On the same day President Obama became the first U.S. president to come out in support of same-sex marriage, a group of students announced the presence of the “Biola Queer Underground” at this small evangelical university, touching off a highly-charged debate about Christianity and homosexuality.
The group launched a website and posted flyers around the Biola University campus May 9 with the following message: “We want to bring to light the presence of the LGBTQ community at Biola. Despite what some may assume, there are Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender, and Queers at Biola. We are Biola’s students, alumni, employees, and fellow followers of Christ. We want to be treated with equality and respected as another facet of Biola’s diversity.”
The emergence of the group, whose members remain anonymous, has shaken this 104-year-old Christian college in Southern California. Like many schools rooted in evangelical Christianity, Biola has a code of standards that includes prohibitions on sex outside of marriage and same-sex relationships: Sex is “designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between a husband and wife,” according to Biola’s student handbook, which goes on to say that “sexual misconduct, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case will result in disciplinary action.”
With debate raging over the group and its aims, Biola President Barry Corey told students that the school has no intention of changing its policy to “fit increasingly accepted ethical or moral norms. In particular, we don’t need to modernize or bend our biblically based position on sexual ethics.”
The school also issued a new statement on “human sexuality” which calls same-sex relationships “illegitimate moral options for the confessing Christian.” The statement was in the works before the gay group announced itself, but BQU said it showed the “one-sided” nature of the conversation, with no room for those who believe homosexuality isn’t sinful.
Chris Grace, vice president for student development at Biola, said the school would like to engage in conversation with the underground group but has been stymied by the members’ anonymity. “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.”
But members of BQU, who would only comment for this story anonymously, fear that by “coming out” they would be punished and possibly expelled. They said they consider themselves Christians “first and foremost” and love Biola, and are not looking to create “a war” on campus, but they are looking to have an open discussion about what it means to be Christian and gay.
Eventually, Members of the group would like to “come out” and be open about their sexuality. “It’s important to our integrity to not have parts of us be hidden even among the Christian community,” a member said.
One of the members said there is a lot of guilt in the Christian community over homosexuality, but wonders if that guilt is coming from “God, the Holy Spirit or is that guilt coming from sections of the Christian society?”
“Biola is probably not going to change their doctrinal stance for a while; they are going to have their theological stance being against homosexuality for quite some time, that doesn’t mean the culture, doesn’t mean they have to discipline openly gay students,” said one of the group’s leaders.
Grace dismissed the notion that students who are “struggling with homosexuality” would face expulsion. “I guess you’d almost call that a myth that students would get expelled for that,” Grace said. Instead, Biola offers students an “open-door policy” to talk about their struggles and receive spiritual counseling. But he makes it clear that for a student who identifies as gay and is engaging in “gay behavior and unwilling to uphold our community standards we would initiate the dismissal process.”
Debate about the group has raged among students and in the campus newspaper.
Samuel Smith, a cinema and media arts major, objected to the fact the members won’t come forward. “If you want an honest and true discussion about what they’re going through, I feel they shouldn’t be anonymous.”
Alexis Hughes, a biblical studies major, said the gay group’s anonymity is telling. “Obviously, if it’s underground, they know it’s wrong and on some level they know they shouldn’t be doing it”
Gabriela Cacanindin, a business major, was hopeful the wider campus would be open to hearing what the group has to say. “I hope that we are open to the dialogue that needs to happen… .”
But a female underground member says a true conversation is difficult. “I have sat in so many classes where we would a conversation about homosexuality and I can’t tell my story because I am too afraid of getting in trouble, so how is that a conversation at all?”
The group said they have received hate mail and they call some of the comments expressed in the school newspaper so painful that they had to quit reading it. One of them read, “If you embrace the lifestyle, you are at odds with God and scripture, and it is extremely doubtful that you are a Christian.”
“We get questions, ‘Why are you even in school, Why are you causing a ruckus, Why don’t you just leave?’” one of the members told us.
Not discouraged, the members of the gay group say they are here to stay. And, they added, they have received plenty of support in the community and around the country.
“In some ways I’m shocked at how horrible people can be, but I’m also shocked at how wonderful people are too,” said one.
They draw comfort in the fact that more Americans now support than oppose same-sex marriage,according to a recent Gallup poll, and are convinced that Biola will eventually “come around.”
School officials already are looking ahead to next year, when Biola celebrates its 105th anniversary, and they said plans are in the works to facilitate an “ongoing conversation” with students about homosexuality.
John Boxley and Ashley Bornancin