US evangelical school faces social issues through different prism

(Photo: REUTERS / Stephen Lam)A pro-life demonstrator holds a cross during the Ninth Annual Walk for Life West Coast rally in San Francisco, California, January 26, 2013. Thousands of pro-life demonstrators marched in San Francisco to mark the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

A U.S. evangelical university faces similar debates over cultural and moral issues as secular campuses, but with a different twist in an ongoing debate.

After the summer vacation, the same issues look set to continue on the campus and in the blogosphere around it.

Biola University, in La Mirada, California has recently confronted both abortion and homosexuality on its campus in recent months.

(Photo: Biola University)On Friday, May 24,2013 Biola University unveiled a replica of one of the school's original "Jesus Saves" neon signs that adorned the downtown Los Angeles building dating back to the 1930s.

As the university graduated students in the spring earlier in the year, there was a flare-up over the display of graphic abortion photos on campus.


In May, Biola University students affiliated with a group called Advocates for Life were asked to take down vivid photos of aborted fetuses.

The campus newspaper, The Biola University Chimes, reported on June 6 that the pictures showed photos of hands, feet, bodies and faces of babies aborted between 8 to 10 weeks of gestation.

The photos were displayed outside the Student Union building at the center of campus.

Chimes noted that the students had not requested permission from the Biola administration to display the photos. The school has a policy of restricting such displays to enclosed, private areas.

Students passing by the table with the photos yelled at the students at Advocates for Life, according to Chimes.

The campus newspaper also published quotes from students who had a negative reaction to the display.


One of the students involved with showing the pictures was Diana Jimenez, a graduating nursing student.

(Photo: Facebook)Diana Jimenez created a stir on the campus of Biola University, an evangelical school in California, when she displayed graphic photos of aborted fetuses on campus. A YouTube video of a confrontation between her and the school's head of security helped prompt a debate in the blogosphere.

The issue escalated on May 17 when Jimenez was confronted on campus by chief of security John Ojeisekhoba as she held a sign depicting an aborted fetus. According to Chimes, she filmed the confrontation.

A video of the incident was posted on YouTube. It shows Ojeisekhoba tearing the sign away from Jimenez.

The security chief reminded her that she had been warned not to display graphic images and told her he would pursue legal action if she posted the video on the Internet.

Ojeisekhoba also told Jimenez she needed to leave campus and would call the sheriff if she refused. He also told her that she would not be able to graduate if he had to kick her off the school grounds.

During their argument Jimenez told Ojeisekhba that she didn't understand how a Christian campus would want to "hide this from students."

Chimes quoted Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, who supports Jimenez as saying, "Biola has become a business, and showing abortion photos is bad for business.

"[In Biola's view] upsetting students is a greater evil than allowing innocent babies to die."

Jimenez also told Ojeisekhba that in her role as a resident assistant she had encountered Biola students who had told her they had had an abortion and were ashamed and didn't know who to talk to.

The YouTube video was not the only event that created a stir.

Dr. Susan Elliott, head of Biola's nursing department, was accused by Jimenez supporter Cunningham of advising the faculty to not write recommendation letters for her, according to the Christian Post (CP).


Brenda Velasco, assistant director of public relations at Biola, told the CP, "We try to provide effective parameters for displays keeping in mind guests we may have on campus that day, location and use of public space."

Even though Jimenez did graduate and Velasco publicly announced faculty were free to write recommendations for her, the incident sparked a firestorm in the blogosphere and Christian press, carrying over the mid-year break.

Biola also been dealing with the presence of an increasingly active group of gay students.

The group calls itself "Queer Underground" went public at Biola last year.

This summer the group published a yearbook which showed the faces of the group's founders and future leaders, according to Chimes.

Biola has a code of standards which prevents same-sex relationships.


When Queer Underground promoted itself on campus in May 2012, Biola President Barry Corey told students that the school had no intention of changing its policy, U.S. News and World Report reported.

One of the founders of Queer Underground, Tasha Magness, is no longer a student at Biola, although she hopes to stay involved with the group.

"If you just let an institution stand like it is, you don't love the place … There are structural, I think, inequalities at Biola, but that doesn't mean I don't love it, "Magness said in Chimes.

(Vogue Magazine Cover)Biola Grad Beth Jones on Vogue cover in September 2011.

Another founder, William Haggerty, told Chimes, "I think it shows how much we truly do love the university, and the Church and Christianity, that we would risk so much and that we would put ourselves in such a position."

Danny Paschall, dean of Biola students, told Chimes in June that the issue of homosexuality should be engaged.

He met last year with students who had same-sex attractions but viewed it as a sin.

"Even among this group of young men, they all have very different thoughts and perspectives because they all have different, unique stories and backgrounds," he said.

During the interview with Chimes editor-in-chief Elizabeth Sallie, Paschall pulled out a copy of a journal article entitled "Sexual Minorities in Faith-Based Education", published in the Journal of Psychology and Theology.

Sallie noted that it said that Christian colleges can maintain a doctrinal stance while still creating a space for students to consider sexual ethics.

"I don't think students are just about 'I want doctrinal change.' What they want is a safe place to figure this out for their own lived experience," Paschall said.

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