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Open Letter to Dr. Erik Thoennes

Posted on May 19, 2013 at 6:55 PM

What follows is an open letter to Dr. Erik Thoennes, President Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration. I, Jos Charles, am writing to you as a queer graduate of Biola, affiliate of the Biola Queer Underground, and continued supporter of our University.


Dear Dr. Thoennes, Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration,


I recently started a petition asking Dr. Erik Thoennes to apologize for his homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks at last fall’s Sexuality Matters discussion. During the discussion, Dr. Thoennes repeatedly compared queer sexuality to racism. Reading from the Biola Queer Underground’s mission statement, he publicly ridiculed the group’s experiences by substituting the word “racist” for “queer.” Thoennes went on to describe his perspective as “kind” and “loving.”


My petition has drawn some attention from GLAAD and other media outlets. However, it has yet to be acknowledged by Dr. Thoennes or the administration. I have since grown convinced that an apology is not enough to address the reality LGBTQ Biola students face. An apology might help alumni like me feel better about our alma mater, but would not stop the daily abuse of LGBTQ Biola students. Rather than change Thoennes’ beliefs, I want the conditions that allow Dr. Thonnes to bully students to be eliminated. I am writing to call for something much more than an apology: concerted structural change. We cannot have a safe Biola until we have a Biola that is open to dialogue with its students, queer or otherwise. That’s why I am asking Dr. Thoennes to meet openly with Biola Queer Underground members, other queer alumni, and me in an open panel on campus to discuss LGBTQ identities and their relation to Christianity. I want to make clear I am not asking to “debate” Dr. Thonnes on his positions. A debate would imply we, as LBGTQ Biolans, are external to Biola, coming to provide a contrasting perspective. Rather, we are Biola, and as Biola we demand that you listen and give our voices representation.


As it stands, Biola’s queer students are ostracized. Professors shame queer students with slurs and tolerate bullying in the classroom. Campus security polices whether same-gender couples can hold hands or publicly express their gender identities. The Biola Queer Underground frequently has their event posters removed by administration. At Biola, queer oppression is institutionalized.


Perhaps I take this for granted, but I assume faith communities agree LGBTQ people should not live under fear of violence. Dr. Thoennes’ comments however contribute to, enable, and even encourage these sorts of violence. In the sexuality forum, queer students heard their desires and struggles publically likened to racism and mocked as a joke. Because of such bullying, LGBTQ Christians face some of the highest rates of suicide and homelessness in the country. Dr. Thoennes’ comments institutionally encourage attacks—whether it’s through a half-joking slur or physical assault. Dr. Thoennes cheered on our oppression. He took the bully’s side.


Furthermore, by using the terms “LGBT” and “homosexuality” interchangeably, Dr. Thoennes also silenced the voices of Biola’s trans* students. His comments betray an ignorance and fear of even talking about trans* issues. The only “T” in the discussion was Thoennes’ response to a question about “transvestites” [sic]. He quickly dismissed it as “dysfunction” and “perversion.” Treating any student’s identity as an unworthy topic for discussion serves to shame and silence that student. If Biola is going to talk about LGBTQ identity and its relation to Christianity, it must include trans* issues.


When Thoennes compared struggles against racism with his struggle against queer students, he erased the identities of queer students of color. Thoennes implied that cisgender, heterosexual students and faculty are “victims” of the BQU. His attempt to shift himself to “victim-status” is clear in phrases such as “feel[ing] far less freedom” to call queerness sinful than racism and his considering LGBTQ people “a tidal wave of opposition.” The analogy drew on a racist trope of queer people as white and people of color as straight. Queer students of color were doubly ostracized by the comparison.


That such statements were made just as Biola opened the Mosaic Cultural Center is telling. The new Center is supposed to represent Biola’s commitment to “engaging in critical thought and dialogue” in issues of diversity. In practice, however, we have seen students stripped of representation in public discussion. The panelists didn’t even trust Biola students’ “critical thought” enough to include one LGBTQ-affirming perspective. Thoennes laughed at the thought of letting a queer ally speak on campus. Yet even among evangelical Christians, 30% of churchgoers identify as LGBTQ-inclusive. Biola is simply not working towards making campus a safe space for queer students.


