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Why Purity Culture is Toxic: A Female Perspective

This article was written by a female and will be followed by an article from a male perspective about purity culture.

My experience with purity culture

This past summer, I watched a horror movie on Hulu titled Pure.  It is the story of two girls and their father at a retreat focused on dads and daughters spending time together and learning about the importance of sexual purity, as well as participating in a purity ball. At these purity balls, daughters are encouraged to pledge abstinence until marriage by giving this “special gift” of abstinence to their fathers to keep until they are married. 

Especially disturbing was the scene where Pastor Seth, the leader of the retreat likens girls who aren’t virgins to chewed-up pieces of gum, who “you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth.” In the movie, Pastor Seth refers to the chewed-up gum as unwanted: “Nobody wants that, because it’s been used. It is a requirement of God that you remain untouched.” 

This movie was eerie yet disturbingly familiar. The messages of this movie reminded me of pieces of my childhood, along with what those around me have been taught both growing up and at Cedarville. 

Pure on Hulu is a disturbing yet familiar depiction of what purity culture can look like 

Growing up, I was taught that I needed to keep my special gift for my husband on our wedding night. Of course, this special gift was the most sacred thing a good Christian girl can give to her husband: her virginity. It was, of course, assumed that I would eventually get married.

Some of the books I read growing up included “The Princess and the Kiss” by Jennie Bishop, which explained to young girls how they needed to save their kiss (they used this ‘kiss’ as a metaphor for virginity) for their future prince. In return, they would be rewarded with many blessings. Girls were told to reject men who simply weren’t good enough for their sacred gift and to allow only their future prince to have it. They were to protect this “kiss” at all costs, as well as to let their parents, or the king and queen, help them to protect it. I also worked through the workbook that came separately and encouraged self-reflection and discussion with parents.

Jennie Bishop wrote this book about sexual purity for young girls 

I also read the book, “Before you meet Prince Charming: A Guide to Radiant Purity” by Sarah Mally, a conservative fundamentalist, with my dad. This book had some very concerning messages. Foremost among these messages was that modern dating was forbidden and that God will quite literally send you a prince in the form of a “godly young man.”

I’d like to make a side note here that Vision Forum, the organization headed by Doug Phillips, a proponent of Christian patriarchalism, sold this book. Doug Phillips had an affair and his organization shut down due to his sexual grooming of an underage girl. (are we surprised?)

This classic knight in shining armor promised Christian girls a happy ending

This book instructed young girls to keep their hearts protected at all costs, which included not “obsessing” over boys or even having lengthy conversations with them. This book encouraged a Duggar-like courtship where a young man would first get to know the young ladies’ father. The first chapter of the book introduces a little cartoon with the words beneath it, “To be rescued, one must first be a princess.” (Mally, 2006)

Ms. Mally encouraged girls to wait for their spouse, and secondly, allow their parents to be involved in her courtship process. There is nothing wrong with wanting your parents to be involved in approving your partner, especially if you are close to getting married, however, it is troubling that she felt the need to write, “I don’t have to date, flirt, or be searching for a husband. The Lord is more than able to arrange my marriage without my help.” (Mall, 2006)

Mally fully expected God to drop her husband out of the blue while doing jack squat—except for being involved in ministry, of course. Ms. Mally believed that there was no need to get to know a young man unless it was for the express purpose of marriage. This was the perspective of many young fundamentalist women who believed that a young man would fully pursue them by first gaining approval from her father, without her necessarily expressing interest in that young man.

This book presented the perspective that you must save yourselves for your future spouse and not give “pieces of your heart away.” Quite troubling is the message presented to young women that they will not be respected if they are at all physical with young men. “Young men do not respect girls they can take advantage of – and they do not as easily take advantage of girls they respect.” (Mally, 2006)

Sarah Mally is now Sarah Hancock. She married her prince Andrew in 2020 at the age of 41 

More troubling is the allegory in the book given about a girl being like a rose. According to the king, or father, in the book, a girl’s beauty is damaged by physical handling:

“They are handled and played with by too many a fellow. Their heart is opened prematurely. The fragrance and beauty that was intended for the perfect time is lost or damaged forever.” (Mally, 2006)

The indication that those who are “handled” are damaged forever is disturbing and harmful for young girls. Mally also encourages young girls to avoid spending any time alone or having conversations with young men until they find the ”right one” (plot twist: at the time she wrote this book in her 30s, Sarah had still not found her prince).

Even at the young age of 12 or 13, I remember thinking that these standards were pretty unrealistic. I wondered how I would ever get married if I couldn’t enjoy talking to people of the opposite sex or if I had to vanquish any thoughts of boys.

I was also involved in BRIGHT Lights, a program designed by Sarah Mally for young pre-teen and teen girls, to guide them to “Be Radiant in Godliness Holiness and Testimony”(BRIGHT). This program focused on different topics to train young girls in the way of God’s word, which included “‘Being Strong for the Lord in Your Youth,’ ‘Developing a Love for God’s Word,’ ‘Giving Your Heart to Your Parents,’ and ‘Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends.’” (tomorowsforefathers.com) This program also included the topic of purity, but I don’t remember much about that topic, aside from reading that crushes were bad and that I needed to guard my heart. (patheos.com)

Purity culture impacted my view of modesty and my body. I believed, as I was taught by my mother, that I was a stumbling block for men, that my growing teenage body would distract boys, and that I shouldn’t wear tight pants if I wanted to honor God. I also wore bathing suits that were essentially long dresses with leggings under them. My parents also openly shamed girls who were wearing bikinis.

The bathing suit I wore as a pre-teen and young teen was almost identical to this one.

