5 Points About Biola's Statement on Racial Justice
Biola University published a statement on racial justice last Thursday (UPDATE: It was also published in the December 2020 edition of the alumni magazine). I welcome these public affirmations. It's a long statement, so I am only going to comment on a few parts of it.
Point #1: I agree with it, in principle.
On paper, this statement contains several moments that I can agree with. In fact, I don't disagree with anything in the statement. Here are several statements that I especially want to commend.
"we need godly discernment and gospel faithfulness on the issue of race. The serious upsurge of racial unrest around the nation, sparked by the tragic killing of George Floyd, brought to light the need for biblically sound justice movements."
"we are the body of Christ, thus we are bound together as one, and what impacts one group impacts all (1 Cor. 12:26)."
"We need to wrestle through ideas and their complexities, knowing that with the authority of Scripture as our common bond."
"Ultimately, our allegiance is to Christ in service of his church and not to vain philosophies."
"As we discern approaches to race, however, we should do so with scriptural eyes wide open."
"we must show the world how biblical Christianity offers far more hopeful and unifying answers to the injustices of our day."
Biola is clearly trying to position the conversation in the framework of having Scripture as the ground of truth. This is great –– in principle.
But I also think important unanswered questions remain. How are these principles actually being applied in real life? How are these values being converted into HR policies, training and hiring practices? Hopefully, these matters will be clarified with the forthcoming release of the Diversity Strategic Plan in spring 2021.
Point #2: I appreciate their restatement about BLM.
I commend the statement's effort to clarify Biola's stand on the general statement of "black lives matter" vs. the organization of BLM. Here is that section.
"In recent months, I have said and written the words that “black lives matter.” In saying these three words, I’ve heard from some of Biola’s constituents asking me how I could support the Black Lives Matter organization. As Biola apologetics graduate and pastor Chris Brooks has put it, there is a difference between the affirmation that black lives matter and the organization Black Lives Matter. We can and must support the affirmation that black lives matter. But that should not prevent us from raising questions about the organization by that name and its stated beliefs, many of which are antithetical to the teaching of Jesus. The organization has embraced several goals that are contrary to our understanding of Scripture. At its core, the organization supports “reproductive justice that gives us autonomy over our bodies.” The organization’s strong support for abortion contradicts the Bible’s affirmation of the sanctity of life. We believe wholeheartedly that unborn black lives matter, too. The organization’s positions on marriage, sexuality and the family are at odds with Scripture’s beauty of God-given gender distinctions, biblical marriage and sex. Also, some of the tenets at the core of the organization — according to its founders — make its founding principles incompatible with biblical Christianity, as BLM’s founders have gone on the record identifying as 'trained Marxists.'”
This section appears to be a restatement of themes that President Dr. Barry Corey stated in his Convocation message at the beginning of the semester.
I do think it's worth at least mentioning, however, that the founders of BLM don't want people to do the very thing Biola is doing. They do not want the hashtag or statement of "black lives matter" decoupled from the formal organization or movement. The statement also omits any mention the co-founder's description of the movement's connection to African witchcraft and what they mean when they say, "Say the name."
I think it could be reasonably argued that Biola's efforts to decouple these elements engage in a bit of post-modern hermeneutic. Some level of respect should be paid to the authors' intended meaning behind these phrases.
This brings me to one of my general concerns with this document as a whole: it often speaks in the theoretical. And that’s not an inherent problem, unless we never get around to applying the theoretical to the real world. For example, I would really like to have seen Biola specifically apply the principle above by addressing the statement by a Biola staff member in a recent chapel that Jesus would have attended a BLM protest. Perhaps the authors didn't want to raise additional concern from parents and alumni who aren't yet aware of this situation? I don't know. But I would have given the statement even more admiration if it had said something along the lines of, "We recognize that mistakes were made. We are putting new procedures in place."
Point #3: I appreciate the desire not to platform speakers who advocate for secular justice.
I appreciate the statement's clarification about the speakers the school intends to platform. Here is the relevant section for that.
"That means at Biola, when we approach the issue of racial justice we will be diligent on holding high the gospel. As for chapel and Biola’s annual co-curricular conferences, for instance, we will not be inviting speakers to campus who seek a revolutionary, secular form of justice that disregards the gospel and whose social construction of truth does not leave room for God’s eternal truths."
I am glad to hear this stated intention. However, it doesn't really offer a specific explanation about, or apology for, the fact that the school platformed recent chapel speakers who gave soft introductions to liberation theology and standpoint epistemology. Nor does it explain if Biola plans to make changes in the kinds of speakers it books for the SCORR conference, where advocates of various aspects of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality have been platformed in the past.
