I want to applaud them and suggest that Jesus would be proud of them. They understand Jesus’ “third way” of nonviolent resistance to oppression and exclusion, and they are living this approach out, loud and proud.
What follows is an open letter to Dr. Erik Thoennes, President Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration. I, Jos Charles, am writing to you as a queer graduate of Biola, affiliate of the Biola Queer Underground, and continued supporter of our University.
Dear Dr. Thoennes, Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration,
I recently started a petition asking Dr. Erik Thoennes to apologize for his homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks at last fall’s Sexuality Matters discussion. During the discussion, Dr. Thoennes repeatedly compared queer sexuality to racism. Reading from the Biola Queer Underground’s mission statement, he publicly ridiculed the group’s experiences by substituting the word “racist” for “queer.” Thoennes went on to describe his perspective as “kind” and “loving.”
My petition has drawn some attention from GLAAD and other media outlets. However, it has yet to be acknowledged by Dr. Thoennes or the administration. I have since grown convinced that an apology is not enough to address the reality LGBTQ Biola students face. An apology might help alumni like me feel better about our alma mater, but would not stop the daily abuse of LGBTQ Biola students. Rather than change Thoennes’ beliefs, I want the conditions that allow Dr. Thonnes to bully students to be eliminated. I am writing to call for something much more than an apology: concerted structural change. We cannot have a safe Biola until we have a Biola that is open to dialogue with its students, queer or otherwise. That’s why I am asking Dr. Thoennes to meet openly with Biola Queer Underground members, other queer alumni, and me in an open panel on campus to discuss LGBTQ identities and their relation to Christianity. I want to make clear I am not asking to “debate” Dr. Thonnes on his positions. A debate would imply we, as LBGTQ Biolans, are external to Biola, coming to provide a contrasting perspective. Rather, we are Biola, and as Biola we demand that you listen and give our voices representation.
As it stands, Biola’s queer students are ostracized. Professors shame queer students with slurs and tolerate bullying in the classroom. Campus security polices whether same-gender couples can hold hands or publicly express their gender identities. The Biola Queer Underground frequently has their event posters removed by administration. At Biola, queer oppression is institutionalized.
Perhaps I take this for granted, but I assume faith communities agree LGBTQ people should not live under fear of violence. Dr. Thoennes’ comments however contribute to, enable, and even encourage these sorts of violence. In the sexuality forum, queer students heard their desires and struggles publically likened to racism and mocked as a joke. Because of such bullying, LGBTQ Christians face some of the highest rates of suicide and homelessness in the country. Dr. Thoennes’ comments institutionally encourage attacks—whether it’s through a half-joking slur or physical assault. Dr. Thoennes cheered on our oppression. He took the bully’s side.
Furthermore, by using the terms “LGBT” and “homosexuality” interchangeably, Dr. Thoennes also silenced the voices of Biola’s trans* students. His comments betray an ignorance and fear of even talking about trans* issues. The only “T” in the discussion was Thoennes’ response to a question about “transvestites” [sic]. He quickly dismissed it as “dysfunction” and “perversion.” Treating any student’s identity as an unworthy topic for discussion serves to shame and silence that student. If Biola is going to talk about LGBTQ identity and its relation to Christianity, it must include trans* issues.
When Thoennes compared struggles against racism with his struggle against queer students, he erased the identities of queer students of color. Thoennes implied that cisgender, heterosexual students and faculty are “victims” of the BQU. His attempt to shift himself to “victim-status” is clear in phrases such as “feel[ing] far less freedom” to call queerness sinful than racism and his considering LGBTQ people “a tidal wave of opposition.” The analogy drew on a racist trope of queer people as
white and people of color as straight. Queer students of color were doubly ostracized by the comparison.
That such statements were made just as Biola opened the Mosaic Cultural Center is telling. The new Center is supposed to represent Biola’s commitment to “engaging in critical thought and dialogue” in issues of diversity. In practice, however, we have seen students stripped of representation in public discussion. The panelists didn’t even trust Biola students’ “critical thought” enough to include one LGBTQ-affirming perspective. Thoennes laughed at the thought of letting a queer ally speak on campus. Yet even among evangelical Christians, 30% of churchgoers identify as LGBTQ-inclusive. Biola is simply not working towards making campus a safe space for queer students.