I was also forbidden from wearing “form-fitting” jeans along with high-heeled boots because they were too sexually provocative. 

An example of the kinds of boots I wasn’t permitted to wear, because they were sexually provocative.

My parents encouraged me to save my first kiss until marriage. I was in high school when I was “deceitful” with my parents and did not follow these instructions. I was grounded, removed from my relationship with that person, and told that I had been putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation.

As a teenager, I was very upset when this young man I had been seeing, who attended an extremely fundamentalist university that is much more conservative than Cedarville, wrote a letter apologizing to my father for how he had “taken advantage of me”(in a fully consensual encounter, by the way) and betrayed my father’s trust.

After this experience, my parents suggested that I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (more on that later).

I know that many Cedarville students have similar experiences with purity culture, where we were told growing up to abstain from any form of sexual thought, action, or intimate moment, including kissing until marriage. To this day, my parents praise people I know who have saved their first kiss till marriage, as if they are morally superior to those who have not. 

The History of Purity Culture 

I recently began to ask myself what exactly is purity culture and where did it come from? Modern purity culture or the “purity movement” is the American conservative Christian fundamentalist movement that focuses on modesty, courting, and sexual purity, AKA abstinence until marriage. The focus of the purity movement is on young women, although men are certainly affected by it as well. Of course, women have been told to “stay pure” for their husbands for centuries, but modern evangelicals have been promoting and idolizing this message more and more in recent years.

Purity culture has its modern roots in the late 1980s. Interestingly, it did not begin as a female-focused movement. The Christian Sex Education project coordinated by Jimmy Hester began in 1987. In 1992, True Love Waits, a theme developed by Richard Ross, was presented to “Lifeway Christian Resources management for consideration as part of the Christian Sex Education plan.”(read more)

In 1993, a youth group at a baptist church in Tennessee signed the first “True Love Waits” commitment cards, pledging abstinence until marriage. (lifeway.com) By June of that same year, they reached their goal of 100,000 signed commitment cards and presented these to the “messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention, Houston, Texas.”(lifeway.com)

The True Love Waits movement didn’t really seem to propagate any harmful messages, because it focused on individual young people making their own personal choice to commit to purity, without the pressure of their parents. However, this movement could be deemed the beginning of purity culture.

One of the original True Love Waits commitment cards 

In the scholarly work, To Cover Our Daughters: A Modern Chastity Ritual in Evangelical America, Harmony Philips writes,

“Within ten years, an estimated one million commitment cards had been signed and displayed at events and places including the National Mall, Georgia Dome, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The movement continued to gain momentum into the new millennium by offering events internationally, including Uganda, Australia, and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. During this time, however, the movement received a facelift which included a more active role by the parents of youth, suggesting a move conservative move towards resembling Gothard’s Biblical Courtship.” (Philips, 2009) 

Bill Gothard is the founder of the fundamentalist organization, IBLP, or Institue for Basic Life Principles, a group that the Duggars were connected with (remember the infamous pedophile Josh Duggar?). Bill Gothard argued for his so-called biblical courtship, which included moral purity, or nothing physical before marriage. (Philips, 2009) Bill Gothard sexually abused women who worked for him, so his actions speak for themselves. You can read more about IBLP courtship here.

Randy Wilson, who worked for James Dobson,(founder of Focus on the Family), founded the Purity Ball in the late 1990s. These purity balls are extravagant events that involve little girls and young women dressing up in white dresses and pledging their abstinence to their fathers.

“Many fathers then give the daughters purity rings, placing them on the daughter’s left ring finger, and some daughters are given necklaces or bracelets with lockets that are locked into place. The key kept by the father, is to be given to the daughter’s husband at the time of their marriage (Gibbs, 2008).”(Philips, 2009)

In her 2010 book The Purity Myth, the feminist writer Jessica Valenti reported that “’more than 1,400 purity balls’ were held in 2006….Ms. Valenti writes, ‘The message is clear and direct: It’s up to men to control young women’s sexuality.’”(nytimes.com)

Purity balls are creepy rituals that are a mix between a wedding and a prom-like ceremony.

Purity balls are focused on daughters feeling special “like a princess” along with submitting to the headship of their father.

“The Purity Ball community, using one aspect of a girl’s identity, namely sexuality, is addressing a larger issue of societal concern: the place of women and men in social structure. The sexuality of the adolescent girl is one of the commodities controlled by the authority; first, it is withheld by the father, then it is handed to the husband, who maintains control..”(Philips, 2009). 

A central point of purity culture is that sexuality is something that is something that should be controlled. Another premise of purity culture for girls is the idea of being a princess. As the books that I read growing up suggested and romanticized, girls were princesses who needed to stay pure for their prince. This begs the question: what if a girl never finds her “prince”?

Purity rings were sometimes a part of and other times separate from the purity ball ritual. These purity rings were given to young girls and boys to be an indication of the promise they had made to save themselves for marriage. I remember begging my parents to give me one because some of my friends had them and they were popular at the time. Celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, and Demi Lovato also wore purity rings at one time. Purity rings were a physical representation of one’s commitment to abstinence. 

Purity rings were extremely popular among Christians in the early 2000s and mid- 2010s. 

Joshua Harris and his infamous book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, written in 1997, was a massive part of the purity movement in the early 2000s. This book left a huge impact on many people. This book essentially discouraged relationships that are not headed directly into marriage, along with sex or any sort of physical intimacy outside of marriage. 

Harris saved his kiss with his wife until the altar. They are now divorced. Since the writing and promotion of his book, he has apologized for how it may have hurt many people and has also stopped its publication. (relevantmagazine.com)

The part of the book that scarred me the most was the first chapter, which describes a bride being sadly disappointed to see all of her husband’s ex-lovers lined up on their wedding day. Her soon-to-be husband explains that he has given a “piece of his heart” to each of these girls.