Do the words in this latest statement reflect the true position of the school? Or should I take a wait-and-see posture based on the school's actions? I honestly don't know what the true position of the school is. Words and actions are painting two different pictures for me. But again, I remain hopeful that clarity is forthcoming since the release of the Diversity Strategic Plan will be released in spring 2021.
Point #4: I'm a little confused over the fact that the President is "still learning" about Critical Theory.
In this section, the President Dr. Barry Corey describes his current knowledge about Critical Theory as something he doesn't "fully understand" and that he is "still learning" about. Here are those comments in context.
"One of the dominant idea platforms for racial discussions is critical race theory (CRT). There is much about CRT I do not fully understand. Many books have been written about it, and it is seen in different ways by different people. Some refer to CRT as a tool. Others a worldview. From what I do know (and I am still learning) CRT seeks to understand power dynamics as they apply to race — among other categories — in our social worlds. Everyone belongs to a group, and according to CRT, some groups have power. Other groups don’t. And those with power seek to oppress those without power. From what I have come to understand, CRT seeks to place people in categories and to make assumptions about them based on these groups."
In another section, he quotes author David French's statement that features of Critical Theory are ultimately incompatible with historic Christianity. I applaud this.
But I am also puzzled. The University hired a Provost who wrote her doctoral dissertation about how to integrate principles from Critical Theory into a predominantly white evangelical university. Was her promotion to the position of Provost a coincidence? Or was it strategic? I don't know. So while I don't disagree with anything the document explicitly says, it also leaves many important unanswered questions.
Once again, I'm honestly not sure which narrative to believe. One story may be a picture the school wants me to believe as a parent and alumni, while there is another story being advocated behind the scenes in the everyday life and culture of the University. I simply don't know. But again, I remain hopeful that clarity is forthcoming since the release of the Diversity Strategic Plan will be released in spring 2021.
Point #5: This document reinforces the need for the public release of the strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.
The school has taken many steps in recent years to increase "diversity and inclusion." Some of that effort is summarized here.
"Long before this summer’s unrest and racial tensions, we at Biola set in place a process to develop and activate plans for strengthening our unity at Biola while also understanding how to live into the beauty of our diversity. Biola’s plans are reflected in our Institutional Diversity Strategic Plan grounded in our board-approved Theological Statement on Diversity. This work involved those from across the university, spearheaded by our Chief Diversity Officer Tamra Malone and widely represented by a university task force. Our Board of Trustees has engaged in honest conversations about how we are not simply dabbling around the edges of diversity but getting serious, counting the costs and taking the risks to be all in. Our Institutional Diversity Strategic Plan includes appointing a faculty leader who will work across all schools on critical topics on how healthy diversity and cultural humility components are woven into course pedagogy, curriculum and advising. I am happy to say that Dr. Leon Harris, assistant professor of theology, has stepped into this new role beginning in the fall. We will continue to host times of student lament. We will continue to educate students to think and live biblically on issues of racial justice. We will continue to lead our community into hard and healthy conversations to equip ourselves to serve all students equitably. We will continue to listen and we will continue to pray, trusting in the reconciling work of the gospel vertically and horizontally."
This info is a basic restating of info that the President announced back in early June. But again, I remain hopeful that clarity is forthcoming since the release of the Diversity Strategic Plan will be released in spring 2021.
Let me be clear, I am not against efforts of diversity and inclusion, depending on how they are defined. But that's precisely the problem. These are terms that are intimately tied to Critical Theory. This video by James Lindsay explains the meaning behind these terms in this thoughtful video.
I cannot assume that Biola means anything different than these standard Critical Theory definitions since they have not offered any public definitions for these terms. But hopefully that will be clarified once Diversity Strategic Plan is made public. That's where I think we will see how the theological principles of their "Unity Amidst Diversity" statement are being implemented "across all schools on critical topics on how healthy diversity and cultural humility components are woven into course pedagogy, curriculum and advising." Until the strategic plan is public, we don't really know what kinds of policies the University is implementing in HR policies, trainings, and hiring practices. In the meantime, statements like the one released last week are nice, but also leave many critical unanswered questions.
A Final Word
I want to say a word of recognition about the horrible complexities of running a world-class Christian university in the midst of a culture that is actively hostile to our faith. I'm not a prophet, but I do wonder whether the idea of the Christian university, in general, is in its waning moments. I imagine that there is unbelievable pressure to conform to the world's standards of diversity and inclusion as seen through the lens of CRT. And for this reason, at least the appearance of some amount of cultural accommodation is probably seen as necessary in order to keep accreditation and government funding. I'm sure it's exhausting trying to keep the boat between the navigational beacons. That said, I think all Christian universities need to be more transparent with prospective students, parents and alumni about the wideness of the "diversity of thought" that any school allows.