This is part two of our three-part series on womanhood at Cedarville. In this article, our anonymous female student continues her contribution with input from our Editor to discuss virginity, purity, and pregnancy.
Uh oh, sex. The topic that is so taboo that two biology professors told their students that they have had students in their classes who didn’t know what it was…yes, in college. This taboo inherently exists because purity culture–the belief that Scripture tells us we should abstain from physical connections with others–requires extreme innocence under threat of “not being a good enough Christian.” I once knew a girl who told me that she wanted to watch Lord of the Rings on her honeymoon because it was sinful to have sex if it was not for the explicit purpose of childbearing. Abstinence-only viewpoints result in an inability to face reality and a lack of education on sexuality provides an opportunity for attackers that may have been avoided.
There is such a strong emphasis placed on arriving to marriage with your virginity fully intact in both Christian and Cedarville cultures that some parents will even make their children sign purity contracts (and hold them to it). While the concept of purity is biblical it, like far too many things, has been taken to an unhealthy extreme within faith-based cultures. It has come to the point that even kissing your significant other or (even worse) sharing a blanket could earn you a PC (personal caution) from an RA. One time, a guy kissed his girlfriend on the cheek after a chapel message because she had been going through some hard times and was informed that chapel wasn’t the place for that. This culture of purity-shaming forces well-meaning (and, admittedly, sometimes less than well-meaning) couples to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to be able to kiss or even sit close to together (pro tip: don’t go to the Indian mounds late at night, kids).
Problems with purity culture’s pervasiveness at Cedarville extend beyond merely their annoyance to couples. For some, both their childhood homes and Cedarville have taught them that their worth and their virginity are interconnected. Not only that but is it their fault if anything were to happen to their virginity. This means that having sex before marriage or being sexually assaulted will completely remove your worth in the eyes of God—and in the eyes of your peers. This is quite contrary to what the Bible says but unfortunately this is the way most Christians act. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:1 reminds us that there is no condemnation in Christ, but forgiveness of sins. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul points out that those who engage in any sin, including “sexual immorality,” are made pure through Christ’s sacrifice and will inherit the kingdom of heaven in spite of their pasts. He even says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We hear over and over that “sin is sin,” but do we really believe it? If we did, why would we shame others for when they sin sexually but not when they in other ways? More importantly, why do we shame others at all? In John 8:7, Jesus asks the Pharisees who are shaming an adulterous woman, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus’ death was an act of shame and public humiliation. How could we subject his creation, made in his image, to such ungodly shame?
This purity culture is most famously touted in the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris. If you are curious on my thoughts of this book, its life ended in blazing glory and ultimately a pile of ashes in my yard after the effects it had on me and my partner. Here is the introduction, summarized by Premier Christianity: Anna stands at the altar on the day she has dreamed about for months. The church is crowded with family and friends. But as the minister leads Anna and David through their marriage vows, the unthinkable happens. A woman stands up in the middle of the congregation, quietly walks to the front and takes David’s hand. Anna watches in horror as six others follow suit. “Is this some kind of joke?” she says. “I’m…I’m sorry Anna,” he answers, staring at the floor. “Who are these women?” she asks. “They’re girls from my past. Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now, but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them.” You get the idea: every relationship you have before your wedding is just baggage you bring to that relationship and pieces of your heart you’ve lost along the way. In fact, marrying a guy or girl with a dating history means dating their past as well. As Christians, we know that our past is what ultimately defines us…just ask Peter or Paul.
Harris suggests that society’s idea of dating ought to be rejected by Christians in favor of “courtship,” which means that a relationship should not be pursued until you are planning to pursue marriage with that other person. While recreational dating for the fun of it shouldn’t be our goal, to say if we date more than one person we are tainted is ignorant at best and extremely harmful at worst. In fact, in the text, Harris said that he needed to forgive his wife for dating other people before she met him. While his point may have been well meaning, we need to take dating seriously, it promoted a culture of shame that today still contributes to Cedarville’s culture. Harris also argues that a man does not own a woman outside of marriage. Uh, he doesn’t own her inside marriage, bud. *sassy snap* The book leads Christians to believe that in order to truly love God they must not only save sex for marriage, but also their emotional connections.