Dr. Thoennes’ comments are not unique, but part of a larger, structural problem. Biola needs to discuss LGBTQ issues, yes, but also race. Dr. Thonnes’ comments betrayed a disturbing misunderstanding of racism. He spoke of homosexuality and racism as both active, conscious choices; however, not only is homosexuality not a conscious choice, neither is racism. To treat racism without discussing privilege, material exploitation, and power, is a distortion. It removes racism from its historical context, a context that has largely benefitted white Christians like Dr. Thoennes. By painting a picture of racism that denies his privileged position as a Christian white man, Dr. Thoennes presents a revisionist view of Christianity’s problematic relationship to race.


If Christians are going to discuss topics like race and sexuality we have to start from acknowledging Christianity’s historically held center of power, which has been key in the spreading of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy. A more fitting analogy between racism and queerness is that white people still benefit from past and continued race oppression; cisgender, heterosexual people still benefit from past and continued sexuality and gender oppression.


Until Dr. Thoennes and the Biola administration are willing to face, discuss, and listen to students, Biola will continue to propagate abuse, particularly for students of color and queer students. If administration continues to not address this issue, they continue to erase the voices of the student body.


Dr. Thoennes, Dr. Barry Corey, and Biola Administration: you do not solely represent the Biola community. The student body, in all its diversity, is Biola. It is administration and faculty’s responsibility to listen to and benefit our experience—and we will not be silenced.


Thank you for your time,


Jos Charles

 

Categories: Letters

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30 Comments

Reply Jon
8:00 PM on June 10, 2014 
Jos -

Thanks for your post. I must say, though, that I think you display an interesting non sequitur here that should be pointed out and helped.
You say something along these lines:

* I am gay and want to feel loved.
* Dr. T says that being gay is wrong.
* Dr. T isn't loving me.

Of course, the issue at hand is not love only, but truth AND love. The question is not whether Dr. T. is loving or not - the question is whether what he says is true or not. If it is true, than saying it is love, and if it is not true than saying it is not love. Now, the WAY he says things may or may not be loving (harshness, unkindness, etc.), but saying what is true is loving. That is all. So - I'd encourage you to seek out whether the Bible teaches what Dr. T. says. If it does, then what he says is true, and him saying it is loving.

Rather than what you say above, maybe something like this would be far more helpful for your own thinking:
* I am gay and want to feel loved
* The Bible calls homosexuality a sin
* As a professing Christian, Dr. T. affirms that what the Bible says is true
* Dr. T. calls homosexuality a sin in love

This may not *feel* like love to you, and I can understand that. When our desires are called out as sinful, it doesn't feel very good. A child who wants to have a bowl of Skittles for breakfast every morning might not feel loved when her mother says no, but of course the mother loves the girl and knows the truth about nutrition and therefore instructs her daughter to eat the right foods. We are like children sometimes, and want things that aren't righteous. Love is to point out that truth from the text of Scripture and direct away from harmful sinful practices into righteous ones.

Now, all of this presumes that you believe the Bible to be true. Christians believe and seek to follow the clear teaching of the Scriptures. If you don't, that's ok, but then you should not profess to be a Christian.

Lastly, I'd encourage you to think through your letter above. I see the need for love. In fact, we all need love! But the source of love that truly satisfies is not being affirmed in whatever behavior makes us happy temporally. Rather, true joy-giving love comes to us through Jesus Christ. He is the one who denounces our sins for what they are (ALL our sins - lying, pride, and yes, sexual sins) and at the same time offers Himself to carry the burden of the punishment our sins rightfully deserve. I would venture to say that if you affirm what the Bible says about homosexuality as a sin, turn to Christ for forgiveness of that sin by believing He died for all your sins, and find His loving willingness to pay the price for that sin, you'll have a source of love that truly satisfies.

