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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