Dr. Thoennes’ comments are not unique, but part of a larger, structural problem. Biola needs to discuss LGBTQ issues, yes, but also race. Dr. Thonnes’ comments betrayed a disturbing misunderstanding of racism. He spoke of homosexuality and racism as both active, conscious choices; however, not only is homosexuality not a conscious choice, neither is racism. To treat racism without discussing privilege, material exploitation, and power, is a distortion. It removes racism from its historical context, a context that has largely benefitted white Christians like Dr. Thoennes. By painting a picture of racism that denies his privileged position as a Christian white man, Dr. Thoennes presents a revisionist view of Christianity’s problematic relationship to race.
If Christians are going to discuss topics like race and sexuality we have to start from acknowledging Christianity’s historically held center of power, which has been key in the spreading of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy. A more fitting analogy between racism and queerness is that white people still benefit from past and continued race oppression; cisgender, heterosexual people still benefit from past and continued sexuality and gender oppression.
Until Dr. Thoennes and the Biola administration are willing to face, discuss, and listen to students, Biola will continue to propagate abuse, particularly for students of color and queer students. If administration continues to not address this issue, they continue to erase the voices of the student body.
Dr. Thoennes, Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration: you do not solely represent the Biola community. The student body, in all its diversity, is Biola. It is administration and faculty’s responsibility to listen to and benefit our experience—and we will not be silenced.
Thank you for your time,
I remember sitting in my Bible class at Biola and listening as the professor gave us scientific and social proof for why acting on gay desires was a sin. I nodded along with his statements and eagerly took notes. Here was the evidence I had been looking for! Ever since Prop 8, the issue of being gay (and, more so, acting on gay desires) was brought to my attention. I remembered hearing my parents speak of gay marriage with disgust, and I remembered hearing them say that according to the Bible, that type of relationship choice was wrong. I fully agreed and was just as disgusted as they were.
The only problem?
I remember thinking, as I was reading more about Prop 8, “Whew! It’s good the Bible says clearly that this is a sin. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to think it’s bad.”
But now here was my professor, ready to rescue me from that slight hiccup. He was giving me all the added proof I needed.
But doubts still nagged at me. I felt something was wrong. This thought pattern I was dealing with and the emotions involved didn’t feel like what God would want from me. It was hard to love those who were gay, when I was so busy judging them. Sure, I sympathized with them. It wasn’t their fault they had been born with their struggles. But they still needed to do what was right. There were no excuses.
But I was prejudiced. I only listened to half the argument, and it was only when I decided to take a risk and listen to the other side that I realized how wrong I had been. I read a book by Eric Marcus, titled “Is It A Choice?”, and this book was the first turning point for me. I realized that there was nothing wrong with being gay. I had assumed to understand another person’s point of view, instead of stepping in that person’s shoes and letting them speak for themselves. I had assumed I understood the Bible, instead of looking deeper. I had assumed I understood God, instead of checking to make sure my reasoning and response was in line with the Bible.
I began to understand those who were gay and lesbian in ways that I never had before. I understood that it wasn’t a choice, and that it wasn’t bad. All the “proof” my professor had thrown at me, I know looked over again, and I saw it full of flaws that had never been sufficiently addressed. I couldn’t find a single thing wrong with being gay. They had loving relationships, led Godly lives, served others with all their hearts—no different than straight people. Sure, some were horrible—but again, just like some straight people.
The persecution I saw in the Church aimed toward those who are gay and lesbian reminded me of the Pharisees’ persecution of Jesus and the apostles. It’s said you can judge a tree by its fruit. I could find no fault with the fruit of those who were gay and lesbian. However, when I looked at the fruit many Christians were giving off—even many professors and preachers at Biola—I felt sick. This clearly was not what God wanted.
I changed my heart, my mind, and my direction from that point on, and I began to fight for justice, equality, and love. I began to fight for truth. Because I believe that’s what God would want me to do. And even more than that, being fought for, loved, and understood is what these people deserve. Interpreting the Bible accurately and consistently is what the Bible deserves. And I will never doubt I made the right choice.
I don’t mean to look down on you if you believe differently—I just want you to explore. To reach outside your Bible classes and church meetings and look deeper into the issue. Because sometimes, as happened way back in the Bible years, the church can be wrong. And I shudder at the destruction that will happen to many, many beloved people if we follow their guidance without testing it to make sure we’re on the right track.
We applaud any Biola student who is willing to take the brave step in sharing their story. The courage of the Chimes to publish on LGBTQ topics is a great step in making Biola more friendly to students from all stripes of life.
