Saturday, June 30, 2018

Sex in Christian Universities





Christian parents feel good that their children are heading to a Christian University in the Fall. I’ve heard them agonize over not being too pushy but hoping and praying that God would “shut all other doors” and make His will plain to their youngster.


Then you see a headline like this:

“Liberty University professor accused of trying to have sex 

    with a minor”           (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 29 June 2018)

or this...

Baylor coach: At least two football players suspended for sexual assault allegations  USA TODAY 14 March 2018

But perhaps you wondered about what kind of sex and gender rules they will live by after seeing this post by Molly Worthen of the NYT (2 June 2018).

   "Sex and Gender on the Christian Campus"


*****

"So how do you manage relationships between the sexes at your school?" I asked.
"We don't have a problem. We keep them separate," came the confident reply.*

Knowing the conservatism of the school, I wondered if they had 24/7 surveillance. Frankly, I was speechless. Then questions came to mind. But I did not wish to sound impertinent.
-----
A professor shared his news with us at one of those midday hallway conference gatherings at one of those quasi-resort hotels pitched at organizations whose members toil at low budget universities. Last month he’d seen a couple having sex in the parking lot, he shared as part of an "ain't it awful" discussion. The “I can top this” colleague informed us that all the girls at her school were” banging their boyfriends.”

No one wanted to top that so she won. Lunch was over. With bowed heads we checked our programs and hastily moved on to the next lecture.
-----
“I was unfaithful to my wife,” a guilty Christian professor declared as I munched on my sandwich. I suppose he knew I’d keep everything confidential—psychologists do of course. But it wasn’t supposed to be a psychotherapy session—just a lunch discussion over common interests. 

*****
I’m not sure about the range of naïveté to skepticism filtering the minds of students, parents, and employees connected to Christian Colleges and organizations. But people in the know, know Christian students are having knowing relationships despite the behavioral covenants everyone signs—essentially, the agreements are what you would expect—no sex outside marriage. I suspect the parents and administrors may be a bit more trusting when it comes to faculty and staff behavior.

It isn’t really part of the Gospel requirement for being a Christian, but rules about sex are pretty close to creedal statements. And you really won't know what goes on at your Christian college or university. You know their view-- sex outside of marriage is sin and therefore doesn't glorify God-- so you won't find it in a press release. 

As I wrote in A House Divided, most young Americans have sex before they marry. And the data amongst Christians suggest that their faith doesn’t reduce the general population sexual activity numbers to a large degree.

I suppose evangelical Christian colleges and universities will continue to make headlines as long as people assume everyone is heterosexual and abstinent unless they are married.


Silence is not an option. Christian colleges and universities must learn lessons from the #metoo movement. (See Griswold 2018 for example)

We still expect faculty and staff to toe the line. And in a “metoo" era we can probably expect a greater emphasis on no harassment by anyone on any campus. That's a good thing if universities help people create boundaries. But the boundary lessons cannot just be for students--faculty, staff, administrators, and board members need boundaries too.

The challenge will be to put the brakes on human nature. Perhaps facing reality will be a first step. Christians will need to understand sexuality in Christian cultures as they plan ways to keep people safe.

Perhaps you considered keeping your youngsters home. But then you read this article at Christianity Today (June, 2018)


    "Sex Offenders Groom Churches Too"


So, the problems we read about aren't just at colleges and universities.




*****


Meanwhile, realistically, parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators, and board members ought to realize that Christians, whether at school, work, or church, deal with sexuality in many of its forms of expression.


  Adultery      See Christianity Today Lifeway Survey

  Rape and Sexual Violence      (See for example, Thornbury, Christianity Today, 2014)
  Sexual Harassment      in so many ways (See Christianity Today 16 Nov 2017)
  Unwed and pregnant      (See for example, Inside Higher Education 23 March 2017)
  Pornography      (See Barna Porn study 2016)
  
And some feel a great deal of guilt and shame.

