Biola community reaches out to those struggling with homosexuality [Part One]
Nearly two months after the topic arose at Missions Conference, the subject of homosexuality has continued to be put in a somewhat public spotlight on Biola’s campus.
The role of the administration in reaching out to students struggling with same-sex issues was brought up at a President’s Administrative Council Town Hall meeting in April, and the conversation continues through a student who wants to start support groups for students on campus.
Mission’s Conference sparks confessions
Biola students began publicly confessing their sexual struggles to peers during Missions Conference, and the Singspo Afterglow on March 27 prompted even more confession from students. That came not long after Biola hosted Define The Relationship Week in February to engage students in a campus-wide discussion on sexuality, including homosexuality.
Rebekah Pearce, co-director of Missions Conference, said the conference brought a new atmosphere of humility to campus.
“During Missions Conference, masks came down, and there was vulnerability,” Pearce said. “People were able to show grace towards one another, and there was so much grace to be able to confess various sins, many of those being sexual sins.”
Biola student seeks to start accountability group
In order to move confession toward action, freshman Tanner Michels, who has a personal history with this struggle, felt led to start an accountability group on campus for those struggling with homosexuality. He said Biola can work on making the issue of sexuality a more public discussion.
Michels said he has not worked out all the details, but he plans to start the groups as soon as possible. In order to get the groups started much more quickly, he is currently looking for students to help him with the administrative aspects.
Christian campuses address homosexuality
But the conversations and movements around Biola’s campus are a part of a much larger discussion concerning the struggle with homosexuality on Christian campuses. Other universities, such as Point Loma Nazarene University and Seattle Pacific University, are dealing with the controversy around the topic and are hosting sexuality-related chapels and programs to engage students.
Biola, along with those universities, must define what it looks like to both maintain biblical expectations and exercise grace. Like PLNU and SPU, Biola’s community standards explicitly prohibit homosexual behavior.
Biola administration answers empathetically
In Biola’s student handbook, a portion reads, “Furthermore, students at Biola commit to refrain from practices that Scripture forbids, such as, sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, theft and dishonesty.”
At the same time, members in administration have expressed a desire to create a safe environment for students to be able to work through their struggles with sexuality.
“We want to journey with students in the truth of their heart,” said Danny Paschall, dean of students. “That is our heart. That’s what we do — we’re doing that. We don’t just say that on paper, then walk them through a different process that feels harsh and judgmental.”
However, there are no official, publicized Biola programs to help such students at this time. To accommodate students that struggle with homosexuality, Biola’s student development helps students find the help they need and suggests resources available on and off campus.
Finding identity in Christ
The subject of homosexuality is often taboo among Christians, Michels said. He hopes to change that by helping students recognize through these groups that people are not defined by their sexuality but by who they are in Christ.
“This is about God using my story, using my testimony and using me as a vessel to get something going that Biola at this point really, really needs,” Michels said.
Accountability needed for both men and women
When Michels expressed his desire to start a group for men, a female student asked him if he would also initiate a group for women. Sue Russell, professor of intercultural studies and the chair of the anthropology department, agreed to serve as the faculty advisor for the groups, named Men of Victory and Women of Grace.
Pearce said the majority of Biola students who have sought confession and change are men. Women are following this leadership, but at a slower pace, she said.
The point of these groups, Michels said, is to provide a haven where students struggling with same-sex attraction can work through their struggles. He does not promise recovery, but he said groups like these are something that the Biola community needs.
“These groups are specifically formed for people who have unwanted same-sex attraction and want to truly pursue redemption and holiness through Jesus Christ,” Michels said. “It is to truly create a haven, a support group, a place of healing and transparency for people who have the same struggles to come together and try to find healing — getting help and support through one another.”
Russell said she agreed to be the faculty advisor of these groups because she wants to provide a listening ear to struggling students. This includes not only students struggling with same-sex attraction, but students with struggles of any kind.
While she made it clear she is no expert in psychology or counseling, she said sometimes students just need a sympathetic ear.
“I don’t think to love somebody we particularly have to understand all the ins and outs,” Russell said. “I don’t have to be able to know the right words particularly, but it’s sometimes just walking beside someone and listening. That I can do.”
Approaching the issue with sensitivity
Based on his personal experience in pursuit of healing in Christ from homosexual struggles, sophomore Taylor Slavens views these groups from a different perspective. He said these groups might not be the best way to bring about healing because humans are sinners, and there is temptation for unhealthy relationships.
“I think it’s fine to have friends who struggle with homosexuality and chat with them about it and share your pain, but I think those also can turn into unhealthy relationships,” he said. “I would speak pretty boldly to encourage those who are struggling to get in community with those who are not struggling and to be affirmed and loved in that way. But it’s such a complex issue in the psychology of it all.”
Slavens did not disagree that the groups would be beneficial, but he said they should be approached carefully. Having two or more people with the same struggle get together to talk about it adds fuel to the fire, he said. Rather, Slavens said building community with those who do not share the struggle of homosexuality is the best approach.
Slavens said he experienced a radical transformation in Christ and that the best way to find healing is by looking to the cross and being rooted in the gospel.
“I really think the main thing that is going to provide healing and maturity and growth is to point people to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Slavens said.
Fighting the sterotype
Michels said Christians can have a tendency to be judgmental. He said it is the stereotypical conservative evangelical culture that turns people with this struggle away from Christ.
“It’s hard to change mentality,” Michels said. “It’s hard enough trying to make something happen. It’s extremely hard to change a culture, and that’s the issue.”
Messages of hate and judgment are spread by stereotypical Christian groups that picket with signs conveying God hates homosexuals, and it gives Christians a bad reputation regarding this struggle, Tanner said.
“To have this form of media in society as literally Christians doing this, claiming the name of Christ while doing this, can you truly blame the homosexual community for being turned off to Christianity?” Michels asked. “No, you can’t. I mean, you can try all you want, but I’m telling you, you’re wrong.”
Topic brings potential for fear and embarrassment
Because homosexuality involves sexuality, it is a private topic not often publicly discussed. Chris Grace, vice president of Student Development and university planning, said homosexuality is a struggle that makes students feel vulnerable.
Students on Christian campuses, as well as anywhere else, experience a wide range of struggles, said Grace, who also teaches psychology. These struggles can include things like fear of judgment, depression, confusion, guilt, isolation and misunderstanding.
“You bring together a topic that hits at the core of who we are, our sexual identity and being, that feels very private, very vulnerable with potential for things like embarrassment –– I think that’s why maybe this is a struggle that often times stays hidden,” Grace said.
This article is part one of a two-part series. Check back next week for part two. We encourage you to post your thoughts, but The Chimes will not tolerate any threatening, harassing, profane or discriminatory material.