In December 2015, Wheaton College faculty member Dr. Larycia Hawkins posted a photo of herself wearing a hijab on Facebook with the message, “I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor … we worship the same God.”
Those two words ignited a firestorm that swept Wheaton College, Ill., a Christian liberal arts college, and the worldwide evangelical community. Wheaton alumna and filmmaker Linda Midgett stepped into the midst of the ongoing “global controversy,” as she calls it, to follow Hawkins’ journey and explore the polarization that ensued.
“On one side were those, like me, who felt her gesture was unmistakably Christian in nature,” says Midgett, a two-time Emmy-award winning writer, producer and documentary filmmaker of over 25 years. “On the other side were those who felt she was guilty of heresy and deserved to be terminated. This wasn’t about race, Islamophobia or religious freedom, they insisted. Or was it?
“As major news outlets covered the two-month-long controversy, and as bloggers and social media debated whether Muslims and Christians worship the same god, I began to wonder something more provocative: Do evangelicals worship the same god?”
On Monday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. in East Tennessee State University’s Ball Hall Auditorium, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts will present a screening of the award-winning 2018 documentary “Same God” as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The film screening is free and open to the public and will be followed by a Q&A and reception with the filmmaker/director.
Midgett filmed for more than two years, during which time Wheaton administrators did not take part in the documentary nor allow filming on campus. In the end, Hawkins and Wheaton parted ways. Hawkins now teaches at University of Virginia.
After Hawkins “lost her tenure,” Midgett says, getting faculty to talk on camera was also difficult. “There were a lot of faculty who would not go on camera,” Midgett says. “It was pretty dangerous.”
As a result, “Same God” “is really more [Hawkins’] story and her perspective. As a filmmaker, I came to realize that was kind of a good thing because the narrative that was in the public eye was really not true … giving her a chance to share her story and who she is …” Midgett says. “When you see that and see her in that context, you see what was motivating her.”
John Morehead, director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and Multi-Faith Matters, calls the hijab photo and Hawkins’ comments “a psychological and theological Rorschach test.”
“Understanding why some interpreted it as a blessing, and others as a danger, represents the ongoing lessons Evangelicals need to learn as they fear their religious identities are threatened in an increasingly pluralistic America,” Morehead says.
“Same God” offers lessons for many audiences, says Anita DeAngelis, director of event-sponsor Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “One lesson is that things you post on social media can be problematic and can be interpreted in many ways,” DeAngelis says. “Also, we can learn more about tolerance, understanding and religious freedom – all very topical concerns right now.”
Midgett says she herself learned and pondered much during the making of “Same God.” As the documentary is screened across the country, dialogue is occurring, she says.
“Really at the root of [the film] is an exploration of systemic racism and how we are often blind to our own biases against people, and I grew personally …” Midgett says in a recent Selig Film News video interview. “There are interviews where someone would say something, and I’d be like, ‘Wow. That opened the door of my understanding to these issues that I would not have known if I hadn’t done this film …’
“I am evolving as a person and evolving as a filmmaker and I hope that the audience will themselves be willing to grow, and grow with me in the things that I learned.”
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information on the film, visit www.samegodfilm.com. For more information on the event or film series, call the Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.