But, it's not all bad. There's plenty of what you'd expect at a Christian university. There are lots of students, faculty, staff, and administrators who love God and love people. 


There are folks who are sincerely committed to a life of integrity. There are positive role models. There are people who treat each other with respect and demonstrate healthy boundaries when it comes to relationships. 

You can find love and romance. You can find good friends that will last a lifetime. It's true. My wife and I met in a Christian college. And we still have good friends and good memories from those years many decades ago.

As with many places in life, each of us makes a contribution to the organizational climate. We make choices favoring love, respect, joy, happiness, and all the moral virtues that enrich life experiences.


Here’s a link to a related post: Is my child safe on a Christian Campus?. I have some ideas about safety and what Christian campuses can do.

There really are things to be done for those who wish to create safe places.

*NOTE [If the conversations sound realistic, it’s probably because I’ve studied, taught, and practiced counseling and psychology for over 45 years. They are just illustrations and do not reflect real persons.]

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Court Divided

Judges take their values to work.



In A House Divided, I review research on Judges' opinions. It is no secret that a nation's political leaders pack, or attempt to pack, courts with judges who favor their ideological perspectives.

Judges are of course, human beings with feelings and biases. We expect them to understand the law and apply the law without prejudice. But as we have seen in many news stories, judges can interpret the law differently.

The current case of a 5-4 split is a decision supporting the U.S. president's travel ban. Regardless of your opinion of the ban, the point I am making is that values of the people who serve on the highest court of the United States can influence their behavior, which in turn influences the behavior of millions of people.

We can follow the chain of causation back to the voters who select presidents who put candiates to the congress who in turn are elected by voters. In a sense, the values of the judges reflect the values of the voters at some point in time. Of course, they can be "out of synch" at times because justices serve for life. Thus, at any given point in time, judges may be more liberal or more conservative than most voters on particular issues.

Although I am arguing on the basis of research (See Chapter 2, A House Divided) for the influence of moral values on the behavior of judges, there are limits. Judges are still going to operate within the boundaries of the Constitution.



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Monday, June 25, 2018

A Cultural War against Yesterday's Heroes



If you drive east of Springfield on Missouri State Highway 60, you will arrive at the small town of Mansfield. It's called a city but you'd be forgiven if you thought is was like a village from decades ago. After all, if everyone is in town, you'll find only 564 households are spread over the 1.6 square miles. Take 100 residents at random and you'd identify 97% as white.

Mansfield seems an unlikely place to reference when thinking about the cultural wars that disrupt family celebrations and pit one post against another-- until you realize who lived there.

Today's news reflects the iconoclastic movement of our time. The branch of the American Library Association dealing with children's literature, The Association for Library Service to Children, voted to remove Mansfield's famous author from their awards. The award will now be called, "Children's Literature Legacy Award." The Star Tribune quotes the association's statement about Wilder's works: "includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values."

*****

If you are heading south on Interstate 95 in Virginia, you might miss another highway, Route 1, named in honor of the South's only president, Jefferson Davis. On Saturday (24 June, 2018) the city of Alexandria, VA decided to rename the road, Richmond Highway.





*****
Some say people are re-writing history. Perhaps they are in one sense. But in a larger sense, they are rewriting how people will view history in the future. Wilder has been a popular author for years. Her works exist. And her expressions reflect the views of some unknown number of people at her time and for years afterward. What's gone is a place of honor.

Jefferson Davis is a part of history.  That won't change. The interpretation of his contribution to history can vary with the writer and the reader. Road signs are different. Road signs represent a place of honor.

The two places I mention are places in America. But the U.S. is not unique when it comes to nations whose people reconsider the way previous leaders behaved toward their inhabitants. 

