Wheaton College associate professor Larycia Hawkins is greeted with applause by clergy members at a news conference in Chicago the day after being put on leave by the evangelical school for wearing a hijab as an act of solidarity. The controversy surrounding Hawkins’ gesture is the subject of Baton Rouge-based filmmaker Linda Midgett’s documentary 'Same God.' AP Photo.

Grace under fire: Local filmmaker’s documentary ‘Same God’

Three years ago, it was still difficult to imagine one social media post could upend someone’s life the way it did the life of Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.

But in December 2015, when Hawkins posted on Facebook that she planned to temporarily wear a head covering called a hijab as a gesture of solidarity with Muslim women during Advent, Hawkins’ life was abruptly turned upside down.

Still shot from ‘Same God.’ Photo courtesy Linda Midgett.

Unknowingly stoking a media firestorm, Hawkins then quoted Pope Francis who said Christians and Muslims worship the same god. The college’s administration put Hawkins on administrative leave and questioned whether her beliefs fit the school’s.

Hawkins’ story attracted the attention of Linda Midgett, a writer, director and Emmy-winning producer living in Baton Rouge. Midgett’s documentary Same God, based on how Hawkins’ life was affected by this controversy, will screen March 27 at 7 p.m. at LSU’s Student Union Theater. Afterward, Hawkins and Midgett will speak about the film and Hawkins’ experience.

Midgett took notice of Hawkins’ story initially because Midgett herself is a 1992 alumnus of Wheaton College. But she really wanted to pursue the story because of its underlying theme: the growing split between conservative and progressive evangelicals. “The thing I really wanted to explore was why evangelical Christians were having such oppositive responses to what she was doing,” Midgett says.

Wheaton College alumni and administration saw Hawkins as a “heretic” and wanted her removed from campus, Midgett says. But Hawkins maintained she was merely standing by Muslim women, many of whom had been maligned after two Muslim extremists, a married couple, had killed 14 people in a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Midgett says.

Wheaton College and Hawkins eventually reached a settlement, but Hawkins lost her tenured position at the school. She began teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and was forced to sleep on friends’ couches and in their basements, Midgett says. “It just completely changed the trajectory of her life in every way,” Midgett says.

Midgett (left) and Hawkins at the LA Film Festival. Photo courtesy Linda Midgett.

Still, Hawkins has said she wouldn’t change anything.

“One of the most profound things she said to me is she has absolutely no regrets and she would do it again and again,” Midgett says. “I burst into tears. It made me cry as the person interviewing her because I was so moved that she would answer that after I had seen close up how much this has cost her.”

Same God made its debut at the LA Film Festival in Los Angeles and has been shown in theaters around the country and beyond, including screenings at the Virginia and New Orleans film festivals and the Cork Film Festival in Ireland.

Midgett hopes those who view the documentary will take away one thing: “I want them to look at what we’re doing to one another as human beings,” she says. “This sort of hatred and polarization that we are all kind of participating in in so many ways—I hope that when they see the documentary, it gives them pause and helps them remember there are real human beings on the other side of all of these events. When somebody posts something on Facebook that you don’t like, you don’t have to crucify them to disagree with them. And that’s what happened to her.”