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Biola University Point-Counterpoint: La Verne Tolbert vs Gregg Cunningham

La Verne Tolbert vs Gregg Cunningham

La Verne Tolbert vs Gregg Cunningham

Dr. La Verne Tolbert recently blogged the claim that “Biola University is pro-life.”

CBR Executive Director Gregg Cunningham replied:

Gregg Cunningham response to La Verne Tolbert

Pastor Clenard Childress, my long-time, highly-valued friend, and a man who has served for nearly twenty years on the board of our pro-life Center For Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), just forwarded to me your [blog posting], criticizing what you apparently misunderstand to be our attitudes and activities regarding Biola’s punishment of a nursing student who displayed abortion photos on Biola’s campus.  Because your concerns seem to derive from several mistaken assumptions of fact, I believe it might be helpful I offer you a somewhat different perspective on these issues.

To provide some context for this discussion, the public abortion photo display of which you disapprove saved the life of the child of at least one Biola student.  At ArmsOfAudio.com this young mother posted the following:

There are a lot of people bashing Diana right now but first hand I can tell you she did what she was told to do. I am 20. A student of Biola and always claimed to be prolife. I thought that until I got a positive pregnancy test. This came after a night of partying just outside the campus and had a one night stand with a youth pastor in training. I was going to go to Planned Parenthood that day and as I walked through campus her signs made me realize there is a human life in my womb ….  In that moment I went to my dorm room got on my knees and asked that I would have the strength to be my baby’s mom. STOP saying she didn’t follow her stupid rules. God came through for me because of her. And Susan Elliot is a tool of the devil.

First of all, your excellent pro-life reputation precedes you Dr. Tolbert, and we deeply appreciate all you do to defend unborn life conduct youth ministry.

Your important efforts in the fields of abandonment and adoption are also close to our hearts because my wife and I have adopted three little orphan girls abandoned because of disfiguring birth defects.  We are in the process of adopting a fourth who was abandoned because she was born with cerebral palsy.

We additionally share your devotion to Biola.  My wife is a graduate of Biola’s nursing program.  Our Director of Operations has a science degree from Biola.  Our Director of Administration is a graduate of Biola’s Talbot Theological Seminary.  Our International Director has a degree from Talbot.  We are currently attempting to hire a potential recruit who also has a Biola degree.  One of our student interns intends to enroll at Talbot next year.  The accusation that we are trying to discredit Biola is utterly without basis in fact.  We are merely exposing Biola’s discreditable treatment of a student who broke the rules of man when they conflicted with the laws of God.  We are also urging Biola to do more to inspire and equip its students to enter into full-time pro-life ministry.

Equally baseless is your contention that we are accusing Biola of not being pro-life.  Of course Biola is “pro-life,” but that means little when Biola’s ban on the public display of abortion photos is killing babies just like the one Ms. Jimenez saved when she defied that un-Godly ban.  Biola, along with virtually every other Christian school, is helping Planned Parenthood hide the horror of abortion.  Biola — and the rest Christian higher education — is failing to offer an entire major with courses specifically designed to qualify students for full-time service in pro-life ministry.  Occasional lectures and chapel presentations are no substitute for the sort of serious curricular reform without which the pro-life movement will continue to be hampered by undue reliance on part-time, amateur volunteers to save babies — while the abortion industry employs full-time, paid-staff professionals to kill them.

We appreciate your use of a video which includes brief glimpses of two of our abortion photos.  We wish you would have chosen to show it during the Biola Chapel event at which you recently spoke.  I am certain you are aware, however, that Biola students are not required to attend every chapel presentation, and those who most need to see the horror of abortion are the students who are least likely to attend pro-life lectures.  I know this from personal experience because I have delivered multiple pro-life talks at Biola and they were poorly attended, despite the fact that they were heavily promoted.

We did not create the Biola controversy.  Biola created controversy.  We merely exposed it.  What half of the story which you accuse us of omitting could justify the abusive, vindictive bullying of Biola’s administrators and police?

You say the nursing student had several options and your point seems to be that some of those options would not have broken the rules.  As a black woman, you must certainly be aware that Martin Luther King also had several options which would not have broken the rules in Birmingham, AL in 1963.  But none of the approved options would have advanced the cause of civil rights and none of the Biola nurse’s approved options would have advanced the cause of unborn children.  With all due respect, “panel discussions” never ended any terrible injustice.

Your assertion that “…if graphic images were the solution that would end abortion, abortion would have ended 30 years ago!” could not be more incorrect.  Most pro-life organizations and all Christian colleges and the entire church have worked tirelessly to suppress any widespread display of abortion imagery.  That is why we are losing!