In Christ alone,

Jon
Reply K
1:42 PM on October 6, 2013 
I left Biola because I could no longer stand the bullying. People did not know that I was gay, but the way students and professors and floor mates talked about it made me wish I were dead and like God hated me. My anxiety was through the roof when I was there. Don't get me wrong, it is a great school for the average white, straight student. Before I even came out, I had a floor-mate ask me my opinion on "gay marriage" and I told her I supported it. She began to attack me and tell me that it was probably the way I was raised (in a non christian home) and that I was sinning for even supporting it. Not everyone I spoke to at Biola was this cruel though. I did have a few professors, my favorite being a philosophy professor who reminded the class daily that we all need Jesus, not just gays, and that we were all equal in God's eyes. My roommate and some close friends were also very supportive. I KNOW there are good people at Biola and I am so thankful for them speaking up and supporting. I know they are making God proud. As for me, I am doing better now that I am away from Biola. I miss it so much, but I know that God has different plans for me.
Reply M A H
11:33 PM on August 26, 2013 
I'm confused why you folks "demand" an voice in a Christian school in which the primary theology behind the religion clearly denounces active homosexuality. In fact, it calls it an "abomonation". If you believe that you have the freedom to engage in promiscuous sex with the same gender, please do so, but don't expect the world, most importantly a Christian school, to support your decision. Paul says to cast out those in the church that refuse to stop their sin, but accept them with love if they repent. If you suddenly fel the urge to denounce your homosexuality, I'm sure the students and faculty at BU would welcome you with open arms.
Reply Perry T
11:31 PM on August 16, 2013 
Jos Charles says...
Your argument, while getting at some real issues sounds like you are just applying a model from a social justice textbook with the terms "ignores power, privilege, material violence" and the white etc. Did you just read Foucault? I don't deny these things you mention, but those in power and those fighting that power can shame others, and get them fired, look at Darthmouth as a recent case in point. I know right now those at the top have more power but the tide is changing, and when the formerly oppressed gain privilege and rights and power their good intentions will be tested. Nelson Mandela is the model here and not Joseph Mugabe, unless revenge is the goal and grace is the enemy.
Perry

I do not have the power to lead a "witch hunt." That's also a very weird analogy to use given that, you know, it's historical Christianity, it's power and privilege in this country, that allowed for the injustice of "witch hunts" to occur in the first place. That said your rhetoric shifts away from dealing in structural and material terms into a moralistic territory, as if Dr. Thoennes and I are on some sort of level playing field. That's just false. Dr. Thoennes--as a white cis, straight tenured professor--has much more power and privilege than me--a white genderqueer alumni and much MUCH more than my fellow queer and trans* students of color. This ignores power, privilege, material violence, and situates the entire discussion in terms of accusation, intention, tone. It's nothing shy of victim blaming to act that giving voice to and naming our oppression is the same "face" our oppressors.
Reply Jos Charles
7:35 PM on July 30, 2013 
Perry,

I do not have the power to lead a "witch hunt." That's also a very weird analogy to use given that, you know, it's historical Christianity, it's power and privilege in this country, that allowed for the injustice of "witch hunts" to occur in the first place. That said your rhetoric shifts away from dealing in structural and material terms into a moralistic territory, as if Dr. Thoennes and I are on some sort of level playing field. That's just false. Dr. Thoennes--as a white cis, straight tenured professor--has much more power and privilege than me--a white genderqueer alumni and much MUCH more than my fellow queer and trans* students of color. This ignores power, privilege, material violence, and situates the entire discussion in terms of accusation, intention, tone. It's nothing shy of victim blaming to act that giving voice to and naming our oppression is the same "face" our oppressors.

Perry T says...
Not sure where homosexuality became the worse sin. Dont recall that in the bible, or something Jesus said. Plus just common sense tells us it could not be the worst sin, to who, for who, since worst sins usually directly hurt or injure or involve deception of others. This seems like major exaggeration. Sin, perhaps, not the best thing God had in mind, I dont know, natural but not preferred, perhaps, understandable so tolerated, maybe, not the best for procreation and the species in the beginning of humanity, certainly, and for some an okay thing that has its good bad and ugly depending on how people do it, but the worst sin, please.
Reply Jos Charles
7:27 PM on July 30, 2013 
Thanks, Susie!
Susie says...
You have my support, Jos!

Susie (a Fuller student)
Reply Jos Charles
7:26 PM on July 30, 2013 
Thanks, Pete
Reply Perry T
6:17 PM on July 14, 2013 
Not sure where homosexuality became the worse sin. Dont recall that in the bible, or something Jesus said. Plus just common sense tells us it could not be the worst sin, to who, for who, since worst sins usually directly hurt or injure or involve deception of others. This seems like major exaggeration. Sin, perhaps, not the best thing God had in mind, I dont know, natural but not preferred, perhaps, understandable so tolerated, maybe, not the best for procreation and the species in the beginning of humanity, certainly, and for some an okay thing that has its good bad and ugly depending on how people do it, but the worst sin, please.
Reply Perry T
6:11 PM on July 14, 2013 
First they made a witch hunt for LBGT now you are doing a witch hunt for this Dr. T, who I dont know and have never met. Next thing you will be asking that all faculty that don't agree with you should be terminated. Welcome to the new witch hunt, it just changes its target and face, same goal. Before you go after me, or assume my views, I am an ally for LGBTQ but dont support shaming others and witch hunts.
Reply Susie
7:54 PM on July 13, 2013 
You have my support, Jos!

