Biola Queer Underground panel draws full audience

Biola Queer Underground and Soulforce hosted a panel on Friday with a lecture and discussion about homosexuality in Christian communities, drawing a crowd of more than 100.



Ellie Ash-Balá welcomes a full audience and speaks about desire to create a safe space at the beginning of the “Gender and Sexuality Matter” panel hosted by the Biola Queer Underground. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES

Elizabeth Sallie, Writer

Ellie Ash-Balá welcomes a full audience and speaks about desire to create a safe space at the beginning of the "Gender and Sexuality Matter" panel hosted by the Biola Queer Underground. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES


UPDATED Nov. 19, 8:52 p.m.

After a short break, the Biola Queer Underground spent the last portion of their panel focusing on the individual stories of various alumni and speakers.

Ranging from a former Azusa Pacific University employee to an ‘09 Biola cinema and media arts graduate, the panel comprised voices from people with various coming out stories.

Two of the four panelists talked about their time in undergraduate studies, though neither of them came out while at Biola. The other two shared about their experiences coming out much later in life, and the acceptance the found within churches for their lifestyle.

Jennifer Lingenfelter, an ‘01 graduate of Rosemead School of Psychology, said that although she tried therapy while growing up, she eventually decided she needed to reconcile her faith and sexuality during her time at Biola.

After nine months in a Vineyard program targeted toward those dealing with  homosexuality, she said, she still felt the same. She began attending a Metropolitan Community Church — focused on being inclusive of the LGBTQ community — in Long Beach.

“I’ll be honest with you, the first time I went, I cried,” she said, tearing up. “Here’s the thing: it was the first place I’d been in church where I felt like all of me was accepted.”

Following Lingenfelter, Matthew Groves, an ‘09 Biola alumnus, spoke about his time at the university and coming out as bisexual after graduating.

In an interview following the panel, he said he’d heard a “rhetoric change” from administration regarding LGBTQ issues, but still wonders how much of that is going into action.

Two more panelists shared before the panel was turned toward a Q-and-A session. Everyone was asked to contribute either a notecard with a question on it, or a notecard saying “I don’t have any questions,” so that no one would feel singled out for asking a question.

Questions asked included follow-up on the definitions and the panel’s thoughts on ex-gay therapy.

When asked about their Biola experiences, though Groves expressed some regret, Lingenfelter and Chip Peck (‘92) both said they’d do it all again.

“I had an amazing experience at Biola, I really don’t have any regrets. I had an amazing experience, met some amazing people,” Peck said, though he noted his only complaint was the fear he felt about having an open dialogue about homosexuality.

Each panelist wanted to answer the final question, which asked how straight allies could better show their support.

“Don’t judge,” Peck said simply.

Lingenfelter suggested making and wearing a “We Love BQU” shirt.

Groves said that straight allies need to step up, which Ash-Balá echoed, saying that straight allies need to “come out” and vocalize their support.

Some students said the event didn’t sway them.

“The first part of it … I thought it was extremely revealing and biased and so I thought it was good to attend but that doesn’t mean I agree,” freshman journalism major, Richard Martinez, said.  

Senior communications major Sarah Schwartz said she was grateful for the discussion.

“I really pleased with the amount of compassion and grace that was shown towards Biola. It dignified the issue by making it about the issue of homosexulaity and faith rather than bashing Biola,” she said.

However, some students thought of the panel as an opportunity to hear different perspectives.

“The thing I got from [the panel] that was really good was just not believing things that we’re just told but actually seeking truth on our own — I think that’s super important ,” said sophomore English major Sydney Grafft.

— Julia Henning contributed reporting 

UPDATED Nov. 16, 11:25 p.m.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story will continue be updated throughout the end of Saturday; please check the bottom for updated information. 


Students and community members packed out the La Mirada Resource Center on Friday night for Biola Queer Underground’s first-ever public event — a panel with Soulforce entitled "Gender and Sexuality Matter."

The room was filled to 120 people — the legal fire code capacity — within a few minutes of the panel’s start. Over the next half hour, approximately 25 people were turned away.

After a brief welcome from the Los Angeles Soulforce Delegate, Ellie Ash-Balá, the conversation quickly turned to business.

