Patrol any building on Cedarville’s campus and you’ll quickly discover it to be the fount from which all awkward things grow.
That may be an exaggeration, but you’ve been there: that moment of disgust when you happen upon a couple doing that which should not be done in public. I do not even refer to explicit sexual activity (although you wouldn’t be too hard-pressed to find that on the Cedarville campus either); no, what I refer to is the stroking and the cuddling and the lovelorn thirty-minute-long gazing into a significant other’s eyes, or even the strange sitting-on-the-same-side-of-the-table phenomenon in Chuck’s wherein heads are often laid upon shoulders and hands are not-so-subtly massaged.
The natural human reaction to any of these actions witnessed in public would be “Get a room!” The only realistic Cedarville reaction? Avert eyes and walk away quickly in hopes that oppressive silence will somehow sway the offending couple to separation. Yes, there are established rules at Cedarville to prevent what the Cedarville handbook might deem inappropriate pre-marital engagement. Often they do serve their purpose successfully in that many students at Cedarville emerge from their undergraduate degree ‘morally pure’ by Cedarville definitions. Yet, this forcibly cultivated system may severely strain what otherwise might have been natural, happy friendships, and skew romantic worldviews so that future relationships – or the veritable lack thereof – are ensured to end in miscommunication or misled expectations.
The divide between the sexes is seen quite clearly by the automatically stigmatized as ‘romantic’ regardless of intent. Cedarville’s policies (which reflects Cedarville’s desire to protect its students) are understandable to some degree, but is the cultivation of such a heavily preemptive strategy effective in curbing these tendencies, or do they cause people to misunderstand or misconceive the opposite sex and sexuality? Sex is so strongly deemed a problem here at Cedarville that it renders natural inclinations toward the opposite gender morally corrupt, leading individuals to believe that every physical touch, every uncharted ounce of attraction, slides them down the pathway to sexual immorality. The common response, then, is for individuals to barricade themselves away from any and all sexual tendency, thought, or exploration in order to assert that they are ‘committed to purity’ and reflecting morally upright Christian character. The fact that students cannot kiss and can only hug for a prescribed amount of time entrenches that mindset. Additionally, strict rules promote a legalistic mindset towards sexual purity; why is a four-second hug inherently worse than a two-second one?
Don’t get me wrong: we are not contesting the concept of sexual purity until marriage. The Bible clearly states in 1 Corinthians 7:1 that “since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” What I do contest is the fact that much of Scripture is written in many shades of grey, and Cedarville guidelines seem to decide on behalf of the students which side of the grey they should lean toward. The popular verse cited in defense of sexual purity (the one blasted down the side of the Cedarville handbook) is 1 Corinthians 6:13, which states “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” If one is to take the Cedarville handbook at face value, sexual immorality means ‘sharing the same bed,’ (not necessarily having sex in it) or when ‘male and female students spend extended time together in any private area where there is not a healthy level of accountability.’ Firstly, if Cedarville is trying to cultivate self-control and a moral mindset in its students, how is removing every hint of evil or sin building a students’ resistance to them? Might such an establishment even dismantle an individual’s defenses, when he or she emerges from the pristine bubble that is Cedarville University and enters a world where sex is a callous pastime and sexual innuendoes are flung about candidly? Secondly, the institution of such rules suggests to students that sex and everything leading up to it is strictly taboo, something to be contained within the precincts of marriage. While this might succeed in maintaining ‘commitment to purity’ by Cedarville standards, at least for now, such an elevation of sex also results in other deficits of well-rounded relationships with the opposite sex.
“Sex is put on this other-worldly pedestal,” says one Cedarville male. And such idealizations of sex, while not uncommon even in non-Christian circles, tend to manifest themselves adversely in Cedarville. Because it is not just sex that is idealized, but every other element that surrounds it: the partner, the relationship, and the expectations. Walk into chapel on the first day, and be confronted with a ‘fit to be tied’ slide promoting marriage counseling. Various chapel speakers, even professors, crack jokes (and sometimes more serious comments) about finding a mate at Cedarville. No one can deny that getting married is normative and encouraged on this campus. After all, what more perfect environment to find a life partner than one in which everyone else shares your spiritual inclinations and the same drive for Jesus? This may pressure people (consciously or subconsciously) to begin a serious relationship far too quickly and early--a particularly serious concern, since getting married when young is identified as one of the strongest factors contributing to marital failure, and evangelical marriage rates (even among Cedarville students) are consistent with the national average.
And yes, many clasped close within the embrace of Cedarvillian atmosphere do indeed end up with perfect life partners during the span of their undergraduate studies. Congrats to them. But what about the rest of us left behind, squandering in quagmires of equal parts loneliness and idealization? More often than not, such a state of mind causes students to view all members of the opposite sex as a potential life partner. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But it manifests in the strained guy-girl relationships, the aspirations to boyfriend and girlfriend, the inability to see the opposite sex as a close friend and nothing more. Even the pressure from other people who see a guy and a girl hanging out (in severely restricted spaces of course) adds to the need to question, the need to wonder: could he or she possibly be the one?
Perhaps if our culture strove to encourage friendship as the normative relationship between two people of the opposite sex, things would be different. Perhaps our university could encourage healthier relationships by decreasing the institutional message on the importance of marriage, and by removing those policies that artificially demonize opposite-sex interactions. On the individual level, students can resist the urge to assume romantic intent behind any and all opposite-sex interactions, and insist on friendship as the normal way to interact. Perhaps they could even challenge themselves to start seeing someone as a family member in Christ first and foremost, rather than be preoccupied with the fact that they are a member of the opposite sex.