Then you accuse us of “defaming Christians” when all we are doing is forcing a debate Biola is attempting to avoid.  Mature believers should have the intellectual honesty to disagree without personalizing differences as “defamation” Your nearly fanatical loyalty to Biola has sadly blinded you to the University’s guilt in shamefully abusing this student.

You question the student’s use of a video camera despite the fact that this officer was trying to turn off so no one would see him exceed his authority.  Thank God we have a record of his misconduct.  Without it there would be no accountability.  That camera might have deterred even worse abuses.  People who are about to do bad things always want to stop the filming.  On September 23, 1957 as the first black students integrated the Little Rock, Arkansas High School, “ … the mob turned its anger on white journalists on the scene.  Life magazine reporter Paul Welch and two photographers, Grey Villet and Francis Miller, were harassed and beaten.  The photographers’ equipment was smashed to the ground.”  (Eyes On The Prize, America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, Juan Williams, Penguin Books, 1987.)

Here is what really happened at Biola and below the link is my critique of the University’s misconduct:  http://www.jillstanek.com/2013/06/christian-university-retaliates-against-pro-life-student-for-showing-graphic-reality-of-abortion/

Biola is spinning this scandal as reasonable punishment for a student who repeatedly broke the rules.  In Matthew 15:8-9, Christ rebukes religious leaders who teach the rules of man as though they were the laws of God.  Jesus does not love rules more than lives.  In Mark 3:4, Jesus asked rhetorically whether it is lawful to break rules to save lives.  Ms. Jimenez was trying to save the lives of babies, some of whose mothers could only be reached with photos that broke Biola’s rules.  Jesus repeatedly broke rules to save lives by, for instance, healing on the Sabbath.  He criticized legalists who had the hard hearts of Pharisees.  Ephesians 5:11 commands us to expose the “deeds of darkness.”  Diana Jimenez defied the rules of Biola in fidelity to the laws of God.  Lives were almost certainly saved.  May others follow her righteous example.

In Jeremiah 7:1-7 God commanded his prophet to “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house…” (verse 2) for the purpose of confronting His people over the sin of “shedding innocent blood” in the form of child sacrifice (verse 6).  Jeremiah was terribly persecuted and so was Ms. Jimenez.

Susan Elliott, Biola’s director of nursing, ordered the faculty to deny Diana Jimenez routinely granted letters of reference for use in applying for nursing jobs.  Our lawyers are examining Biola’s active attempts to sabotage Ms. Jimenez’s employment prospects because they believe this sort of vindictive cruelty is not only unwarranted, but it is unlawful.  How is it not a scandal for the administration of Christian college to destroy a student’s career … for holding up an abortion photo?  What chilling message does this send to already risk-averse faculty members?

In more than twenty years of pro-life ministry on hundreds of college campuses, I have never seen pagan administrators at any secular school abuse their authority as egregiously as have the supposedly Christian administrators at Biola.  Vengeance of this sort is more commonly associated with cults, such as Scientology, which retaliate against former members who expose embarrassing church practices.

The administration says it bans abortion photos to create a “safe” place for students on campus. “Safe” from what?  The burden of having to avert their gaze if they don’t want to see a picture which will save a classmate’s baby?  Biola is infantilizing its educational experience.  It is robbing students of coping skills and leadership abilities.  Most other Christian colleges are as bad or worse.  That may be why Christian sociologist and pollster George Barna reports that only 6% of Protestant pastors believe they have the gift of leadership.  Barna has fallen out of favor in Evangelical circles for calling attention to surveys which document the awkward fact that lay people increasingly lack biblical world views because Christian leaders increasingly lack biblical world views.

In Luke 16:20-21, the friends of Lazarus carry this poor, sick, disabled vagrant to the gates of a rich man.  They took him there in the hope that the rich man would take pity on their pathetic friend.  The rich man had attempted to create a “safe” place, behind gates, on private property, in which he and his family would not be troubled by disturbing sights such as hungry beggars dying with open wounds.  Depositing Lazarus at the rich man’s gate made his plight impossible to trivialize or ignore.  This in-your-face gesture was an annoying, disruptive, cry for help.  The rich man would have banned it had he been able.  But Jesus seems to have approved.  It was in that spirit that Diana Jimenez carried pictures of aborted babies to the center of her Christian college campus.