In a lively conversation, two Soulforce employees spoke on the Bible and homosexuality, powering through talking points including homophobia, definitions of complicated terms and different theological approaches to sexuality.

They highlighted “clobber passages,” those passages often used to defend stances against homosexuality. Additionally, they addressed what they called “proactive passages,” sections that can be used to affirm homosexuality.

After a two-minute stretch break, a panel comprising three Biola alumni and Ash-Balá assembled. Each speaker spent about 10 minutes telling their personal story of coming out — covering everything from acceptance from the church to feeling uncomfortable during their time at Biola.

The last 10 minutes were dedicated to a blitz round of questions from the audience submitted on note cards. Sarah Train, the moderator and a 2007 Biola grad, encouraged students to continue asking questions after the panel, despite the short amount of time. The four questions asked about their Biola experience, ex-gay movements and how straight allies can help.

The buzz of conversation continued right up until the 8:30 p.m. mark when the room was required to be emptied. Dialogue continued in the hall, and spilled into the parking lot once event organizers directed the audience out of the building.



J. Mason (left) and Crystal Cheatham (right) opened the panel with a lecture with an overview of the Bible and homosexuality. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES


Lecture addresses Bible and homosexuality

In an information-packed 45 minutes, Soulforce employees J. Mason and Crystal Cheatham spoke about their personal experiences and what they believe the Bible says about homosexuality.

With a lively conversational style, Mason, who identifies as trans-masculine, and Cheatham, who is lesbian, began by discussing the Dorothy Riddle scale of homophobia and quickly launched into definitions of the complex terms surrounding conversations of homosexuality.
Early on, they noted that they wanted to focus on personal experiences and stories.

“We are not forcing this information on you. We are not trying to tell you what to think and how to read your Bibles,” Cheatham said, leading into the discussion.

Passages used to defend positions against homosexuality

The second portion of the lecture was spent discussing different ways of viewing the Bible. Leading with what they called the “clobber passages,” the passages most often turned to in order to defend positions against homosexuality, the two unpacked the following passages with their interpretations.

Creation Story (Genesis 2:18)

Cheatham focused on the language of “helper” used in the passage. She drew the distinction that the language of woman isn’t used until later in the chapter, but that it’s more important that God doesn’t want people to be alone.

Sin of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-11)

Mason said that while this passage is commonly used to say that Sodom was blasted for homosexual sex, he believes Scripture later on makes it clear that the city was actually destroyed for the lack of hospitality shown by the citizens.

“Men would use rape of the person they’re dominating to tell someone who’s boss, who’s won,” Mason said.

It’s about a town of people who are attempting to sexually violate people, he said.

Abomination of Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22)

Mason focused personally on the idea of this verse dealing with the issue of respect, as well as the need for procreation in the nation of Israel. 

“Jews were constantly being attacked, constantly in harm’s way and they needed to reproduce to make more,” he said. 

Cheatham referred to the idea of a “holiness code” that God had for his people that also encompassed things like not planting two seeds in the ground together. She said that the point of these laws was to give the Israelites a general rule to help guide them.

Who inherits the kingdom of Heaven? (1 Corinthians 6:9)

Mason noted that the original word often translated as “homosexuality” refers instead to male prostitutes.

Theology in favor of LGBTQ relationships

From there, they discussed “proactive theology” — theology that helps support LGBTQ relationships.

Cheatham said that reading the Bible requires a lot of faith. She noted that at the beginning of the Bible, faith is required for understanding creation. She mentioned many of the facts listed at the beginning of Genesis, zooming in on the difference between night and day.

“If night and day were to be like it were in the Bible, it’d be like a light switch — it’d be off and on, off and on,” she explained. She then said that we simply have to trust that dusk and dawn existed, though they weren’t mentioned, because we experience it every day.

They used various other stories from Scripture — Joseph as well as Jonathan and David — to support the ideas of space made for LGBTQ people in Scripture.

“It’s really remarkable that David says he loves Jonathan more than a woman,” Cheatham said in an interview after the panel. “For him to say that ‘you’re the one I choose’ is remarkable.”

Following the lecture portion, a panel of alumni shared their coming out stories and perspectives.

More details will follow tomorrow.



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