“’They’re girls from my past…they don’t mean anything to me now… but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them. ‘I thought your heart was mine,’ she said. ‘It is, it is.’ he pleaded. ‘Everything that’s left is yours.’’’(Harris, 1997)

This book had an impact on an entire generation of young Christians 

This narrative tells us that anyone who has had former partners, whether they were sexual partners or not, has given pieces of their heart away. They seemingly have less love to give to their future spouse. This narrative is not only disturbing and inherently degrading but also extremely untrue. You do not give pieces of yourself away in a relationship. That is, you do not have less of a heart afterward. You learn, and you may get hurt, but you do not become less. 

Cedarville’s Purity Culture 

It goes without saying that Cedarville subscribes to purity culture. Along with forbidding homosexuality and bisexuality, it forbids any kind of sexual impurity before marriage, including sexual acts leading up to the act of intercourse. Because Cedarville forbids sexual activity, many couples are rushed into marriages so they can express their sexuality. We all know the feeling of opening Instagram and seeing multiple engagement posts in one weekend. Couples know that sex is promised to them in marriage, therefore marriage becomes more attractive. Purity culture pushes people to get married younger, and have shorter engagements so that they will stay pure for marriage.

This is not to say getting married young is necessarily bad, however, couples who are rushing to become engaged after less than a year of dating may be subscribing to purity culture. Of course, this is not always the case. However, the rate of divorce may be higher for those who date for less than a year. 

“One 2015 study in the journal Economic Inquiry, for example, found that couples who dated for one to two years were 20 percent less likely to later get a divorce than those who dated less than a year, and couples who dated for three years or longer were 39 percent less likely.” (thecut.com) Additionally, couples who marry under the age of 25 are much more likely to divorce than couples who are older- but not too old.” 60 percent of couples married between the age of 20 -25 will end in divorce.”(wflawyers.com

Young marriages are encouraged and praised in the Cedarville community 

How does purity culture harm us? 

“For women especially, virginity has become the easy answer- the morality quick fix. You can be vapid, stupid, and unethical, but so long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a ‘good’ (i.e. ‘moral’) girl and therefore worthy of praise.” (Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth, 2006)

Purity culture taught us that if we saved ourselves for marriage, everything would be wonderful, beautiful, and blessed by God. Purity culture promised us amazing sex if we saved ourselves wholly and completely till marriage. Purity culture fostered the prosperity gospel in the hearts and minds of young people, which told them that as long as they followed God’s plan for sexuality, they would be blessed.

Purity culture failed to teach us proper and comprehensive sexual education. Purity culture called young people “dirty” and “used” if they had multiple partners, dated around, had sex before marriage, or even kissed people. Metaphors included comparing girls to chewed-up pieces of gum and roses without petals, propagating shame. 

Purity culture is fundamentally harmful to both women and men. 

Purity culture does not teach proper and comprehensive sexual education. Purity culture centers around abstinence. It does not prepare young adults for when they will eventually have sex, whether that is within the confines of marriage or not. Purity culture does not encourage the use of contraceptives, birth control, or safe sexual practices. In fact, those who make a commitment to abstinence are more likely to get pregnant out of wedlock.  

In a study done by Anthony Paik, a sociologist at the University of Massachusets, he discovered that those who make abstinence pledges are more likely to contract HPV and become pregnant before marriage. He “explains this in part through the phenomenon of ‘cultural lag’ —the idea that people might reject certain values faster than they update the actions supporting those values. In this case, the pledge breakers abandoned the idea that they should be virgins until marriage, but unlike people who never made the pledges, they didn’t use birth control and condoms, Paik theorized. (Many sex-ed programs and cultures that promote abstinence-only until marriage also teach that contraceptives are ineffective.)”(theatlantic.com)

However, those who are genuinely serious and devout about keeping their pledge may succeed, the article explains. 

Purity culture ultimately encourages shame. Women are especially to be ashamed of any sexual experiences, whether consensual or not. They are told they are dirty and tainted if they are raped or abused, or if they engage in any sexual activities, including kissing, before marriage. They are given labels.

If they sin sexually, they are seen as “giving themselves away.” This message of sex making you dirty is especially difficult if someone who has grown up in a purity culture gets married. They may struggle with feelings of being dirty or used because they have been taught that sex is bad, and now they have to retrain their brain to believe sex is good within the context of marriage.

Joanna Sawatsky, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Sheila Wray Gregoire write in their book, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended,  “Evangelical culture primes women to repress their sexuality but then turns around and chastises them when they are married for doing that very thing.” (2021)

According to purity culture, this is what you look like if you have sex or even kiss before marriage

Similarly, purity culture can actually create physical problems and pain during sex.

“The body can and will physically react to psychological issues. One example of this is vaginismus, an automatic tightening of [the] pelvic floor muscles in the event of penetration. A possible explanation of this condition can be explained by the constant teachings to withhold sexual feelings or urges, and the immense shame felt if those feelings are acted upon. Another example of how purity culture affects pelvic health is people in today’s age commonly experiencing dyspareunia. This term means painful intercourse; occurring before, during, or after intercourse. Again, this is often stemming from shame and suppression of sexual desires.” (laurameihofer.com

Vaginismus can result from abuse, fear, and shame that has surrounded sexual behavior, making sex difficult and painful for women, even within the context of marriage. 

