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.


Ignacio said...

I like your thoughts and corrections about how those who have not acted Christ-like towards Biola.

With respect to your counterexamples of publicly displaying images of "acts prostitution, adultery, torture, murder, and so on." Unfortunately, you examples cannot be compared to abortion for the very reason that all those acts are already illegal plus it is already the conventional wisdom that those acts are to be viewed as wrong.

Michael said...

Ignacio, Suppose we lived in a place in which conventional wisdom did not view those acts as wrong, would you then say that it was appropriate to publicaly display images portraying those acts?

Ignacio said...

There is a difference between immoral sexually explicit images that can tempt a man and graphic images of injustices. Yes, if there were injustices as such that were sanctioned by the law and many ppl viewed them not wrong, we should be exposing the deeds of darkness as commanded by the Lord in Ephesians 5:11 said...

Thank you for your post. I wrote to every email address and called the office of Biola's president. They were very helpful and sent me a link to their statement and position.

In turn, I went back to the websites where the story was posted and asked people to read Biola's statement. I do not agree with the punishment this student will receive. I hope that the administration will rescind and allow her to graduate. They are on the same side of the issue and only seem to differ on expression and approach.

Unfortunately, the situation is not being presented fairly by some.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your well reasoned discussion on the issue. However, there is an opposing view to your statement, "Ideas are the issue here." Many would argue babies are the issue, not ideas, real human babies being killed.

ArmsofAudio said...

We are an online talk show covering former Biola Students and Staff on their opinions. Tune in to our Broadcast Tuesday at 7pm PT (June 11,2013) And please leave feedback. It seems to us everyone is in agreement that Diana broke the rules where the controversy lies is how harsh the punishment.

Anonymous said...

Your alma mater's treatment of this student is anything but Christian (e.g., ordering no letters of recommendation). Instead of addressing this, you concentrate on red herrings: Your dismay at how un-Christian some internet reaction has been. The school's reaction seems to indicate a fanatical need to control the forms of students' freedom of speech and/or that the school is not up to facing what abortion really is. Humans are being killed every day, legally. That's the biggest issue in all this, isn't it?

Mike Austin said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments so far. Here are some brief thoughts I have:

1. While it is true that this has to do with the abortion debate, and the most important aspect of the whole situation is the moral status of embryos/fetuses, that is not the issue here because all involved parties are pro-life. The issue I am addressing is not the ethics of abortion, given the agreement on this among the involved parties. Rather, it is how we disagree well as fellow followers of Christ, in this case on the topic of the best methods of advocating for this position. This is not a red herring, but rather it is the issue I proposed to address and did in fact address.

2. As far as the recommendation issue, I chose not to address that because I don't know what is going on, and while the way it is described in the article is troubling, I'd want more information, and reliable information, before I discussed it.

Phillip said...

As Mike pointed out, Biola is not disputing the moral nature of abortion. That is one of the most disappointing aspects of all of this: Biola and Diana have unnecessarily been cast as each other's enemies. Biola isn't trying to silence a pro life perspective. It is simply disputing the way it is discussed on campus. We shouldn't be so quick to judge when we haven't heard the full story. We shouldn't be so easily swept up in the heat of the moment that we fail to think in a Spirit-filled and wise way.

Ignacio, you said "if there were injustices as such that were sanctioned by the law and many ppl viewed them not wrong, we should be exposing the deeds of darkness as commanded by the Lord..." In the context of Biola University, the overwhelming majority views abortion as abhorrent. The school's official documentation opposes that. While there are students who have had abortions, that does not reflect the overall atmosphere. It seems wise to understand your audience and differentiate the approach based on that. The rhetoric I've heard from many would make more sense on a campus where the students and administration were either neutral or pro-choice. Biola is not the enemy. Ephesians also talks about who that is and how we need to prepare for those battles.

For the record, I think it wrong-headed to vilify Diana too, even though I disagree with her approach. She has character and a zeal for the Lord that I wish more of us had. So no more Team Diana vs. Team Biola. It's Team Christ. The question becomes, how do we move forward in a Christ-honoring way, keeping in mind 1 Corinthians 6:1-8?

Second Breakfast said...

Regarding the commendation issue, I think the administration is being presented as responding vindictively. I cannot speak to their motivations but it seems warranted to withhold an institutional endorsement of someone's future employment when that individual is cooperating with Bill Cunningham and the Center for Bio-Ethical, as well as the author of the article Jill Stanek, in their slander of the University.