Susie (a Fuller student)
Reply Steve
10:03 AM on July 8, 2013 
The insanity and religion-induced sociopathy is strong in these comments. It's terrible what fundamentalism does to the human mind.
Reply Guest
12:09 AM on July 5, 2013 
Jamie says...
It's funny that you mention "Christian humility" and seem to be lacking it yourself. You write this as though, somehow, Biola is punished by your choosing not to go here/there. Biola's attendance is on the rise. So much so, emergency budget meetings are being held to get new parking structures and dorms built as soon as possible. This is the problem - not that the writer of the post above is destroyed by what Thoennes thinks or says (because all that matters is what the Lord thinks and says), but because Biola is lacking the Christian humility you mention and has "way too big of head" about things. Had I personally heard Thoennes make these statements, he'd be in the middle of a harassment lawsuit.
This is about the most self-centered writing I have ever read. Can't handle someone disagreeing with you? Can't stand another person not liking you (for WHATEVER reason)? Feeling like a bully? Call someone ELSE a bully. I used to want to go to BIOLA. I was even planning on it. But I think I'll look elsewhere. But then you'll be there too won't you? Where is your Christian humility? Why try to force everyone believe like you do? Is that the Christian attitude that you were commanded to have? You can't stand it when someone doesn't like what you do (because that is the real issue here).You need to stop looking to the outside for the world to make you feel better. You are manipulating, coercing, and lying. You need to look inside. Grow up!
Reply Believer
11:58 PM on July 4, 2013 
Guest says...
I think what is most concerning is your subconscious belief that A) your sin is somehow less of a sin than the sin you believe homosexuality (ect.) to be and that B) you somehow get to determine who goes to hell and for what reasons. Both you and I deserve to go to hell, but Jesus stands in our defense as it was/is the will of the Lord, because he loves everyone of us and created each one of us. Your response is that of what the Church has told you to say and not of your own understanding. With that, I pray the Lord brings you to your own faith and understanding of his word, not what your pastor(s) and/or family tell you to believe. I could go on, but I wont. May the Lord bring the radical change that Church so desperately needs. My fellow Christians find so many ways to justify the disgusting acts that they commit and back them up as biblical - well then, explain segregation of the 60s please. Blessings to you.
I Love you but to allow you to think that your behavior is healthy or good would be the most hateful act of all. The fact is that Homosexality is the most egregious and depraved sin imaginable. If you do not change you "will go to hell" and not telling you that is evil. Your sickness has blinded you from the truth. God is perfect and he did not make you this way. Just as he did not make a murderer that way. It is a choice and the sickest of all choices. I have compassion for you but your sin will not ever allow you to be in the presence of a perfect God. Unfortunately your soul appears to be seared so that you can no longer objectively understand what is truth and what is sin. I pray that you will wake up and see the errors of your ways.
Reply Pete Herman
12:37 AM on July 4, 2013 
Jos, thank you for speaking your truth. It also happens to be mine, as a gay alumnus of Biola. Amen, amen, right on, Maude!
Reply Guest
10:14 AM on June 24, 2013 
I Love you but to allow you to think that your behavior is healthy or good would be the most hateful act of all. The fact is that Homosexality is the most egregious and depraved sin imaginable. If you do not change you "will go to hell" and not telling you that is evil. Your sickness has blinded you from the truth. God is perfect and he did not make you this way. Just as he did not make a murderer that way. It is a choice and the sickest of all choices. I have compassion for you but your sin will not ever allow you to be in the presence of a perfect God. Unfortunately your soul appears to be seared so that you can no longer objectively understand what is truth and what is sin. I pray that you will wake up and see the errors of your ways.
Reply Guest Again
7:18 PM on June 18, 2013 
Oooops, didn't make myself very clear-when I spoke of 'lots of us' having experienced the pain of family rejection and denial-I was referring to myself as a survivor of sexual abuse.

btw my abusers were Christian fundamentalist family members-I suppose that this entire discussion brings up for me my Mother. I remember how in one of her rages she would scream "It's not me saying it, it's God." Also you were never allowed to have thoughts or feelings of your own. This topic brings it all up again....

