Friday, June 7, 2013

Biola University, Abortion, and Disagreement Between Christians


Just yesterday I became aware of a recent controversy at Biola University, where I received my M.A. in Philosophy back in 2000. The 3 years spent at Biola were formative for me and my family in so many deep and positive ways. The influence of professors, other students, and the university itself continues in my life and work today, and I’m sure this will be true for the rest of my life. I would recommend Biola to others, and send my own children there, in a heartbeat.

Without being present, and knowing all of the relevant details, I will say up front that it seems to me that in general the university handled things in an appropriate manner. That being said, I was very disappointed, but not surprised, by the nature and substance of the discussion of the issues at this website. As followers of Christ, we are human and therefore not perfect. However, there are several things we can improve on as a community that are illustrated in this incident and the ensuing discussion. We need to be able to make and apply careful distinctions, avoid attacking the faith and character of others whom we know little about, engage in rational dialogue rather than emotional and in some cases irrational reactions, and think through the implications of what we say and believe.

First, we need to distinguish between a position that we hold, and the methods that are appropriate for advocating for that position. It is crystal clear that Biola as an institution is solidly pro-life. But it does not follow from this that every form of informing others about or advocating for the pro-life cause is appropriate, or appropriate on Biola’s campus. While pictures may be more effective, as the student claims, it does not mean that we ought to put them on display at Biola, or that this in and of itself justifies their use. It is easy to persuade people using images, but we don't just want to persuade people, we want to persuade them in an ethical manner. 

I think there is a time and a place where the visual reality of abortion is appropriately shown and discussed. However, there are inappropriate times and places for this as well. I favor the use of language rather than images, for several reasons. Ideas are the issue here, and photographs tend to sensationalize the issue. Better to have an informed theological and philosophical view about the personhood of the fetus than to rely on images which are emotionally powerful but not intellectually substantive. If you are interested in a sustained argument concerning fetal personhood, see the book by Biola professors Scott Rae and J. P. Moreland, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics.

Second, consider the emotional, irrational, and immoral character attacks in the comments at the online article referenced above:

  • Biola is a place where “fake hypocrites who spout ‘Speak your mind and convictions’ and then threaten a student for doing exactly that.”
  • “Biola is messing with the Lord God Almighty”
  • “Biola - you are killing your prophet!”
  • “Well, I guess Biola would think the actual crucifiction of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be too graphic for the visiting middle schoolers.”
  • “Christian Biola University is now NOTHING but only just a name. Its Un-Christian examples and practices on these particular set of events prove so! I would now not want to recommend Biola to parents whose children may wish to study there.”
  • And from the author of the post, in reference to a Biola nursing professor, “Nurse Ratcheds exist in more than movies.”

These could all be incorporated as examples of logical fallacies in any introductory logic textbook. What is more troubling is the un-Christian nature of these statements. We must learn to disagree without disparaging the character and faith of our brothers and sisters.

Third, by parity of reasoning, should we show visual images on Biola’s campus of other practices that are wrong? I don’t think we need to publicly display photographs of acts of prostitution, adultery, torture, murder, and so on to take a strong and intellectually persuasive stand against these practices.

In conclusion, we must learn how to disagree well, with passion, but also with charity, humility, and love. I admire this student’s passion for the pro-life cause. Abortion is heartbreaking in many ways. However, while we are to speak the truth, we are to do so in love. We are not to sink into name-calling or dismissing the Christian convictions of individual people or an entire institution like Biola University. We can do better, and we need to do so. Abortion is a moral, political, and religious issue. So is the way in which we discuss it.