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Dancing is a complex issue for Christians

I’d like to summarize my September 30 chapel message about Biola’s policy on social dancing, in case you missed chapel. Please visit my page, www.biola.edu/president, to view or read the full message.

You should know up front that I am not announcing a decision quite yet – but I do want you to understand some of my reflections on this issue.

Last year AS proposed a change to Biola’s policy on social dancing: a revision that would allow for Biola-approved dances, including dances on campus under certain conditions. I must say I was impressed with the research and comprehensive arguments in this proposal, but I didn’t want to rush into a decision. You might say slow dancing is my preferred approach.

I think it’s important to zoom back and see that this topic is bigger and has more history than we might realize. As president, I’m learning not to look at issues one-dimensionally – we need to consider history, biblical teaching, and the breadth of Biola’s stakeholders as we look at implications of a decision to change the dance policy. Throughout history, Christians have been wary of dancing for a number of reasons: lacking order and control, demonstrating absence of reason, promoting the rule of passion, inhibiting spiritual growth, and more. During the 18th and 19th centuries, not dancing became an easy way for Christians to stand apart from the world.

But by far the most popular opposition to dance stemmed from the belief that it led to a plethora of vices, chiefly that of sexual sin. When the lights are low and the music is driving, the lyrics evocative and a guy and girl are standing close, passions become enflamed and it’s a recipe for lust. This is probably one of the most commonly held oppositions even today.

Many of these are valid cautions that we would be unwise to dismiss as outdated and irrelevant.

We must also consider the other side of the argument. There have been godly Christians throughout history who have embraced dance and argued for its acceptance. Whenever dance is mentioned in the Bible – such as when David dances after the ark’s return to Jerusalem – it is a joyful thing. In Ecclesiastes we are told, “there is a time to mourn and a time to dance,” implying that dancing is a good thing that takes place in our happiest moments at the polar opposite end from suffering.

Other proponents of dance assert that religious opposition to dancing has mostly ignored the ways in which dance is used in non-Western cultures. For many cultures, dance is part of the Christian life.

I’ve also heard solid arguments as to why dancing at Biola University could be a good thing – that school-sponsored dances would offer a more positive, safe place for students to dance – as an alternative to the sometimes less-than-edifying conditions off campus.

Finally, we need to properly understand the purpose for having a set of Community Standards. I don’t want students to think about the Contract as if it were some electric fence that marked the boundaries you’d better not cross. The Community Standards have never been about boundaries. It’s about Biola’s core and identity. It’s not about doing or not doing. It’s about being who we are as a community of believers centered in Christ.

It’s a symbolic action of putting aside your own opinions and abiding by the community’s standards even though you might not agree with all of them. Understanding what’s right in the context of community, not in the context of ME, is a healthy place to be.

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