Principles of Free Expression and Diversity of Thought
Biola’s commitment to diversity of thought is rooted in a foundational commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of Scripture. It is shaped by our Articles of Faith, Statement of Biblical Principles and Unity Amidst Diversity: Theological Statement on Diversity. These unite our community and provide the boundaries that form Biola’s institutional identity.
Within our theological statements, freedom of thought is understood as a virtue to be cherished and not a vice to be shunned. This freedom includes open discourse and the exchange of ideas which are at the heart of a flourishing university and society. Absent this free exchange of ideas in a spirit of intellectual rigor and humble civility, society succumbs to an ideological spirit that demonizes opponents, silences disagreement or stiff-arms debates.
We are committed to offset some of the trends in higher education that implement policies which presume students are fragile and unable to think for themselves. We believe the efficacy of our mission is strengthened by our community’s commitment to intellectual humility, curiosity, open-mindedness, and engagement with diverse viewpoints. We do not want to isolate ourselves within some sort of echo chamber out of fear our beliefs will endure only if protected from intellectual challenges. We choose instead to expose our students to a wide range of ideas to allow ourselves the permission to present perspectives in a way that is both civil and intellectual.
This means faculty and students will engage and assess diverse thoughts, ideas, concepts, philosophies, and theological systems in a fair, sensitive and rigorous manner, with curiosity of mind and humility of spirit. We will examine critically the diverse ideas encountered in our fields of study and in the world-at-large. In order to maintain the unity that Christ commands (John 17:11, 21; Eph. 4:3) and the Christian liberty granted by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17), members of our community have the freedom to think, engage, explore, teach, research, and write on topics appropriate to the scope of their particular disciplinary expertise and experience and within the boundaries set by our theological commitments. The goal of diversity of thought is to enhance learning through virtuous engagement with those both inside and outside of our community. It is aimed at community flourishing and the building up of the body of Christ.
Because all human beings are created in the image of God, we should expect that every person has the potential of discovering and declaring truth. By virtue of general revelation and common grace, much is to be learned from and discovered alongside the whole spectrum of humanity. We also believe a biblical worldview has something important to offer, since we are confident our theological convictions constitute a rich resource from which to draw. At the same time, the Doctrine of the Fall ensures that all of us can misperceive truth or suppress inconvenient truths.
Seeing every human being as God’s image-bearer endowed with intrinsic worth and dignity, our posture toward those with opposing viewpoints will be one of kindness and respect. Passionate disagreement and serious argument is expected on issues that matter, but we are to express our differences with intellectual clarity and Christian civility. Thomas Aquinas reflects on the appropriate gratitude and charity we ought to have for all who have sought the truth: “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we [do not share], for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” As a community, we will cultivate these virtues by critically and carefully learning from diverse voices and engaging diverse thoughts. We recognize that even though our community shares common theological commitments, we may disagree among ourselves. When that occurs, it’s important that we approach each other with civility, and treat each other with dignity. We desire to model a community that can differ on things that matter, and do so with humility and graciousness.
A commitment to diversity of thought actually strengthens the mission of a Christian university such as Biola. Convictions are healthier when they are not cordoned off from — but rather engaged in — rigorous and collegial dialogue with other points of view. Only when students have sincerely considered diverse viewpoints will they as Christ’s disciples come to convictions that will weather the test of time and be prepared to engage a complex and diverse world. We believe our mission is best accomplished by cultivating intellectual and cultural humility through an attitude of relentless curiosity and with an openness to critical engagement with diverse viewpoints.
Our pursuit of truth and wisdom at Biola University, therefore, compels us to value freedom of thought. Administration and faculty seek multiple ways to incorporate perspectives from thought leaders within diverse groups* to enhance the depth and breadth of ideas within a gospel-centered education. We further desire that students regularly be exposed to leading scholars from a wide range of backgrounds, including those currently under-represented voices in our curriculum and course syllabi, with the goal that students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to thrive and function effectively in an ever-changing world.
We seek to welcome a variety of voices and perspectives to our campus, respecting them, listening to them and learning from them, and — when we disagree — respectfully challenging them. This is not a posture of intellectual relativism that sees all ideas as equally valid. Rather, all faithful expressions of beauty, goodness, and truth are ultimately complementary and are valuable for their reflection of God's character and for living well in God’s world. Wisdom is about discerning the good from the bad, the true from the false, praising what is praiseworthy and — with civility — challenging what should be challenged.
Our commitment to diversity of thought does not embrace certain categories of expression, such as defamation, obscenity, intimidation, threats, and incitement to violence. We do not tolerate harassment, hateful speech, or bullying. We oppose efforts to silence those whose perspectives challenge us or make us uncomfortable. We also reject the notion that disagreement or attempts at persuasion necessarily constitute harassment, hate or bullying. Biola may nonetheless restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, that seeks directly to undermine Biola’s Articles of Faith and Statement of Biblical Principles, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.
We recognize that rigorous intellectual exchange may not always feel safe, and we need to live within this understanding. To pursue truth is to take risks, to weather hazards, to challenge and be challenged, even including a willingness to be offended. It can be a messy process, full of missteps. If in the end, our bumpy roads of exploration lead us to know God more fully and to love the world he created, then the rigors of embracing diversity of thought will have been most worthwhile.
(*Biola’s definition of diversity is “The variation of physical, social, psychological and spiritual characteristics of human beings that influence our experience in the world. Includes but is not limited to ethnicity, cultural values, race, socioeconomic status, sex, visible and invisible (dis)abilities, religion, denomination, age, language, and learning styles.”)