Less than a week after President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage, a small group of gay Biola University students came out on the La Mirada, Calif., campus. Flyers posted around the campus lawn announced the presence of the previously underground group, which does not have official recognition at the Christian school.
School officials had the flyers removed almost immediately. But the next day, they issued a statement clarifying the school's stance on human sexuality and assuring students struggling with same-sex attraction that they are welcome in the Biola community.
"In the coming academic year, we will have focused dialogue and campus-wide educational forums on human sexuality," Biola President Barry Corey wrote in a letter to students, faculty and alumni. "Biola sees this as an opportunity to live out what it means to be a learning community of grace and love."
School administrators decided to write the statement a year and a half ago, but only released it after The Biola Queer Underground-an anonymous group that claims to have a few dozen members-posted its flyers and made its website public. The site, which includes the stories of the group's members, although they are not named, questions the school's views on homosexuality.
Biola students are required to sign a contract affirming their agreement with the university's belief that "sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife." The new statement goes into more detail, looking at God's design for marriage, offering help for those struggling with issues of sexuality, and encouraging discussion on campus.
"Our marriages on earth model the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph 5:31-33)," the statement reads. "God's design for marriage and sexuality is the foundational reason for viewing acts of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman outside of marriage, and any act of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex, as illegitimate moral options for the confessing Christian."
The statement also says the school is a safe place for those struggling with same sex issues: "We pledge to extend compassion and care, providing accountability and assistance as we support all members of our community -- students, staff and faculty -- in their desire to live consistently with Christian teaching."
Westmont College, in Montecito, Calif., had to tackle similar issues last year when 31 gay alumni wrote an open letter to the school describing their "doubt, loneliness and fear" during their time as students.
While the school did not change its policy, the letter spurred a week-long series of events to promote discussion about sexuality, including faculty panels, chapel sessions, and discussion groups.
Chris Grace, vice president of Student Development, said that students often come to him and other Biola faculty members about their struggles with same-sex attraction.
"They struggle in ways like everyone else because of brokenness," he said. "When we recognize students who come to us, our hope is to walk alongside them... to help them grow closer to what God intended in their lives." Many of these students who have come to the school for help have disassociated themselves with the Underground group, he said.
But for those who blatantly disagree with the school's theological view and act against its policy, "we will live in a state of tension," Grace said. If they persist, even after conversations with the faculty, the students will be violating their signed contract. In that case, Grace tells them: "This isn't the place for you."
With gay marriage a hot button topic around the nation, Grace predicts that all Christian universities will have to deal with issues of sexual identity on campus.
"I believe it will be one of the big defining issues in our culture....it will be a big issue for Christian colleges to be clear on what they believe and seek clarity and compassion to treat others with respect."