Additionally, Sheila Wray Gregoire shares on her website, “In our research of over 20,000 women, we found that certain evangelical teachings about sex lead to statistically significant decreases…women’s overall marital and sexual satisfaction. In fact, we found that some beliefs can even increase rates of primary sexual pain (pain not related to childbirth).” (baremarriage.com)

One thing is clear:  the messages of purity culture do not end when marriage begins. In fact, they remain rooted deep into the hearer’s mind years later. 

Lastly, purity culture perpetuates misogyny. It tells young girls and women that first their father needs to own their purity, and then they need to give it to their husband. It tells young girls that they are responsible for the purity of men and that their bodies are stumbling blocks.

“Making women the sexual gatekeepers and telling men they just can’t help themselves not only drives home the point that women’s sexuality is unnatural, but also sets up a disturbing dynamic in which women are expected to be responsible for men’s sexual behavior.” (The Purity Myth, Valenti, 2009) I have had to unlearn the message that men will always be looking at me and objectifying my body, and I have also had to understand that it truly does not matter what I am wearing if someone is genuinely perverted. It is interesting to note that male leaders who were proponents of the purity movement were sexually abusive and unfaithful to their wives.

Purity culture teaches young women that they can’t say no in marriage because they owe their husbands something. If they are married, they are their husband’s only sexual outlet: “As Doug Wilson recently said, wives are the only lawful sexual outlet. This is common teaching in the evangelical world–that the wife is the only proper place to put your lusts. So Every Man’s Battle teaches women that when he quits porn, you need to provide all the sexual release he needs so he doesn’t sin. You become methadone for him. In this mindset, him using his wife prevents sin.” (baremarriage.com)

Women are responsible for both preventing men’s lust and simultaneously giving them what they “need,” even at their own expense. This can additionally propagate marital rape(more about this on baremarriage.com).

Sheila and her husband Keith are passionate about helping men and women to recover from the harmful messages evangelical culture has taught us about sex. 

I want to make the note here that often the people who teach us purity culture do not always have malicious intentions. My parents did their best to raise me and I love them. However, some of the messages that they taught me were harmful. Purity culture is harmful but the people who have preached it to us are not necessarily evil. They may even have been taught these harmful messages themselves. 

Purity culture is very detrimental, especially to young girls and women. I want to encourage you that you are not chewed up gum. You are not a torn-apart rose without petals. You are beautiful and whole no matter what. If purity culture is still affecting your life and your thoughts, I encourage you to reach out to someone trustworthy. Purity culture is something that can take years to recover from. We have to unlearn the harmful messages it has taught us. 

Helpful resources for understanding and deconstructing purity culture include the Bare Marriage podcast by Sheila Wray Gregoire,  The Great Sex Rescue, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye Documentary, and the BITE model by Steven Hassan.

My Story

My name is Jonathan Sweetman, a 22-year-old Air Force staff sergeant, Maryland native, Cedarville alumni, and the sole proprietor of The Cedarville Interpreter since February of 2021.

I wanted to share my story because I think it provides valuable insight into the face behind what was once faceless content. I stayed anonymous for over a year because I had seen and heard of so much censorship at Cedarville. I did not feel safe, and upon advice from those who had come before me, I decided to keep my identity hidden.

I hated being anonymous. It was unnecessarily stressful. I was often treated like I wasn’t quite a real person. I felt that the words I said had less impact. But here I am, sharing who I am. And I stand behind everything I’ve written. Here’s why.

The Cedarville Interpreter, circa 2012

My Life

I grew up in a little town called North Beach, Maryland on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay as the youngest of five siblings. I was homeschooled my entire life, from kindergarten to my senior year in high school. I grew up in communities seeped with tradition, fundamentalism, and legalism successfully sold as authentic, faith-based Christianity. I fell victim to the belief that what I said, what I wore, what I watched, what I listened to, where I went, where I worked, who I was friends with, and how often I prayed, read my Bible, and went to church defined my faith. To me, faith was not a lifestyle of commitment to belief and evangelism, but instead a lifestyle of checking boxes.

Books such as “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” and “His Needs, Her Needs” brought seemingly irreparable damage to my family as my siblings and I struggled with the genuine faith we had found as it clashed with the (perhaps well-meaning) but distorted teachings of prominent evangelicals. They formed a crumbled foundation upon which my life was shakily built.

From the age of 5, I played soccer for about ten years. When I turned 15 my parents told me I had to quit soccer so I could focus on my participation in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA), a nationwide homeschool speech and debate league. I was heartbroken having to give up the game I loved for something I was less passionate about. Well, this was my all-time high for nerdiness by far. More notably, my participation entrenched me in homeschool culture which—as anyone who’s met a homeschooler can tell you—is a totally different world filled with a very unique community of people. Of course, there were awesome friends I made, but it felt like all I could see throughout high school was kids just like me: confused and struggling with their faiths and how they could reconcile these pervasive homeschool teaching talking points like conservatism, purity, Christian nationalism, and hidden inequality with the real world and the faith they had developed on a personal level.

As a debater, I was highly successful. My senior year, I won over 40 debates alongside my partner, only losing 1. We had a real chance at winning the national championship, but it was an incredibly tumultuous time in my life and I sacrificed that opportunity out of fear. I made the decision the day I turned 18 to move out of my parents’ house to escape the very unhealthy living situation I was in. The day after, I moved to my then girlfriends’ parents’ house. This time of my life is still a blur looking back. I ran from home and the teachings that had hurt me so much and turned my back on everything I knew. I cut off communication with my entire family. I missed birthdays, weddings, holidays. I was broken, but I spent years working on rebuilding myself and defining who I was and what I believed. I had no idea that what I was building was still on that broken foundation.

Wild that I thought this photo went so hard at the time. Circa 2018.

