholarly, argument on behalf of her opinion, she gets to keep her job. If not, well, she needn’t worry. Someone will hire her. In any event, the issue would have been (we hope) capably aired, the National Press would have had to retire to their dictionaries and encyclopedias, and a jolly good time would have been had by the rest of us.