By God’s grace, on public university campuses, our Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) has saved countless babies (view the testimonies abortionNO.org) of students who told us that nothing less shocking than our abortion photos would have sufficed to dissuade them from aborting.  None would have come to see our photos had they been displayed at some more obscure location.  Many claimed the Name of Christ but mistakenly underestimated abortion’s evil.  There are no words which are adequate to describe the magnitude of the evil abortion represents.  It must be seen to be fully understood.

Biola teaches that abortion is evil but refuses to prove how evil it actually is.  This lapse causes many Biola students to kill their babies under the mistaken impression that abortion is the lesser-of-two-evils.

Many pro-life activists are now accusing Biola of caring more about the feelings of born children than the lives of unborn children, but the issue of children being traumatized by abortion photos is a red herring.  Ms. Jimenez offered to surround her display with warning signs which would have given adults all the notice required to steer children away from her abortion photos.

When Biola helps Planned Parenthood hide the horror of abortion, savable babies are butchered and vulnerable mothers are abused.  The history of social reform, from the abolition of slavery, to the enactment of prohibitions against child labor, to the civil rights movement, etc., is the history of shocking pictures.  Before the display of pictures, words failed to change many minds on any of these issues. No injustice has ever been reformed by covering it up.  Countless black children saw and were horrified by the photos of Emmitt Till’s mutilated body when they were published in the Detroit Defender and Jet Magazine.  But those photos also inspired Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks to start the civil rights movement with a bus-boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

This university argues that “we’re all pro-life here” and then attempts to minimize this dispute as little more than predictable differences over strategy and tactics.  That’s not true.  Biola’s administration gushes about what it does concerning abortion (largely half-measures offered as fig leaves) in an effort to avoid any debate over what it refuses to do, which is to expose the whole truth.  Biola quotes from its official documents which condemn abortion.  But the priest and Levite who passed by on the other side of the beating in Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan would have condemned street violence.  They would have felt pity for victims of street violence.  But they weren’t willing to show pity for victims of street violence.  They refused to take risks and make sacrifices to intervene on behalf of those victims.  Words without meaningful action are as empty as faith without works.  James 2:16 warns that “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good does it do?”  Biola isn’t doing “nothing” for the unborn, but Biola refuses to do what most needs to be done, which is exposing the horror and inspiring students to fight that horror with their diplomas because doing so would create uncomfortable risk and require painful sacrifice.

Had the Good Samaritan been a Biola grad, he might have preached John 3:16 while the beating victim bled to death.

In 1963, Martin Luther King found himself in a dilemma similar to that with which Diana Jimenez was confronted at Biola.  Like Biola’s administrators, the civil rights leaders in Birmingham, Alabama were insulted by MLK’s contention that they weren’t doing enough.  In reply, they anathematized Dr. King as a disruptive, dangerous outsider and demanded that he stay out of their city.  They resentfully argued that his use of confrontation was counterproductive and that their more diplomatic resort to education and negotiation and litigation was the way forward.  MLK countered that their tepid methods had failed and that invisible violence against blacks needed to be made shockingly visible, or public opinion would never support political reform.

He believed that racists who had been abusing blacks in private needed to be provoked into abusing them in public, where a sympathetic press could make disturbing photographs with which to build support for social reform.  Injustice needed to be dramatized and given a human face and like Ms. Jimenez, he would have to break the rules to save lives.  He understood that blacks would pay a heavy price for these tactics but believed that things had to get worse before they could get better.  And he was willing to pay that price with them.

Birmingham was then America’s most segregated city and it was home to the country’s most violent Klan chapter.  Local racists had coerced the black community into an ugly understanding:  If blacks accepted tolerable abuses, whites would not escalate those abuses to intolerable levels.  MLK’s decision to upset this fragile coalition between the city’s oppressors and its oppressed was opposed by local civil rights leaders, in part, because it was bad for business.  In addition to inviting heightened persecution, it damaged the city’s economy and reputation.  But Dr. King needed horrifying pictures and he was willing to break many rules to get them.  He pushed past local obstructionists whom he derided as civil rights “moderates,” and the outcome was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Richard B. Speed’s review of Mark Kurlansky’s book 1968: The Year That Rocked The World, describes this enormously successful use of civil disobedience and disturbing photos.  In discussing the impact of civil disobedience, Kurlansky relates a telling incident that took place during a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama.  Martin Luther King apparently noticed that Life Magazine photographer, Flip Schulke had put down his camera in order to help a demonstrator injured by the police.  Afterward, according to Kurlansky, King rebuked Schulke, telling him that ‘Your job is to photograph what is happening to us.’