During that time, I arrived for my first semester at Cedarville University in Spring 2019 as a communications major. At this point, my life experience consisted of 18 years of homeschooling and about 6 months of an unconventional living situation which left me woefully unprepared for the real world. Luckily, I didn’t step into the real world quite yet. I went to the CedarBubble instead. I was much like most Cedarville freshman. I was sold on all of Cedarville’s beliefs, passionate about my future with the school, a huge fan of the administration, and perceived myself to be very firm in my beliefs. I was anti-gay, extremely pro-purity (aka barely okay with kissing before marriage), extremely right leaning politically, against drinking entirely, and believed men held ultimate authority. I probably would’ve told you John Piper topped my list of theologians.

A lot changed after that freshman semester.

My first semester. What a time.

I enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard in Springfield, OH. I left for basic training (and my first encounter with the real world) in Fall 2019 and did not return from my tech school until March 2020. COVID-19 struck and the world went into panic. Now swimming around in my head was my past of legalism, the messages I was hearing from my girlfriend and her parents, the life experience I had from the military, the teaching I had received at Cedarville, and suddenly the threat of a national pandemic. I was in a place of deep confusion. Looking back, I realize that in my confusion I was self-deceived: I told myself that I was 100% firm in what I believed, that I was happy, that I was healthy, and that I had a solid future ahead of me. I proposed to my girlfriend during a break in tech school and we were engaged through the rest of the year as I completed additional training with the Air Force. When she, a Cedarville student herself, returned to school, she connected with a troupnof friends who became my friends when I eventually returned to the university. Many of them are still my friends to this day, but I did not have many friends that were truly my own. My identity was wrapped up in her to the point that I let our relationship destroy every relationship I had with my family and dozens of opportunities to make friends at Cedarville. We got married in December of 2020. Ten months later, after finding out she had cheated on me with one of our mutual friends, I filed for divorce. On the bright side, I have been informed they are now happily married.

I never would have made it without my friends.

I hit an all-time low. Everything I had known was up in flames. My relationship with my family was shattered. The relationship I had cared so much about for almost five years was shattered. I was forced to question everything. I had no idea who I was. I had no idea what I believed. I had been a mirror for over twenty years with no beliefs of my own and no backbone. I was crippled by depression, anxiety, financial struggles, and unstable faith. The cracked foundation I had built my life on finally gave way.

But something happened that I could have never expected. Suddenly, I could focus on building the relationships I had been starved of for so long. I was forced to find confidence within myself without being spoon fed by others. I could start growing physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I started reaching out to new people and old friends. I began to slowly rebuild relationships with my family. I got involved with sports on campus and spent hours in the gym every day improving my strength and athletic skill (the latter is still a work in progress, ask anyone who’s played basketball with me in the gym).

Suddenly, I found stability—not in other people, but in myself. I finally found what happiness looked like. I moved away from the rubble and built a new foundation upon which I could truly rebuild my life.

It was anything but smooth sailing from there. I jumped into a relationship way too quickly, one of my best friends passed away unexpectedly, and in many ways I allowed the pendulum to swing too far away from the life I had lived before by throwing away my morals, my money, and my motivation in school. But with time and patience, I started to balance out my life. Of course, it’s still a work in progress.

Thoughts on the Interpreter

The experience I had in the Air Force during college and the experiences I have had since graduation demonstrated a dangerous flaw in Cedarville’s structure. As we all know, Cedarville is a bubble. You could ask anyone on campus including the administration and they would probably agree with you. The positive sides of this bubble model are that students can be constantly exposed to one truth, live surrounded by like minded people, and have comfortable amounts of time to focus on spiritual growth. However, the negative sides are the same as the positives. Students do not grapple with competing beliefs and ideologies. Students do not have to learn how to live with people who have different perspectives and lifestyles than them. Students do not face the challenge of fitting their spiritual routine into a society that does not offer any accommodations.

I saw the severity of this problem as I struggled to become socially competent and make myself marketable as an employee. My Cedarville education, if anything, handicapped me in my growing career as opposed to a secular school like OSU. Cedarville was known to everyone as “that super Christian school.” I tried to transfer before my Junior year, but it was too late. I was too deep into my program and would have had to delay my graduation by 1-2 years at another university. So I made the choice to create the Cedarville Interpreter, initially to address widespread campus rumors and the alcohol policy. But eventually, it grew to be a page exploring, criticizing, and offering solutions to many of Cedarville’s policies and procedures.

In the midst of the tumult of my life, The Cedarville Interpreter was an outlet for the confusion and frustration I was feeling. That’s what made it real for me. There were times I released content that I did not put enough of my heart behind (we won’t talk about the last article ok guys? It probably wasn’t my finest work) and at times I picked fights when it wasn’t necessary. But if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. This page surprised me every day with the reach it had and how much the support of a large platform meant to so many people.

I take absolutely no credit for the impact this page has had. All I did was sit behind a computer and type out my feelings. It was all of your input, support, and enthusiasm that built the Interpreter to the biggest Cedarville student newspaper on Instagram. Suck it, Cedars (jk).

I still don’t know what the future holds for this page but I’m so glad that my legacy as an alumni was a page where students felt welcome, open, safe, and accepted in an environment that can often feel constricted.

It’s been a wild ride, hasn’t it? We’ve investigated and debunked the widespread rumor that Cedarville owns the city’s liquor licenses, heard tragic stories of abuse and negligence by school administrators, but most importantly of all brought real problems to light and provided love and support to vulnerable communities on our campus. We raised hundreds of dollars for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. We signed a petition to fire Mindy May which resulted in Mindy May getting promoted (a less than successful campaign unfortunately). We painted the rock in support of our LGBTQ+ friends. We reasoned. We argued. We changed. We grew. And we did it all together whether we agreed or not. That’s what conversation is all about. That’s what learning is all about. That’s what growth is all about.