I find myself gripping onto the edges of these pages
My hands have grown accustom to
The pages of this book that many have claimed to condemn me
Falling into each syllable and structure
That “speaks” of my state of being
As an unnatural disgusting anomaly
Conforming to this interpretation seems to be quite faulty
They claim that feelings and emotions are unreliable
That we cannot trust what lies inside
But how can we trust that your version of “objective truth”
Has not been tainted by your subjective trains of thought
The church has been wrong on various occasions
We have thought that the earth was flat,
Women were not made in the image of God
And that we had the right to chain up the black man
That we were justified as we read scripture
While tying them up
Blood sweating off their backs as we
Whipped the word “animal” onto their shoulders
It was their name tag
We told women that they were property
That the Bible gave beautiful guidelines
Of what it means to be a dresser drawer or a coffee table
Exquisite in its craftsmanship and useful in its function
But oh do not speak
You cannot speak
But oh we are not wrong on this!
The Bible is perfectly clear!
Homosexuals are sensual perverts
Not a part of God’s design
You cannot BE gay
You CHOOSE to live a lifestyle
It’s not like it was etched into cracks of my bones
How can the church be so foolish!
So arrogant as to say that they are not without error
That they cannot possibly make the same mistake as our church fathers
And the price of the church’s mistakes
Another teenager is found on the carpet
With a rope around his neck
“Animal” is carved into his forearm
We gave him that name tag
The church claims to not condone slavery
Yet thousands of LGBTQ people walk with chains on their ankles
A strip of metal welded to their lips
We have whipped them into submission
And crafted them into nice coffee tables
Our humanity has been stolen from us
We have been depicted as ravenous creatures
Out to steal your children and break up your families
Like the sexy neighbor next door who walks by your
Husband in a slinky black dress
But in reality
We are your children!!
We sit there at your dinner tables while you rant
About “those hell-bound homosexuals”
We sit in the bathroom stalls and eat our lunches
Because the other school kids wont eat with us
We hear you even though you don’t realize that you are talking to us
That you are talking to me
Everyday that I sit in classrooms
And listen to my bible professors
I become more hardened
More like the women of my grandmother’s generation
Who were not seen or heard
Who were told to get back into the kitchen
Get back into the bed
Get into something “more comfortable”
An object of a man’s desire
I am told to be quiet
To be manufactured into something nice and pretty and functional
But people cannot be made into kitchen sinks
Or bed frames or nightstands
I will not be silenced
WE will not be silenced
For there is a God who speaks of our worth
Who you have used against us
He tells us that man-made interpretations
Of a book with rich cultural context
Cannot define our identities
HE defines our identities
So I stand here as a gay woman
Standing for all who are poor and oppressed
Following after the one
Whose soles I am unworthy to untie
For HE is my LORD
Throughout my time at Biola University, I went from being a very strong Christian, set on honoring God, and desiring for a Christian community for college, to an atheist feeling alienated and hated by the church, God and Biola. All this happened before I came to grips with my sexuality and with my feelings towards the LGBTQ community. When I met the people involved with the BQU, before the website was launched, or anyone else knew of the existence of gay kids on campus, I was already being hardened toward a religion and a church that was pushing me to the outskirts, because I was not the “average” Christian. I had been through a lot of pain, and was questioning everything. There appeared to be no room for my questions in religion classes, chapel, church or bible studies. What’s more, I was beginning to be seen as a problem, not as a person.
Then I started to get to know the people in the BQU. I started attending a church that was gay affirming with them, and began to realize that along with gay people, they were affirming me. The people I met in the BQU and at this church loved me, despite my questions, despite my doubts or religious affiliation, and finally, despite my sexual orientation. I was able to talk to people my own age about the things I was scared of for the first time and have them listen and agree, or explain their thoughts, without seeming like they were being condescending. When I started dating my girlfriend, they celebrated with me, they did not condemn me and they understood that not everything is black and white in the world.
I remember one night last year, I had been in the hospital and was being discharged around 11:00 pm. I called 3 different pastors, and a bible teacher, asking if they could pick me up. Each one of them turned me down and hung up, without lifting a finger to help. I ended up taking a cab home. This year, when my girlfriend got kicked out of her house after coming out to her parents, and was left with nothing, the pastor of my current church went out of his way, making calls and doing everything he could to make sure she didn’t end up on the street. She never did. There was one family not involved in our church that found out what was going on. Even though the father of that family does believe being in the LGBTQ community is a sin, he offered to have her stay at their house for a weekend when she was in a bind. He told me that he doesn’t think his beliefs about her lifestyle should allow him to turn away someone who needed help. He brought up the verse “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me” Matthew 25:40.