Most people can be proud of some things their family members have accomplished. Most of us can identify great things our nations have done for our people and for others. But it is equally true that an honest appraisal of our past includes things said and done that are shameful--things worth remembering--not with honor--but with regret or as lessons about old attitudes.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Divided American Values: 2017 Survey Data




After publishing the moral psychology book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I naturally pay attention to relevant research and trend analyses. A PPRI study offers a perspective on sharp differences between conservative and liberal political groups.

Sexual Harassment of Women

Respondents generally (70%) see reports of sexual harassment and assault as part of a pattern of treatment of women. The reports are isolated incidents according to a minority, 24%.

The response pattern is different for men and women:

     Broader Pattern: Men 63%, Women 78%
     Isolated Incidents: Men 30%, Women 18%

American Morality


Another highly relevant question focused on America as a good moral example for the world. Interestingly, many Americans do not find the country sets a good example: 57% disagreed with the statement, "America today sets a good moral example for the world” (43% agreed).

Not surprisingly, groups responded differently but the numbers are still low for agreement about America setting a good moral example: Republicans 56%, Independents and Democrats at 35%.

Black Americans have different views- the disagreement with America as a good moral example was at 70%.

The survey contains other interesting results concerning government policies. The two I selected were particularly relevant to A House Divided.



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Thursday, May 3, 2018

ABORTION and PROLIFE UPDATE MAY 2018






Republicans in the American State of Iowa passed a bill permitting abortions before a heartbeat is detected. The heartbeat date is about fetal age six weeks.

The bill passed by the legislature and was signed by the Republican governor (Des Moines Register, 4 April 2018)




Originally, the Iowa bill did not allow exceptions for rape or incest, but it was amended to include those exceptions.




The Iowa law comes close to a ban because a heartbeat can be detected at close to six weeks but women may not know they are pregnant by six weeks.



Quote from Governor Reynolds/ Des Moines Register:

"I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred,” Reynolds said from her formal office before signing a bill that will outlaw nearly all abortions in the state. “And as governor, I have pledged to do everything in my power to protect it. And that’s what I’m doing today.”

Republicans generally support abortion at lower ages than do Democrats. Earlier in 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill supporting abortion at age 20 weeks, which was supported by the President but the bill failed to pass the Senate (See February 2, 2018 post).

It is not clear what would happen at the Supreme Court because in 2016 the Court did not hear an appeal of a similar law passed in North Dakota or a 12-week law in Arkansas, which were blocked by lower courts.


You can read details of the bill at the Iowa Legislature site.

Abortion in the U.S.

At this point in 2018, based on evidence from bills passed, both Republicans and Democrats support abortion and neither party supports a ban on abortion.


Republicans push for the highest level of restrictions on abortion but stop short of a ban, although coming close to a ban.

Republican led abortion restrictions allow abortions in cases of incest or rape.

As legal abortion cut off dates get close to conception, laws come close to an abortion ban without explicitly stating a ban exists.

The viability of a fetus is a consideration for some. Medical advances


Psychological Science and Pregnancy Awareness

Some women do not know they are pregnant until late in their pregnancy even up to the point of labor. There are several reasons for the lack of awareness including irregular sex and periods as well as mental health conditions. A related term is Denied Pregnancy or Denial of Pregnancy (see more at WebMD). A summary (JRSM, 2011) of research reported denial of pregnancy status at a rate of 1 in 475 at 20 weeks in Germany. The article reported similar rates in other countries (e.g., 1 in 516 for U.S.). Most women were in their early to mid 20s and did not have personality traits general to the condition. Though difficult to predict, the conditions poses serious adjustment risks in coping with pregnancy, birth, and care of the newborn. Abortion is obviously not an option in locations where the woman must make a decision before she is aware of her pregnancy.




Christians, ProLife, and Abortion

U.S. Christians remain divided over abortion. Most official organizational statements are prolife but some support a woman's right to abortion for reasons of her health and in cases of rape and incest.

36% of women were attending a church at least once a month when they had their first abortion (Lifeway, 2015).

