This from Chris Grace, Biola’s Vice President of Student Development:
“We really are at a disadvantage here because we don’t know who these people are,” Grace said, adding that the university would “love and welcome a conversation with them and that’s what we are hoping for.”
With all due respect to Chris, this is a smokescreen. All the Biola students I’ve spoken with (on both sides of this issue) agree that Biola is “hoping for” a conversation with LGBT students…for the sake of counseling them through their “struggle”. But that is not what BQU is asking for. Rather: “We want to be treated with equality and respected as another facet of Biola’s diversity.”
Biola need not know the identities of BQU members to create a safe public space where LGBT students and staff can reasonably expect to have their dignity and safety affirmed and defended by the school, irregardless of whether or not they ”struggle” with their sexuality.
Biola’s administrative staff bear the burden of creating that space. It’s disingenuous for them to say they can’t because they don’t know who these students are. Either they don’t want to do so, or they don’t have the political will to do so. It would be better for them to just say which, rather than shifting the blame to BQU. But if Biola did at least attempt to create such a space, then the ball would be squarely in BQU’s court to come out of anonymity.
It’s been an emotional final few weeks of the term at Biola University. Increasing tensions between the Biola administration and an unidentified group calling themselves The Biola Queer Underground, and claiming to represent LGBT persons who are current and former Biola students, as well as Biola employees. The emergence of this group has led to a few tremors in the Biola community, both on campus and on the facebook pages of a few Biola students.
For those who don’t know, Biola University is a conservative evangelical Christian college. It was once the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, before that unwieldy handle was trimmed to the more palatable acronym we all know and love. Biola is very conservative. As an institution it officially holds to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and premillenial dispensationalism, and requires its faculty to live in accord with these doctrines.
Two Biola students recently told me that the root of this brewing controversy was a recent request, by LGBT Biola students, to the administration, that Biola create a safe space for conversation around LGBT issues and the Christian faith. That request was denied, and seemed to be answered more emphatically earlier this month when Biola published its “Statement on Human Sexuality”.
From the Underground’s website:
The recently published policy, eighteen months in the making, did not bring change except to make it clearer that Biola views “any acts of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex as an illegitimate moral option for the confessing Christian.” It did not even attempt to address those with transgender or other non-conforming gender identities. Nor did it speak to the consequences for those who do not view their own or other’s homosexuality as “a struggle to maintain sexual purity.”
It will be interesting to see if the campus administration responds in a more direct way, but according to the students I spoke with, the immediate affect has been a noticeable increase in the use of hateful and homophobic speech on campus by other students and on online in Facebook threads discussing the topic.
Frankly, Biola can’t change its stance on homosexuality. So many of Biola’s core ideologies would have to change, that in the end it would cease to be Biola. Maybe that would be a good thing – but it’s not going to happen.
However, I do think Biola could keep its conservative street cred and engage with this issue in an extremely healthy and productive way. So far, rather than proactively create a safe space for dialogue, Biola’s reticence to engage with an increasingly visible group of its own students and staffers has inadvertently led to a more dangerous campus atmosphere.
Whatever Biola’s view of human sexuality, it has a moral and ethical responsibility to cultivate a safe space for its constituents. And whatever it’s beliefs are, Biola has an intellectual responsibility to foster open, sympathetic, and critical dialogue on issues that are relevant to the Christian faith and it’s surrounding culture.
These values of openness are perfectly Christian – but even if they weren’t, any Christian institution in a post-Christian culture must be prepared to carefully consider how it might virtuously engage the pluralistic mores of the society in which it is situated.
In that spirit, I’ll simply say this: the Biola Queer Underground are an incredible gift to Biola University. Biola has a huge opportunity to take a lead role in how conservative Christians engage LGBT people in a way that is respectful and relevant to the surrounding culture. There is no better opportunity to do so than by welcoming the Biola Queer Underground as partners in the creation of an open, compassionate, and intelligent space for dialogue on human sexuality, for the purpose of bringing about reconciliation, healing, and understanding between people who had previously been enemies.
What could be more Christian than that?