Furthermore, courtship is essentially a fancy word for friends with absolutely zero benefits. No emotional benefits, no physical benefits, and—I would argue—no spiritual benefits. Harris argues that parents ought to sit at the center of courtship and couples—err, friends? I don’t know at this point—should not hold hands, kiss, or be alone before their wedding day. This is damaging because the physical connection you share with your partner can help you determine how they will treat you physically in a long-term relationship. Furthermore, time alone together is incredibly important for couples who are planning to get married. Um, not to make this weird but y’all need to have a talk about some things before the wedding night. I know of one couple so ill-equipped physically to get married that they thought sex involved the belly button. These conversations need to be had before the relationship. Advocates of Harris’ dating style (which, to his credit, he has renounced…along with all Christianity, but we don’t need to get into that here), including Paul Washer, conclude that if you have a dating history, and I quote Washer from one of his sermons here, “You arrive to the altar an incomplete man.” Washer has also used an illustration of a random guy stealing his truck as equivalent to a guy—random or not—engaging with his daughter without permission. Dude, it has to be exhausting being that controlling. But unfortunately, this is the culture that had pervaded Christian circles since 1997.
If you grew up going to church, then at some point you may have seen an illustration of the ‘ungodly girl’. They take 5 or so guys and line them up on the stage, then one girl passes by each guy tearing off a piece of her paper heart and giving it to them. By the time she reaches her ‘husband’ she only has a little bit of paper left. Each guy represents someone that she dated, and by the end she has saved nothing for her husband and is essentially worthless.
Illustrations like these are not only harmful but also teach young girls that they ought to be ashamed of enjoying emotional relationships. Purity culture is filled to the brim with shame. It subtly (or overtly in many cases) forces you to be ashamed of your sexuality, rather than confident in it even within the confines of marriage. The reason that this emphasis exists is because the more ashamed and scared we are, the easier we are to control. Cedarville can easily take a group of uneducated ashamed young adults and determine exactly how they are supposed to live sexually. Professors at Cedarville have gone so far as to even suggest what sexual positions are ‘Godly’ for spouses in their ethics classes.
You may be wondering what happens to those that defy a culture this centered on shame. Just take a moment and ask yourself a question: how many pregnant women have you seen on campus? As The Ventriloquist once asked, “Where have all the pregnant women gone?” Surely someone on campus has gotten pregnant. Undoubtedly, many have. Sometimes it ends in a shotgun wedding and other times, the young women have been accused of giving up their ‘greatest gift’ that ‘belongs’ to their husband they are simply left on the side of the road. Getting pregnant while in college is an incredible challenge, and women should not be left alone to grapple with this struggle. We know of one student was definitively dismissed for becoming pregnant. They provided her no assistance and she was made to reapply to Cedarville and was forced to make an apology statement to the school. To restate, she got kicked out and was forced to apologize to the University for getting pregnant. Cedarville contributes to this culture of shame. Those policies must be changed.
Cedarville claims that they show grace, however that often only applies to certain individuals within Christian institutions (cough—Dr. Moore—cough). There are numerous reports of girls being kicked out if they are to become pregnant. The irony of this is that Cedarville takes a pro-life stance. However, rather than acting upon that stance and attempting to help them with the resources they need, they kick girls out on the street. This just perpetuates the idea that they are worthless, which is far from the truth.
However, if you do end up pregnant and want to stay at Cedarville during that time, try coming to the leadership first. Unfortunately, you may be strongly judged and admonished, but according to some women if you “confess” to them they typically give you a lesser punishment and you may be even allowed the grace of staying in their presence and giving them your $42k next year (thanks Dr. Wood!).
Most women at Cedarville have not had the experience of getting pregnant, but what would you do if you did? What resources has Cedarville made available for women facing an incredibly difficult time in their lives? What would your friends say? What would your peers think? These should not be questions that cross the mind of a woman who is pregnant during college. She ought to be recognized not dismissed, supported not ignored, appreciated not devalued, and accepted not judged. We must change the degrading and damaging culture surrounding sex, virginity, and pregnancy at Cedarville. It begins with us: with our recognition, our support, our appreciation, our acceptance. We are made in the image of a God of mercy and grace. It’s time our lives and our institutions reflect that.