Author Archives: Crystal

Missiology, Ministry and Missed Opportunities: Words about the Larycia Hawkins controversy

Larycia Hawkins in her hijab. Photo originally posted to her Facebook page as an act of solidarity with followers of Islam.

Larycia Hawkins in her hijab. Photo originally posted to her Facebook page as an act of solidarity with followers of Islam.

Like many of you, I’ve been following the Larycia Hawkins controversy very closely. Hawkins is the tenured professor at Wheaton College who decided to wear a hijab during the season of Advent as a display of solidarity with Muslims. During Dr. Hawkins’ time of solidarity, she publicly declared on her Facebook page that she viewed Muslims as sisters and brothers who have been “formed of the same primordial clay.” She also described them as “people of the book” who worship the same God. (“People of the book” is a quranic term of endearment commonly used by Muslims to express intentions of peace towards Jewish and Christian people of faith.)

Upon learning of this statement, officials at Wheaton College placed Dr. Hawkins on administrative leave. Negotiations later ensued which involved Wheaton officials recommending that Hawkins submit to “two years of multi-layered, ongoing conversation about the theological implications of [her] Facebook post and actions in wearing the hijab. For those two years, tenure would be revoked and restoration of tenure an open question at the conclusion of that period.” (Source: CNN)

This debacle has caused me to feel a deeper than usual sense of sadness about the crisis of interfaith disunity in our country. While following the headlines, I’ve thought about my own Muslim friends and acquaintances who experience discrimination and ostracism, and I’ve thought on how we are all so inundated by negative stories about Muslims in the media that many Americans are unable to see Islam as a religion of peace. I’ve thought about the climate of political discourse in this country, which tolerates bigoted statements against Muslims and allows their removal from presidential campaign rallies.

When considering these things, I am unable to escape the degree to which we in Christianity perpetuate interfaith disunity from within our own organizations.

Christianity largely sees itself as a religion with a mission to convert the “unsaved” to our way of seeing God, Jesus and the world. Most of us are trained to think that any interaction with an avowed non-Christian must involve or lead to evangelizing. We are taught to see our non-Christian friends—including those of other religions—as a mission field. They’re not people from whom we should learn because they don’t have Our Truth™; instead, they are prime candidates for “Bring An Unsaved Friend To Church Day”. We’re not taught that we should pray to God for the grace to understand why people choose religions other than Christianity; instead, we’re taught that we should pray for God to change them into what we are.

The implications of this kind of thinking are vast and catastrophic, particularly in a country where what we need most are interfaith conversations between humble people of faith intent upon establishing common ground. Sadly, it is impossible to establish peaceful relations if we’re taught that we have no humanitarian responsibility to our neighbors unless we’re trying to convert them. One cannot even begin the pursuit of genuine peacetalks under these kinds of conditions.

wheaton gateWheaton sees itself as a college with a mission to prepare its students for faithful Christian living, and even ministry if the student should feel moved to pursue such a calling. However, the college has neglected to see that the greatest ministries we can offer to our divided world are those demonstrated by Jesus himself—the ministries of peacemaking and reconciliation; the ministry of the prophetic gifting which calls us to challenge the status quo; the ministry of advocacy for the oppressed; the ministry of friendship which calls us to say to the social outcast that we see the depth and worth of their humanity; the ministry of love, which transcends fear and dogma.

Many expressions of Christianity have become so limited by their missiological and ministerial paradigms that they have missed the mandate to love our neighbors. Blinded by the zealous urge to tell others their version(s) of the truth about Jesus, some Christian sisters and brothers consistently miss out on opportunities to live as He did. In our quest to ensure a future for the church, we naively repeat the sins of the Christians before us who suppressed their dissidents and oppressed the people they didn’t understand.

Wheaton college has chosen dogma over the real needs of its societal context—a mistake that Jesus decried over and over again. My prayer is that they will see how profoundly they’ve missed the opportunity to live as God’s children[1] ought to live in our world.

[1] “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matt 5:9


Great News: A book is coming!

Babylon - Front Cover Corrected Margins 2If you’ve followed my writing at all over the past five years, then you’re probably aware that I started this blog with a desire to cultivate an open journal about my relatively unique spiritual journey as a liberal Christian. Over time, I’ve written quite a bit here, including the popular series that I wrote about (the nonexistence of) hell back in 2010, the innumerable reflections about seminary life which I published here between 2011 and 2014, and a few occasional reflections thereafter about faith and public life.

