In 2015 Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor of political science at Wheaton College, began a religious revolution. Disturbed by the phobia and bigotry that was and still is inflicted upon Muslims all over the globe, Hawkins donned a hijab and posted a picture on Facebook that was captioned: “I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbors because we are formed of the same primordial clay…And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God… Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.” As her advent pledge, Dr. Hawkins wore the hijab everywhere, including the classroom and on the plane.
Mere months after her Facebook update, Hawkins, the first black woman to achieve tenure status at Wheaton College, was forced to resign after suffering unjust treatment at the hands of colleagues, friends, students and the whole world. And on Jan. 26, Dr. Hawkins brought the revolution to Hope College. “Same God,” a documentary by Wheaton alumni Linda Midgett, was shown at Holland’s Knickerbocker Theatre Saturday night. The film revealed Hawkins’ struggle after her controversial declaration and how it ultimately changed the course of her life. The film highlighted the reactions she received from Wheaton College, including the hostility from the Provost and President but also the student protests supporting her.
It brought into light the struggles of her colleague Michael Mangis, who helped expose the hypocrisy of her treatment and was similarly forced to walk away from Wheaton as a result. The film also delves into Hawkins’ past, traveling back to her roots in Oklahoma and the religious, racially-divided culture she grew up in. “Same God” showed Hawkins as competent professor, a steadfast activist and a loving daughter, but it also showed her as a disciple of Jesus with a righteous love for his teachings and what she believes he has sent her to accomplish. The Knickerbocker Theatre was near full that night, packed with students and Holland residents alike who had trekked through the snow to watch this powerful, intimate documentary. After the screening, there was a round panel discussion featuring Dr. Rakesh Peter-Dass of the Hope College Department of Religion.
Joining them on stage were Michael Mangis and after a long, worthy applause Dr. Larycia Hawkins herself. She now teaches at University of Virginia, where she is an Assistant Professor of Politics and Religious Studies and is currently traveling the U.S. with her documentary. The panel answered questions from the audience, many of which dealt with the concepts of embodied solidarity, if Christianity and Islam really do worship the same God, and what Hope can do to make sure that a situation like this one can be avoided on this campus. Afterward, during an interview with The Anchor, Hawkins had this to say: “I think the best way to represent embodied solidarity on a daily basis is to seek out the perspectives of the most oppressed in our midst. We have the eyes of Jesus Christ, and it doesn’t just change who we are but how we see and who we see. So if we’re not seeing the dispossessed, the marginalized, we need to figure out where they are. Jesus didn’t just find himself in Samaria; he went through Samaria purposefully. Scripture says that Jesus learned obedience through those things that he suffered.
Similarly, Ghandi did that; Mandela did that; MLK did that. So thinking about those people that we want to emulate, in terms of their social justice commitments, they sought out the oppressed, to learn from them what it meant to do justice, to love mercy and law.” Dr. Hawkins has been the catalyst for religious upheaval, a symbol of morality and a solemn reminder of what solidarity with the oppressed can cost. She will continue spreading her message across the United States with the “Same God” film, inspiring many to live as Jesus did, as she strives to now.