A screening of a documentary on April 16 triggered responses from students connected to Biolans’ Equal Ground who are seeking representation from the university. BEG is a student-led organization, formerly known as Biola Queer Underground, whose recent name change marks an effort to become more open and present on campus.
The #tellourstoriestoo campaign launched shortly after the Cinema and Media Arts departments’ screening of “Sing Over Me” as students expressed concern regarding the film and concerns that it promotes ex-gay reparative therapy. Students tweeted the hashtag with requests for administration to consider listening to the stories and experiences of LGBTQ students and have undergone ex-gay reparative therapy.
“The reason we speak up is because we love Biola. We want Biola to recognize us as students, that we deserve equal ground with other students. We’re also the face of Biola that asks the same courtesy of the stories they like to tell,” said Casey McMann, senior humanities major and member of Biolans’ Equal Ground.
PURPOSE OF THE DOCUMENTARY
Apart from the social media campaign, the university has not received any formal complaints from students, said Jenna Loumagne, university communications and marketing media relations specialist.
The documentary depicts the narrative of Christian musician Dennis Jernigan and his transformation from his homosexual orientation to self-identifying as ex-gay. Most known for his worship music, Jernigan is also the ex-vice chairman of the board for Exodus International, a former ex-gay reparative therapy organization, which shut down in 2013.
Biola released a statement since the screening stating that the university “does not advocate reparative or conversion therapy as a response to individuals with same-sex attraction, and neither does ‘Sing Over Me.’” Furthermore, due to time constraints with finals and commencement, the university will not hold a panel discussion regarding the film, said UCM vice president Lee Wilhite in a statement.
“The film is not about nor mentions conversion or reparative therapy and does not intend to promote or recommend any type of such therapy. The film's sole purpose is to give a voice to Dennis and allow him to tell his personal story," wrote 2008 alumnus and director of the film Jacob Kindberg in an emailed statement.
CONTROVERSY OVER THE FILM
University Communications and Marketing originally considered screening the film in the spring of 2014, said Atticus Shires, senior theatre major. After watching the film on his own, Shires said he recommended to UCM that it not be shown on campus. However, a year later, “Sing Over Me” was screened by the CMA department.
Gerald Fisher, professor of cinema and media arts, oversees the selection for which films the CMA department screens on campus. The Chimes contacted Fisher for an interview regarding his decision to screen “Sing Over Me,” but Fisher declined to comment.
Brett McCracken, film critic and social media manager for UCM, wrote an article for Christianity Today reviewing the intertwining narratives of “Sing Over Me” with “Kidnapped for Christ” and “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.” McCracken said he appreciates “Sing Over Me” overall as a documentary.
“I thought it was well made and interesting as a documentary. I always like documentaries that don’t always insert the filmmaker and their opinion into it. To me a documentary should just be documenting someone else’s story, and to me I felt that “Sing Over Me” did a good job of that,” McCracken said.
While he thinks “Sing Over Me” does not advocate openly for ex-gay reparative therapy, Shires said the film does promote false theology on the topics of sanctification and transformation.
“The claim that ‘we don’t support reparative therapy’ is a valid statement. Dennis Jernigan’s story has nothing to do with therapy. It has to do with God healing him and his desires, and then insinuating that the same God is available to everyone else is saying that if you aren’t changing, that means you’re not trusting God,” Shires said.
A HUGE STEP
Last year, Biola hosted a panel discussion between gay Christians Justin Lee and Wesley Hill, titled “How Do We Love.” However, the video footage of the panel discussion has not been released for open viewing.
“We thought the dialogue between Justin Lee and Wesley Hill last semester was a huge step for Biola. It’s something that Biolans’ Equal Ground has asked for since the launch — bring more dialogue to this school. Allow people to think well. Let them know the sides,” McMann said.
Shires said he believes Biola is in the midst of a transition from acknowledging abusive narratives about the gay community, and promoting films like ‘Sing Over Me’ is irresponsible and confusing to students.
“You’re not getting the point, and the point is you [Biola] should provide students with responsible resources, but you’re giving us ‘Sing Over Me,’ which is an irresponsible resource and without giving us things like the ‘How Do We Love’ video. Their statement is not significant with their actions,” Shires said.