I love the community I am involved with right now and the people I have met during this time in my life. I have felt more true love and acceptance now than ever before, and can honestly say that I am better for having met them. Most of these people, but not all, are strong Christians, they love God and Jesus, and show Christian love the way I always thought it was supposed to be. Those that aren’t Christians are no different, they still show love and acceptance like no one else I have met, they just don’t do it for the same reason.
I still cannot bring myself to say that I am a Christian, and I am still not sure what I believe about God, but if it were not for these beautiful people, I don’t think I would ever have looked back when I walked away from my faith.
When I was 6, I thought I was going to marry Princess Leia. There were so many reasons to have Leia love, she was a driving force in the Rebel Alliance, she was super sassy, and she had the courage to stand up against her enemies even when they threatened her with an unnecessary nose job. And when Leia saw her entire home planet, Alderaan, blown to smithereens she didn’t mope around and cry about it, that bitch got mad and that bitch got even. She was so beautiful! From the celebration ceremony gown to the infamous bikini, she had it all. She was one luscious, juicy casino royale squeezed between two trademark buns and I loved her.
But as I grew older and went through adolescence, I realized that I didn’t want Leia anymore. While I had some emotional crushes on the girls that I went to school with, I was exclusively sexually attracted to men. This scared the shit out of me. I tried to suppress it for a really long time. I was super involved in my small Christian high school and youth group. I didn’t want to lose my friends or disappoint the adults in mylife that believed in me. I liked leading prayer group, I liked planning charity events and I liked helping others in Christ’s name. I read all the purity books and tried so hard to suppress my sexual orientation. I used to aim for getting through a whole day without even thinking of sex. But the truth was I was wired for lust and even changing for PE in the boy’s locker room would sabotage my most pious efforts.
I never really acted on my urges until my sophomore year at Biola when I started dating for the first time. My first boyfriend went to UCLA and I loved taking breaks from the Biola Bubble to Westwood.We would go through used bookstores, hike around Griffith Park, try trendy restaurants and have Star Wars marathons. Occasionally we would get super drunk and play N64-though I would always lose at Super Smash Brothers. We had our Valentines date at Knott’s Berry Farm and spent our day riding roller coasters. That was the first time someone told me that they loved me in the romantic sense. As it turns out, we weren’t really right for each other and after 6 months we called it quits.
After our breakup, I came out to my parents. My parents and I were heading to the mountains for a family hike. I was having a rough time with this being first breakup. I was getting really fidgety and sick to my stomach. I had no idea how my parents would react to me coming out. It was completely normal for people in my family to make gay jokes or to criticize the gay community. But I did it anyway, because it was the truth and because it needed to be said. I think Kurt Cobain made a lot of sense when he said he’d rather be hated for what he was than loved for what he wasn’t. We were driving on a curvy highway and the first thing my mom did was unbuckle her seatbelt and climb over to the backseat to hold and kiss me.
“I love you always and forever. You are my son,” she said. Those are the type of words that stick with you when life gets hard and you don’t know how you will make it through the day.
After the initial shock my parents made it clear that they loved and supported me no matter what. But they were a little mad—mad that I didn’t tell them sooner. I had been hiding that part of myself for so long that I hadn’t realized the relational walls I built in the process. That’s what fear does; it takes hold of you and makes you lonely. There are a lot of people in my life that I can’t let in because I’m afraid of what they’ll do when they find out I’m gay. When they see me will they only see a gay kid? Are they going to try to change me? Are they going to tell me about how awful hell is?
I’m not trying to change what Evangelicals think about Biblical truth. When the underground first came to the student body’s attention I saw all the Facebook statuses and comments. One of the things that kept coming up is the divide Biolans feel about truth and love. People don’t know how they can be accepting and loving towards the LGBT community when they believe that homosexuality is a sin. But no one has a problem loving and accepting their straight friend even when they find out their friend is guilty of sin. How about you stay committed to your belief that homosexuality is wrong but treat me like a friend anyway? Biblical Truth is relevant but Biblical Love is relational.
I don’t know how God feels about my sexuality. This is a long, deep, personal struggle that haunts me daily. But what I do know is that I need people in my life to love and support me. I do know that I need my friends to get to know me as an individual. And I know that when my gay friends have been kicked out of their homes because their parents are disgusted with their own children, the last thing they need to hear is how God is going to punish them. There is some much needed restoration needed between mainstream Christianity and the gay community. There are problems way too big for the individual to approach. But if you are a hetero-Christian and you want to help someone who identifies as LGBT just know that a listening ear and a helping hand is a great start.