We can only hope Cedarville will see that one day and build a new foundation of learning that promotes disagreement, open discussion, and growth for its students.

I have been asked countless times what solution I would give to make Cedarville a better place. What could I say to the administration that would actually bring to light and bring to fruition all of the problems and solutions we have identified together?

I would say only this to the administration: Let them speak.

Let truth find its way to the surface. If you’re so confident truth always wins, then let it win. Let truth come organically. Let students struggle with difficult topics. Don’t spoon feed them agendas or doctrines or lifestyles. Let them figure it out in a nurturing environment.

Let them speak. Let students be heard whether you like it or not. Have town halls about university policies and hear students’ opinions. Allow publications that openly critique doctrines of the university and also allow publications that promote those doctrines. Let them debate. Let them listen. Let them grow.

Release your grip.

Let. Them. Speak.

Final Words

I wanted to share a few words of encouragement with you all as I conclude.

1. Always be open to new ideas

Be guided by open-mindedness. This doesn’t mean being constantly fluid because you should truly hold on to what you believe. But never allow arrogance to get in the way of growth. What you believe might not be right, so always approach differences of opinion with kindness, understanding, and a mindset focused on the pursuit of truth. Allow yourself to be wrong and to fail, do not be afraid of it. It’s how we are built to learn and grow. Remember to look at yourself from the outside to understand what flaws may exist in your worldview. Never stop building yourself once you’ve created a firm foundation.

2. Never back down from what you believe or who you are

The amount of times I was told to quit or be quiet are innumerable. I was too liberal, too conservative, too tolerant, too whiny, too shallow, too unskilled as a writer, too incompetent as a social media manager, too focused on negatives. But I was and am unashamed of what I believe. I am not afraid to allow my thoughts to be tested by the fire of the public eye. It’s a freeing feeling, truly, to not be afraid of being proven wrong. Of course, I am still stubborn at times, but that does not mean I don’t ponder the beliefs of others for days after they left a comment or sent a DM. Be open, but stand up for what you know is right and be confident and fearless enough to put your worldview to the test.

3. Remember the point

The point of everything we do should be to love God and love others. No matter where we are, how frustrated we are, how trapped we feel, we should approach every situation in love with a focus on others. I’ve learned the hard way that it is not about me. My legacy will never be defined by what others did for me or told me. Our legacies are defined by who we impact and influence for good. So build your foundation and from that foundation project love, compassion, and kindness to the people that have been put in your life, whether your friends who always support you or your mortal enemies who test your patience and beliefs. As Cedarville should, let them speak. Do not be a human sponge or a mirror simply absorbing and reflecting the views of those around you. Be a light.

4. You are valuable

There have been countless times in my life when I have felt worthless. I felt directionless and broken. But what comforted me was clinging on to my commitments. I owed it to myself to set new goals for growth and reach them. I owed it to my friends to be there for them like they had so many times. I owed it to my family to be the son and brother and uncle I had failed to be for so long.

But more importantly, I realized that just like everyone else, my life had value and meaning. Even if I felt like I was going nowhere, everything—good things or bad things—happens for a reason. Every single valley I’ve walked has transformed me into the person I am today. The mistakes I make, the failures I have, even the pain I feel, they are all tools that mold me into the person I’m meant to be.

Take the reigns of your life. Point toward your goal and don’t give up until you’re there. You will be diverted. You will face obstacles. You will fall down. You will make mistakes. But that’s what makes the journey valuable. Just know that you are valued, and if you ever find yourself with no resource you can always reach out to me through my page or my personal account.

Thank you all for the last 616 days of my life—for your support, for your criticism, for your love, for your hate, for your attention, for your patience, for your thoughts, and for your kindness. It means so much to me. I’m so glad that I got to share this journey with all of you.

Until next time,

Jonathan Sweetman

Editor, Cedarville Interpreter

Whitewashed

When I came to Cedarville in October 2016, I saw Dr. Thomas White speak for the first time. At the time, I was a member at my parent’s church, a small Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)-loyal community in Southern Maryland. When he spoke, I couldn’t help but feel that he so perfectly embodied so much of what I knew from growing up a Southern Baptist.

Well, I was right. But not in the way I expected.

Dr. White does embody the Southern Baptist Convention—the same SBC who was recently exposed for covering up hundreds of sexual abuse allegations, protecting attackers, and silencing victims. Most sickening of all, this horrible injustice both within the SBC and at Cedarville was perpetrated under the guise of Christianity—which, by the way, in its purest form is belief in God’s forgiveness of sin through his Son and not a collection of traditions created from out of context Bible verses.

This article reviews the life and ministry of Dr. White and explains why during my time at Cedarville and as I grew to know more about him, I lost all respect for him as a leader of the university.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Early Years

Thomas White grew out of a long line of Baptist preachers. Both his grandfather and father were ministers, so it logically followed that he was then “called” to ministry. We see this all the time: generations of preachers who all happen to be called to ministry (definitely not them having an interest because of or feeling pressure from their fathers). Many people who should not lead ministry hear and heed this calling because it is expected of them. I would posit this is the case for Dr. White.

