Stephen Prothero

Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

The drama at Wheaton College rolls on. I have held off talking about it, in part because -- after decades in Christian higher education -- I know that it will be hard for reporters to get behind the scenes and find out what is actually going on.

Why? Because money and donors are involved? Of course. Name a controversy in higher education -- left or right, secular or religious -- that doesn't involve donors.

Because believers don't like bad public relations? Yes, that's true. But privacy laws are also important at private schools. What can Wheaton leaders say about this case without legally violating the privacy of the professor at the heart of all this?

Are there First Amendment issues linked to freedom of religion and freedom of association? Yes, and what about that 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 backing the right of doctrinally defined educational institutions to hire and fire their own leaders, based on doctrinal criteria?

Because politics are involved? Yes. But it's crucial for reporters to realize that the political battles here are built on issues of doctrine. Lots of Christians -- including evangelicals -- do not agree on how to answer this question: Is the God of the Hebrews, the God Jesus intimately called "Father," the same as Allah, the radically transcendent God of Islam? What do Muslims say?

There is another factor in this timeline. The New Testament reports that Jesus said, "I am the Father are one." Jews, of course, reject the Christian Trinity, but in doing so they are arguing with Jesus and the founders of the early church -- all Jews. Islam, of course, comes after the earthly ministry of Jesus and explicitly (check out the inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock) rejects that God has a Son.

One other factor that journalists must grasp: There is no one definition of "evangelical" and there is no one prevailing authority that gets to call the doctrinal shots. Remember what the Rev. Billy Graham -- the most famous Wheaton graduate, ever -- told me long ago, when I asked him how he defined "evangelical"?

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Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

A wise journalism professor once told me that it always helps, when trying to think through the implications of a controversial story, to try to imagine the same story being seen in a mirror, in reverse.

So let's say that there is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.

Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Whose religious rights are being violated? Can both sides find a way to show tolerance?

This is, of course, a highly specific parable -- full of the unique details that tend to show up in church-state law and, often, in cases linked to laws built on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) language. It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

Is there any sign that reporters covering the RFRA madness in Indiana and, eventually, in dozens of states across the nation are beginning to see some of the gray areas in these cases?

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The truly interfaith church of what's happening now

From the very beginning of this weblog, your GetReligionistas have argued that some of America’s most important religion stories are taking place on the Religious Left, even on the evangelical and Pentecostal left. I still believe that.

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