Women are most likely to discuss their decision to end their pregnancy with a medical professional (48%) or the father of the baby (61%) rather than someone at their church (7%). (Lifeway p. 9).

Read more about Christianity and moral thinking about abortion in A House Divided. See pages 78-79, 88-102, and 123-146 for detailed discussion of the issues.


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Barbara Bush (views on abortion and women's rights)



Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Same-Sex Marriage Support Trend 2018 Report



A new report from PPRI (01 May 2018) reveals increasing support for same sex marriage in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry in 2015.

The Christian community remains A House Divided on support for same-sex marriage but the percentage of supporters is changing.

Here's the data for Christians from the PPRI report:

Roughly two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (67%), white Catholics (66%), Orthodox Christians (66%), and Hispanic Catholics (65%) also favor same-sex marriage. 

A bar graph shows how the rates of opposition changed between 2013 and 2017. In all groups of Christians, there is a decline in opposition. (PRRI Figure 3).




Age appears to be a major factor predicting support for same-sex marriage. The differences are outstanding. Overall, young Americans (age 18-29) support LG marriage at a rate of 77% but, the support is only 47% for those over age 65.

Read more about the Christian divide over same-sex marriage in Chapter 9 of A House Divided.

Perhaps not surprisingly, young white evangelicals (25%) are also significantly different from their elders (53%) in supporting legal same-sex marriage.

Other findings include increasing support for nondiscriminaiton protections.

See the PRRI report for more analyses. They also provide detail about their survey methodology.


Read more about the Christian divide over same-sex marriage in Chapter 9 of A House Divided.









Read more about conducting surveys












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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Christian Women, Divorce, and A House Divided

Photo credit below


 Christians do not doubt that marriage ought to last a lifetime. It is no secret that divorce was forbidden unless adultery could be established. And even in cases of adultery, women were encouraged to forgive their husbands. You did not hear much about husbands forgiving their wives. Many Christian groups have changed their views on divorce, while still believing in the sanctity of marriage.

Jonathan Merritt (Washington Post, 2018, April 30) poses a challenge to Southern Baptists—the largest group of American Evangelical Christians: “In a #Metoo moment, will Southern Baptists hold powerful men accountable?” Merritt wonders about the views of Paige Patterson, president of the influential Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Essentially, Southern Baptist leaders believe in a traditional marriage in which women are to be submissive to men in the church and marriage. Merritt wrote:

Last week, an audio recording surfaced on which Paige Patterson, a high-profile Southern Baptist leader, says abused wives should avoid divorce, pray for their violent husbands, and “be submissive in every way that you can.”

How much violence should a woman take before she sues for divorce? If you take the Bible at face value, which Southern Baptists and many evangelicals do, then there is no biblical justification for divorce aside from adultery. Another quote helps understand Patterson’s view on abuse:
“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree,” Patterson is heard saying on the 2000 tape. “I have never in my ministry counseled anybody to seek a divorce, and I do think that is always wrong counsel.” He adds, “On an occasion or two when the level of abuse was serious enough,” he has suggested a temporary separation.


Domestic violence image from Bing/ free to share and use
Patterson is on solid ground with the Bible. But he’s on sinking sand with the host culture—that is American culture in general, and many Christian subcultures. At best, evangelical clinicians can suggest a separation and counseling without violating the biblical text.

PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANS and WOMEN


Progressive Christians interpret biblical texts drawing on principles rather than relying on explicit statements. Evangelicals in transition to progressive views often struggle with moral matters such as sex-linked gender roles in the church and marriage. Progressive views draw on Jesus’ reference to principles that avoid strict adherence to a rule such as breaking the rule of the Sabbath to do good works, like healing. I discuss these issues and more in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (2016).

When it comes to women in society and the church, progressive views consider women and men as equals. One example of a text supporting equality is the “no male or female in the kingdom of God reference” (Galatians 3:28). There’s much more to the argument favoring women and men as equals rather than the traditional teaching that women are helpers or the “equal but different” doctrine.