Little is known about White’s childhood, teen years, or even college years. You see, that doesn’t matter because it’s not related to ministry, except his illustrious Cobra Kai-esque karate career which Cedarville references in his official biography. That’s important stuff because he claims to have used his karate dojos as a form of ministry. After selling his dojos, he headed off to seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the top Baptist seminaries in the country and a source of frequent controversy. He was quickly ordained at the beginning of his time there—a rare occurrence—jointly by two churches. One was Chiquola Baptist Church in Honea Path, South Carolina where his father pastored from 1984 to 1998. During his time, Dr. Jerry White focused on the physical growth of his church. Chiquola purchased plots of land and renovated old retail buildings to create a new worship center for the church. White is praised on the church’s websites as a capable leader and a visionary for the church. His son, Thomas, would follow in his footsteps years later.

Chiquola Baptist Church in Honea Path, South Carolina

When Thomas White headed to SEBTS, he met his future wife, Joy. But Joy was not the only connection at the seminary that would define his future. He met some very familiar faces in the SBC world including Paige Patterson, the disgraced former president of the seminary and former board member at Cedarville University. Paige took Thomas under his wing and was a huge influence in the type of leader he became. He eventually served as the Director of Student Life at SEBTS.

But White was offered a position after his MDiv graduation as the Director of Leadership Development at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). The types of leaders he developed include Dr. Mindy May and Dr. Anthony Moore, both of whom have been intrenched in scandal during their ministries. Dr. White was also called out for helping Paige Patterson cover up sexual abuse and protect an attacker during his time at SWBTS. In 2013, he became the Vice President for Student Services and Communications where he oversaw most aspects of the student experience. From a line of ministers with leadership experience from two seminaries under his belt, he seemed like a perfect fit as the President of Cedarville University, a role he also began in 2013.

Cedarville & the Purge

He saw himself as a reformer at SWBTS, revamping the school’s evangelism program and creating online graduate programs. When he came to Cedarville, he was ready to reform as well. He came on the tail of so-called “creeping liberalism” of Dr. Brown and Dr. Carl Ruby who had the audacity to be anything close to affirmation of the LGBT community. Thus began what many call the “Purge” at Cedarville, a reference to the sweeping reforms, dismissals, and corrections Dr. White and his cabinet made over the next few years.

This Purge was an iteration of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC conducted by disgraced leaders Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, both of whom have extensive histories of disgusting behavior when it comes to sexual assault and financial leadership. In Spring 2014, Cedarville enacted a policy stating that men could not be taught by women. In August, the school physically shut down dissenters from “The Ventriloquist.” Dozens of professors, staff members, etc were fired for any belief that did not fall strictly within a fundamentalist perspective.

In 2017, Cedarville enacted its atrocious “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” a blatant attack on free speech and a notably Biblically inconsistent policy that limited student learning to this day and brought Purity Culture to the forefront of Cedarville’s beliefs and teachings by banning books containing any sexual content. It also limited the teaching of secular theories and sciences.

Dr. Anthony Moore (credit: thouarttheman)

In the same year, White hired Dr. Anthony Moore, a known sexual predator and voyeur who had filmed one of his male youth pastors in the shower on multiple occasions. He eventually served as an assistant coach for the basketball team with access to the locker rooms and showers and even as a Bible professor. After his past became public in 2020, White tried to quietly fire Moore. But it was not quiet as thousands signed a petition to fire Dr. White for his horrible judgement. But he had developed a reputation: a strong, forward-focused Baptist leader with karate skills and charisma. Students would cheer him on at sports games and celebrate when he walked on stage. Surely this “one mistake” could not define him. So he was reinstated.

What followed was dozens of news articles calling him out for his unforgivable failure as a leader. He had worked with Cedarville staff for years to cover up scandals to protect the schools reputation and inflict horribly damaging policies on faculty and students all in the name of conservatism.

Dr. White’s Christianity is a strict focus on self. It is works-based despite his many argument to the contrary. It is about protecting the reputation of Christianity more than it is about living in a Biblically consistent way and sharing the gospel with others. He has certainly done some good during his ministry, but he should not be a Biblical leader. He should not be leading Cedarville’s students. He has cause irreparable harm to the University covered up by nice words, building projects, fundraising, and creating an echo chamber of opinion sparked by the fear of speaking out against university policies.

Cedarville has so much potential as a university. But horrendous policies promoted by corrupt leadership hold it back.

credit: The Business Journals

White even uses his adoption and ministries to pad his reputation. In his official bio, the adoption of his daughter is mentioned to reference White’s theological fortitude as a representation of God’s adoption of his creation. For a long time, his profile picture was a photo of him surrounded by African children, which seems harmless until you see his desperate attempts at diversity meant to prove that Cedarville is not still in the Stone Age. He has directly promoted purity culture, political polarization, pressurized dating culture, and legalism and through his policies indirectly promoted sexual abuse, fear, and mental health crises on the campus. He speaks out against vulnerable groups without regard to their humanity. He protects his friends and promotes them against the outcries of students. He is not a Biblically consistent leader. He is not even a morally strong leader by secular standards.

He has lost my respect.

Student Voices #003: Abandoned

Before we share this story, I must warn you that it is incredibly disturbing but yet incredibly important. Sexual assault is a cancer that grows in darkness and abuse must be exposed so that justice can come to fruition. This young woman experienced something unthinkable. What is more, she experienced something avoidable if it were not for the disregard and lack of compassion exhibited by Cedarville University.

Next time the administration lectures us about the importance of mental health or caring for victims of sexual assault, remember how they handled this situation and how desperate this system must be changed. Remember that Cedarville cast out one of its own and put them in a dangerous position for the sake of public perception. Remember that Cedarville sought no recourse for its wrongdoings but simply doubled down on their disregard.

This story is not shared just to show Cedarville in a bad light. It is to bring to light a deeply broken system and expose the abuse that this student faced. There must be change. It is clear what was wrong in this instance. She should never have been forced to leave. She should have been given shelter at Cedarville before the incident because she had nowhere safe to go.