CBR’s job is to photograph what is happening to unborn children and, in the absence of a sympathetic press, to display those photos in the public square.

In his seminal “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King addressed these “moderates,” who were represented by a group of local clergy who had publicly condemned his methods in a newspaper advertisement.  He said “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the … [civil rights] moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action ….’”

Dr. King could have been describing pro-life moderates at Biola.

MLK rejected both the appeasement strategy of civil rights moderates and the violence strategy of black nationalists.  History has vindicated the wisdom of his willingness to advance reform through civil disobedience which broke rules to acquire disturbing photographic documentation of injustice which had to be seen to be fully understood.  He used horrifying pictures for the same reason successful reformers almost always use them.  Injustice which remains invisible tends to become tolerable.  A failure of public imagination is inevitable without visual depictions of indescribable injustice.

The first Biola official to confront Diana Jimenez when she appeared on campus with CBR abortion imagery was the Assistant Director of Public Relations and Internal Communications.  She told Ms. Jimenez “You’re making us look bad!”  Ms. Jimenez replied “You’re worried about saving face but I am worried about saving babies.”  The first person to confront me after I posted CBR’s video, which depicts Ms. Jimenez’s shameful treatment by the Biola administration, was the university’s VP for Communications and Marketing.  Biola sees this dispute as a public relations crisis, not an abortion crisis.  When I recently requested a meeting with Biola’s president, I was initially told I could only discuss these issues with public relations officials.  Biola has become a business and abortion pictures are as bad for business at Biola as MLK’s protest marches were for business in Birmingham.  Biola may be profitable but it is no longer prophetic.

Penn State University tried to cover-up the preventable abuse of born children because exposing that abuse would have been bad for business.  Children, and ultimately the school itself, paid a terrible price for this cynical commercialism.  Many senior Catholic clergy, the Boy Scouts, and numerous other institutions have also swept child abuse under the rug, with equally disastrous consequences.  Christian colleges are doing much the same, for many of the same self-serving reasons, but the victims in these cases are unborn children.  Many of these tragedies would be preventable if Biola had the “courage and conviction” to adopt a “women and children” first policy on abortion.

Biola and a small segment of the Christian community have tried to talk America out of abortion for forty years, and public opinion continues to worsen, particularly early in pregnancy, when 90% of abortions are performed.  For thirty years William Wilberforce tried to end the slave trade with essays and lectures and got exactly nowhere, because slavery was as invisible in England as abortion is at Biola.  When the abolitionists began to use disturbing pictures, public opinion began to shift at the levels required to create the political consensus necessary for reform.  It is unlikely that St. John’s College at Cambridge would have threatened to expel Wilberforce, withhold his diploma, or arrest him, had he exhibited the shocking slavery pictures for whose display his life would be threatened later in his career.

Prior to 1964, even public university students were denied basic expressive rights on campus.  That repressive policy began to change when Mario Savio, a student at U.C. Berkeley, was repeatedly arrested for distributing civil rights literature on his campus.  Many of his classmates were willing to join him in handcuffs and eventually Berkeley’s administration wilted under an avalanche of embarrassing publicity.  The student Free Speech Movement quickly overspread the country, but never made it onto Christian college campuses.

CBR is meeting with our attorneys to develop a legal strategy to compel California’s private colleges to grant their students many of the same expressive rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to students at public universities.  In a case titled Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center, the California Constitution has been interpreted by the California Supreme Court (affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court) to extend what amount to First Amendment speech rights to picketers inside large, indoor shopping malls.  The Court’s theory is that large, private commercial spaces have become communities in their own right, maintaining what is essentially a public square in which expanded expressive rights are as appropriate as they would be within the boundaries of municipal corporations.

We believe the same theory can reasonably be extended to private college campuses, which are not only self-contained communities like the towns which surround them, but that are supposedly committed to academic freedom in the marketplace of ideas.  California’s politically liberal court system is obviously hostile to Christian institutions of all kinds.  It could, therefore, be much in Biola’s interest to expand its students’ expressive rights through negotiation rather than litigation.  A negotiated agreement could preserve Biola’s statement of faith as a balanced limit on speech which would no reasonable Christian would find to be consistent with scripture.

In its first week, You Tube has registered more than 12,000 views of our video which contrasts Biola President Barry Corey’s soaring chapel rhetoric with his police chief’s cruel thuggery.  More than 600 comments have been posted on just two social sites and they are running 5-1 against Biola’s expressive rights policies and its harsh (and perhaps unlawful) enforcement of those policies.  That is, indeed, a public relations crisis.

