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Changing the Tune at Biola : Christian University Relaxes Ban on Dancing After 80 Years

April 24, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

The rumors started flying at Biola University in La Mirada last month when more than 30 student leaders were summoned to an unusual meeting with the dean of student affairs.

The students waited anxiously as the dean reported there would be some money set aside for long-sought improvements to the student union building and that tuition was increasing next year.

And, oh yes, there was one other thing: the Board of Trustees said that after 80 years of forbidding students of this Christian college to dance, it was now OK to dance off-campus.

There was silence. Then some applause.

In addition, the dean continued, the board had decided that the university's strict code of conduct--including bans on drinking, tobacco use and gambling--will not be enforced when students are not enrolled in classes, on school holidays and during summer vacation.

Year's Biggest Story

Steve Sebelius, editor of the student newspaper, knew "it was the biggest story of the year" at the evangelical liberal arts university.

"I think it's very significant in the scope of Biola," Sebelius said, adding that an absolute ban on what is known as the Biola Big Four had been in effect since 1908.

"Biola is associated with the code of conduct," said Sebelius, a 20-year-old communications major who has been editor of The Chimes since September. "People say, 'Oh, you go to Biola. Isn't that the place where you can't dance?' "

University officials are quick to point out that dancing is still prohibited on-campus or at any college-sponsored event. They say the policy change is positive because it transfers responsibility for moral decisions from the college to the students, but they emphasize that the university's standards are firmly in place.

"I don't see Biola moving away from what is really important," said Trustee David W. Miller, senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Church in Chatsworth. "We have not wavered at all from our basic doctrinal position. . . . But if Biola is known for a set of rules, then we have certainly missed our mission."

Part of Biola's application form requires students to agree to a code of conduct "for earnest Christians who are sensitive to the many principles of Christian living that are found in the Bible."

Biola students also take 30 credit hours of Bible classes in addition to their regular curriculum. The university, which is nondenominational, offers four-year undergraduate and graduate programs and has an enrollment of about 2,700 students. Tuition for the 1988-89 school year will be $7,296 a semester.

In addition to the Big Four in the code of conduct, Biola requires abstention from "morally degrading elements . . . (in) the theater, the entertainment media and literature." Violating the code of conduct can result in expulsion.

The rule change was welcomed by many student leaders, including Student Relations Board Chairwoman Pam Reed, who is part of a group that says the university should drop the entire code.

"We felt that the rules weren't biblical and saw that the university was tying the rules to student spirituality," said Reed, 22, who is studying to be a family counselor.

"There are many parts of Scripture that condemn legalistic rules," she said. "It's not a true measure of your relationship with God."

Associated Students Vice President Martha Beckwith said a survey of about 200 students showed more than 75% favored relaxing the rules on dancing. About 30% of those surveyed admitted to having already broken the rule.

But the trustees' decision has had its critics. Some of the harshest criticism came from Biola alumnus R. L. Hymers Jr., pastor of the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle in Los Angeles.

Allowing Biola students to dance "is part of a moral slide that marks both the decline of our civilization and the end of this age," Hymers said. "Let it be known far and wide that Biola University has now embraced the end-time paganism of American society."

Attended Concert

Hymers attended a Christian rock concert on the Biola campus in November, 1987, took pictures of young people dancing during the show and sent them to university President Clyde Cook.

Cook said it appears that some students were dancing at the concert by Jon Gibson, but he said about one-third of those who attended were junior high and high school students not from Biola, Cook said. The university did not ask the dancing students to sit down, and such a request would be unfair "unless we made it very clear from the outset that dancing was prohibited," Cook said. "They were our guests on campus."

Cook did say that a flyer from Biola Concert Productions should not have included the phrase, "Stay mild or get wild--the choice is yours!"

"In this particular case, we seem to need to be more careful in the advertising," Cook said.

As for Hymers, Cook said the pastor is a "self-appointed judge" with "a vendetta" against Biola.

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