My blog publishing has slowed quite a bit over the past eighteen months or so because I started pastoring a Christian UU congregation here in Washington, DC. Because I was having trouble drumming up the material or energy to produce content for my blog, I had started to believe that I had writer’s block. And then it occurred to me one day that I had only shifted my writing energies. I have actually been writing constantly– however my words are now being devoted to the production of lengthy sermons for my congregation and audiences– sermons about walking an uncharted path with God; sermons that encourage imaginative perspectives on the biblical texts and the theologies derived from them.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve realized that a collection of these sermons, intertwined with reflections from this website and elsewhere, could comprise an inspiring compilation of “doubter’s devotions,” so to speak. I’ve thought to myself that I should edit the sermons and other selections, and share them through a wider medium– the medium of book and e-book publishing.

I’m now in the ending stages of my publishing project, and I am very proud of what is coming together. My new book will be titled, “By the Waters of Babylon: A Collection of Doubter’s Devotions.” The book will be available online through and via special order at most book stores.

I’m very much in need of reviewers (bloggers, journalists, podcasters, etc.) for my new book. It’s in the editing phase now, but I have an electronic review copy available for anyone who would be interested in writing an article or conducting an interview about it. (Please get in touch with me if that’s you!)

This is an exciting time for me. I’m so happy to be progressing towards this goal, and I feel an immense sense of joy as I consider the number of people who may find affirmation for their own unconventional Christian journey in this compilation of reflections.

Please wish me well as I complete the final stages of this project, and feel free to share this announcement with anyone who might be interested in a review or interview. Thanks and be well!


Regarding Charleston: Let’s All Stop Praying for a While

I’m certain you’ve heard the news by now. Nine Black people were murdered last night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman, a White man, reportedly attended Bible study and prayed with his victims before launching into a tirade about how Black people are “taking over the country” and “raping white women.” He opened fire on the congregants, killing most of those in attendance, including the Rev. Senator Clementa Pinckney.

I’ve mostly been glued to the coverage of this event over the past 18 hours, both via social media and cable news. I fell asleep for a short while last night knowing that yet another horrendous, racially-motivated act had been carried out against my people in the land that I call “home”. And then I awakened, immediately remembering the pain and frustration of the night before. I can’t describe the extraordinary sadness, bewilderment and longing for justice I feel. I can only say that all of those emotions seem to have seeped beyond my psyche into my bones. The pain has collected in my flesh. I’m numb sometimes, and then I feel the radiating emotional anguish down in my joints all over again.

When the pain subsides, I’m able to process the overwhelming anger mixed with palpable fear— anger that so few people are listening to the cries of the racially targeted and oppressed, and fear that an incident like the one in Charleston will happen again. Unquestioningly, I know that this feeling in the pit of my gut is terror in every sense of the word.

The timing of the shooting was such that I was unable to speak with anyone face-to-face about what I was feeling before taking to social media for solace and human interaction. As a religion blogger, I naturally follow a large number of religious figures online, including clergy, writers, and other thinkers. I noticed that most of them were asking that we all pray; that we petition for divine intervention into America’s problems with white supremacy and racism; that we ask God to help us overcome our addiction to firearms.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 3.14.16 PMI’ve watched my twitter timeline fill with calls for prayer today, all while deeply realizing how profoundly we are missing the mark. To be quite candid, it seems to me that we don’t need to talk with God about white supremacy, racism or gun control. We need, instead, to be talking with one another.

Over the past several hours, I’ve wondered what might happen if people of faith transformed their churches into spaces where conversations about race and ethnicity were not taboo. What would happen if white churches intentionally dug in deep to educate themselves about racism (which is different from discrimination), instead of disengaging when conversations get tough? Who could we become if we boldly turned our attention to having tough conversations with one another?

I continue in this day of sadness and bewilderment with a heavy heart and with the conviction that we religious folks may, perhaps, need a moratorium on our talks with God— for a short time at least. We need, instead, to start talking openly, honestly and without fear to one another about how people in our generation continue to participate in the oppressive phenomenon known as racism. We need to talk with one another about what it means for people of color to live in terror, what it means for a church like the historic Emmanuel AME to lose its sense of sanctuary, and what it means when outrage against events like these only lasts as long as the news cycle will allow.

I understand, my religious friends and colleagues, how desperately you desire to pray, given the tragic nature of last night’s events. However, I have run out of prayers and only desire to ask you: Will you instead talk face-to-face with someone about white supremacy and racism? Are you willing to start a conversation about what the world needs in order to move forward in peace?

Is it possible that our prayers for God to somehow “fix” the world seem unheard because we don’t yet see ourselves as the answers to those prayers? And if so, how do we change our faulty perspective?