Supporting women as clergy rests on several arguments pointing to a few examples of women as leaders in the early days of the Christian era and evidence that women have many gifts such as teaching and administration. Progressives attribute these gifts to God (See chapter 10 for more).
A progressive view on divorce allows additional exceptions to the adultery clause. Sexual and other forms of physical violence are justified in several ways but the primary basis is the lack of love and respect mandated by the second greatest commandment—loving your neighbor as yourself (See chapter 8 for more on marriage and divorce).

SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE

Merritt refers to accusations of a “morally inappropriate relationship” toward a woman by a Southern Baptist leader. The phrase is vague. No one is accused of sexual violence. But the accusations raised in the article paint the leadership with a brush of disrespect for women, but that might not be fair.

There is no reason to believe that either male evangelical or progressive Christians would treat women as sexual objects. There is no reason to think that women would be the victims of harassment, abuse, or violence simply because an evangelical believes women ought to be submissive to her husband or be excluded from church leadership. After all, evangelicals do believe a husband ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).

The lack of escape from an abusive or violent relationship via divorce is a difference from those taking a fundamentalist view of the text in contrast to a progressive view. This difference can mean the difference between life and death or between a life or misery and a life of happiness. Is it reasonable to say that marriage is made for people?


We may reasonably ask if the lack of women in church leadership leads to a higher risk of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence than would be true if women also held leadership positions. Research documents moral foundations of loyalty and respect for authority are highly important to conservatives. These moral foundations help bind people together and support a strong community. Unfortunately, these moral virtues can cause people to cover up abuse and violence when under attack from those outside their faith group. We’ve seen too many cover-ups. Conservative Christians (fundamentalists, evangelicals) may need to ask if their loyalty and respect for authority have been misplaced when leaders fail to love others as Christ does.

CHRISTIAN COUNSELING & PASTORAL CARE

A person (woman or man) seeking counseling following experiences of harassment, abuse, or violence has much to consider. In addition to the troubling experience, which may have resulted in physical harm, there are feelings and thoughts that can produce a wide range of distress symptoms depending on the nature of the experience, the offender, and one’s own history of experiences and personality. In severe cases, diagnoses such as Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be present and require intensive treatment. Although many Christian clinicians are qualified to provide treatment for the aforementioned mental health conditions, they may approach the spiritual issues differently.

Evangelical Christian clergy and counselors really have no biblical grounds to support a divorce except in the case of adultery. This has been the traditional teaching of the Church for some 2,000 years. A woman may get a reprieve from violence if their counselor encourages separating for a while. But there is no guarantee the woman would be safe even after a year’s worth of separation. How far will the clinician go in moving beyond tradition when a client experiences severe emotional distress in a relationship? Will the clinician set aside traditional teachings when a victim is in danger of ongoing harassment, abuse, or violence?

And for clients, we may ask how comfortable they feel if a pastor or Christian counselor holds quite flexible views that are not a part of the victim's faith tradition? After all, progressive views hold that women and men are equal in society and the church. Women and men may be clergy and hold other leadership positions based on their abilities and not their biological sex. Progressive views endorse equality for women and men in marriage and parenting, which call for mutual love and respect. A challenge for progressive clinicians is to respect the struggle in clients who may not easily set aside the teachings that have governed their lives for decades.

Photo credit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson poses near a portrait of B.H. Carroll, the seminary’s first president, at the B.H. Carroll Memorial Complex in Fort Worth in 2010. (AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Paul Moseley)

READ MORE

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C., & Kelly, H. (2016). Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35, 204-214. Academia Link    ResearchGate Link




Relevant Chapters in A House Divided

Chapter 8: Marriage, Divorce, and Sexual Relationships 149

Chapter 10: Sex and Gender Roles 195

Chapter 11: Sexual Violence and Christianity 209


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