The video is now going viral all over the internet.  We have more videos of this type in production.  The people expressing the greatest anger toward Biola are the kinds of Christians who write donation checks and tuition checks and this is only the beginning.  We are aware of other students whose consciences have been awakened by Ms. Jimenez’s courage and they are prepared to force Biola to arrest them or grant them a level of academic freedom which is limited only by Biola’s statement of faith.

The pro-life movement will continue to lose the abortion wars as long as the church remains essentially on the sidelines.  The church will remain on the sidelines as long as pastors believe that fighting abortion is primarily someone else’s responsibility.  Pastors will remain conscientious objectors in the abortion wars as long as Christian colleges and seminaries refuse to effectively train and inspire their students to fight abortion professionally.

Abortion hides behind its own horror.  Because Christian leaders believe abortion is too terrible to display, Christian lay people underestimate its evil, concluding it is too inconsequential to fight.  Virtually everyone I know who does pro-life work full-time says their first look at abortion photos was the turning point in their professional lives.

Biola is thinking small on abortion. Liberal, secular schools have dedicated entire curricula to preparing feminists to advance the interests of the abortion industry. Not one, single, Christian college offers a major exclusively designed to prepare students to fight abortion as full-time ministry.  While students at secular schools have successfully demanded courses and even majors — in gender studies, and human sexuality, and racial politics, and abortion practice, etc., — Biola students seem blissfully unconcerned that their Christian school (and nearly every other) is trivializing abortion as a sin unworthy of serious academic focus (by which I do not mean occasional lectures or chapel presentations).

In Revelation 3:1-2 we read the words of Christ criticizing the ministry of a church whose agenda wasn’t broad enough:  “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but … I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of God.”  In Revelation 3:13-22, Jesus says, “I know your deeds ….  So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  Lukewarm almost perfectly describes Biola’s opposition to abortion.  In Matthew 24:12, Jesus told us that we could expect the end times when “the love of most grows cold.”  Biola’s love for the unborn may not have grown “cold” but it has certainly cooled to room-temperature.

Until pro-life ministry employs as many people working full-time to save babies as there are working full-time to kill them, we have no chance to prevail in this struggle.  Biola could lead on this front if its policy makers were visionaries who, to quote Barry Corey, had the “courage and conviction” to replace inadequate words with empowering policies and programs.  The university says it bans abortion photos because their display is disruptive.  I believe that this ban will prove to be more disruptive than any display.

If we cannot persuade Biola to permit the orderly, public display of abortion imagery on campus, we are prepared to display it at entrances to the campus (and over campus with large aerial billboard photos) every time Biola hosts special events.  Biola students are going to see the horror of abortion, either occasionally (and in ways which improve the school’s reputation) or incessantly (and in ways which damage the school’s reputation).  And it is not we will do that damage.  Biola has proven itself quite adept at reputational self-destruction.

None of this might suffice to soften Biola’s heart on abortion, but three years ago, three weeks of CBR aerial billboards and billboard trucks and hand-held abortion photos over and around Notre Dame University’s campus convinced every other Catholic college in the country that inviting Barack Obama to speak would provoke pickets which would be too disruptive to risk.  The President has not delivered a single commencement address at any Catholic college in the intervening years.  Perhaps the tactics on which we relied to dissuade Catholic colleges from doing evil will persuade Evangelical colleges to do good.  In a world of sane journalism, pro-life picketers, relentlessly on the sidewalks of a supposedly pro-life college, would certainly qualify as a man-bites-dog story.

Two of our senior staff members are Biola grads and another has a Talbot degree. We are also attempting to recruit a recent Biola graduate.  One of our student interns intends to enroll in Biola’s Talbot Theological Seminary next year.  We ARE Biola.  We care about Biola.  But if we can’t halt the abortion cover-up at Christian colleges, we will never persuade prospective pastors to use their diplomas to end the bloodiest mass murder in human history.  And if we can’t stop that cover-up at Biola, at which Christian college can it be stopped?

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One Response to “Biola University Point-Counterpoint: La Verne Tolbert vs Gregg Cunningham”

  1. July 2nd, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Pro-life blog buzz 7-2-13 says:

    […] Fletcher Armstrong shares commentary from Center for Bio-Ethical Reform director Gregg Cunningham regarding Biola University’s discipline of nursing student Diana Jimenez, who posted graphic abortion signs on campus. Cunningham says at least one child’s life was saved as a direct result of Diana’s display. […]

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