Anyway, I happen to be a straight person, but you know, what's the difference really? Just did not want to claim I had walked in someone's shoes other than my own. I do identify very much with anyone who has not been allowed to be who they truly are, and who has been abused regardless the exact situations....

For me, once I had to deal with the things that had happened to me it's pretty hard to think someone is doing something horrible by having a loving relationship with someone who happens to be the same sex etc...That's just normal. .I mean, what's the big deal???? Now abuse of power, that's a big deal. Just look at the state of the world...

Thanks

Guest says...
Yeah, humiliation is humiliation, bullying is bullying. You can couch it in religious terms, and call it morality. But it has nothing to do with that. It is just a case of human beings, who were once humiliated and made fun or otherwise abused themselves, doing the same to the next generation as a way of acting it out-and of dumping their feelings of smallness and helplessness onto someone else.

They get to identify with the 'big strong' abuser, and the innocent victim is now traumatized. It is no coincidence that those who have been bullied may need years of therapy to recover, or sometimes are pushed into suicide.

And there is additionally, the need to protect the image of that 'Mom' or 'Dad' (authority) who, for instance, hit you. To say that "They beat me but it was for my own good." Or to deny that it ever happened. This is done, again, to protect the self from facing unbearable pain.

So when people rush to the defense of the 'Dad' (person in authority), I see it as no different than the family member who says to the abuse survivor who has just told the truth of what happened, "Do you know what you are doing to the FAMILY? You are destroying us?" Yeah, lots of us have had to deal with that.

That's why they talk about breaking the silence. The first and strongest rule in the dysfunctional family is never to talk about 'the elephant in the room'. Actually, I guess the first one is to block it out of consciousness, but that's another discussion......

Anyway, good for you for speaking out! It took a LOT of courage. Just know that there are a TON of people in the world who are supportive of you in this, and who understand.

I have to say, Biola has come a long way....back in the day this poor professor lost his job when they found out he was gay....so unfair and sad too.....

An Alumni
Reply Guest
5:28 PM on June 18, 2013 
Yeah, humiliation is humiliation, bullying is bullying. You can couch it in religious terms, and call it morality. But it has nothing to do with that. It is just a case of human beings, who were once humiliated and made fun or otherwise abused themselves, doing the same to the next generation as a way of acting it out-and of dumping their feelings of smallness and helplessness onto someone else.

They get to identify with the 'big strong' abuser, and the innocent victim is now traumatized. It is no coincidence that those who have been bullied may need years of therapy to recover, or sometimes are pushed into suicide.

And there is additionally, the need to protect the image of that 'Mom' or 'Dad' (authority) who, for instance, hit you. To say that "They beat me but it was for my own good." Or to deny that it ever happened. This is done, again, to protect the self from facing unbearable pain.

So when people rush to the defense of the 'Dad' (person in authority), I see it as no different than the family member who says to the abuse survivor who has just told the truth of what happened, "Do you know what you are doing to the FAMILY? You are destroying us?" Yeah, lots of us have had to deal with that.

That's why they talk about breaking the silence. The first and strongest rule in the dysfunctional family is never to talk about 'the elephant in the room'. Actually, I guess the first one is to block it out of consciousness, but that's another discussion......

Anyway, good for you for speaking out! It took a LOT of courage. Just know that there are a TON of people in the world who are supportive of you in this, and who understand.

I have to say, Biola has come a long way....back in the day this poor professor lost his job when they found out he was gay....so unfair and sad too.....

An Alumni
Reply Jamie
8:14 PM on June 11, 2013 
This is about the most self-centered writing I have ever read. Can't handle someone disagreeing with you? Can't stand another person not liking you (for WHATEVER reason)? Feeling like a bully? Call someone ELSE a bully. I used to want to go to BIOLA. I was even planning on it. But I think I'll look elsewhere. But then you'll be there too won't you? Where is your Christian humility? Why try to force everyone believe like you do? Is that the Christian attitude that you were commanded to have? You can't stand it when someone doesn't like what you do (because that is the real issue here).You need to stop looking to the outside for the world to make you feel better. You are manipulating, coercing, and lying. You need to look inside. Grow up!
Reply zach
6:23 AM on May 23, 2013 
Forgive me, I just want to provide some gentle counterpoint.
http://anonycity.blogspot.com/2013/05/where-i-come-in-open-letter
-in-defense.html
Reply zach
6:20 AM on May 23, 2013