After the assault occurred, she should have been given shelter because there was nowhere safe to go. She should not have been blamed for the assault she experienced. She should have been believed. Leviticus 25:35-36 holds a command to fear God by providing shelter to those in our community who are in need, a command which is reflected in New Testament teachings to care for those in need.

But fear of God was exchanged for Fear of COVID-19.

Cedarville must be held accountable for this horrific failure and must change its policies and procedures. Share your opinions on how the system should be changed in the comments or through our social media.

To the woman who shared this story, we admire your courage to express the pain you experienced and hope that even in some small way, sharing your story brings you comfort, particularly through the support of students gathering around you as it should have been two years ago. You are of immeasurable worth as a loved child of God and a member of our family.

The Story

Two years. 

Twenty Four Months. 

Seventy Thousand Five Hundred Twenty Hours. 

One Million Fifty-One Thousand Two Hundred Minutes of being a survivor. 

Two years ago today, I was brutally raped. Twice. 

Two weeks before my life would be branded by a vicious attack, Cedarville closed its doors to hide from the pandemic and left thousands of students searching for a place to reside.

We were told to pack some bags and go home, or go anywhere really.

One by one, students went home or were paired off with surrounding churches for respite. Only the “elite few” were allowed to stay on campus. Students who were missionaries or pastor’s kids were given preference. Students who had “ins” with administration or important staff members were conveniently allowed sanctuary in dorms. 

Then, there was me. 

A straight-A honor roll student. A student who volunteered in as many organizations as they could and did their best to meet Cedarville’s idea of a “good Christian young woman.” A young naive twenty-year-old girl with a known heart disability who had recently started dating a Christian young man whose family members attended Cedarville.

I petitioned Cedarville to allow me to stay on campus. I had no resources outside of the University to ensure I would be fed, housed, and in a suitable place to take care of my medical needs. I was denied. They told me to reach out to a church and see if some stranger would take me in disregarding their legal responsibility to allow me the housing I paid for.

I began to look frantically as my days left on campus dwindled quickly. Each unsuccessful second that went by looking for housing pushed me one more second closer to homelessness.

Eight hours from Cedarville, my mother was actively fighting the Coronavirus in the trenches of a hospital ER while my father was trucking many hours to ensure our state was still fed. My siblings hid at home praying for my parent’s safety while doing everything they could to stay healthy themselves. My sister, frail from her weakened heart and deteriorating body, feared for her life as she was given a death sentence if she caught the virus. 

I could not go home.

Cedarville remained open for the elite who were chosen to stay on campus. The ones whom Cedarville thought were worthy of protection. Those students continued to be fed and housed. I found the President of Cedarville, Thomas White, in the cafeteria and shared my fears. He told me to talk to the Dean of Women: Mindy May, a woman who made it clear she did not like me.

On numerous occasions she threatened to kick me off campus If I could not get my heart disability under control. I petitioned to stay again but the answer remained. I had to leave. Cedarville wanted to keep the numbers as low as they could on campus and I was deemed not in need enough to stay.

I packed the essentials and what few possessions I could fit in my parent’s old grey half broken down Prius they had let me borrow at the beginning of the year, and I prepared to leave.

Cedarville’s actions in turning away a student in need were anything but a “student-centered” response.

Just one day before being sent from campus I found an elderly couple to reside with. After about a week, my stay there was complete. They could not house anyone long-term due to the health risks it posed them. I deeply respected that. 

I moved on to stay with a friend for a few days and then was told I needed to go somewhere else. Not out of malice or spite, but simply because each family was doing what they could to keep their family safe. 

Except this time was different. I did not find anywhere to go at the last minute. I was out of options: be homeless or spend time at my boyfriend’s house with his mother. 

Being a young girl with strong morals, I personally opposed to residing in the same house, but I was given a different room upon arrival and assured that his mother would be around. 

Looking back, I can truly say I did everything I could. I stayed in public spaces around him, remained modest, and upheld the values I held dear to my heart. 

But. It. Didn’t. Matter.

One night went by and all seemed well, but the next day his mother went to her work office to sort out some urgent matters. 

My boyfriend, in broad daylight, alone in that country house trapped me. Grabbed me. Heinously defiled me. Bruised me. Cut me. Raped me, destroyed me, and left me. 

I was stuck in that house with nowhere to go. A house I never would have been in if Cedarville let me stay. If Cedarville deemed me valuable. Stuck- on the second floor in broad daylight, only one exit from that house. A long flight of stairs down to the main living room full of dog hair and crusty wallpaper and the man who had stolen everything from me in an instant. 

I hid in that room and cried for hours. Terrified and broken. I sobbed and sobbed and eventually, he came upstairs. He said he was sorry for what he had done and that he would protect me. I could not tell his mom I could not tell anyone. He said he would ruin me if I ruined him. 

Less than 24 hours later he marred me again. 

Worse. Much worse. I begged him to let me go see a friend and assured him I would be back. He trusted me and I fled to the hospital where COVID was in full force.

There was no compassion or close contact. I was stripped, tugged, pulled, photographed, tested, treated, and discharged. They took my clothes, took my hair, took my blood, and took my dignity. They sent me out of the hospital doors wearing a prisoner’s grey jumpsuit broken by the world and turned into a lost scared little girl fearing for her life.

I was referred to a sheriff who took on my case and then I was forced to return to the house I was attacked in to retrieve my few belongings. 

I called my pastor’s wife at the time who said she was so sorry this happened and she told me she would help me.

No compassion could be found at Cedarville. Instead, this student found rejection, disbelief, and silence.

I spent the night alone in my car and the next morning I contacted Cedarville. The one place that could actually keep me safe until I could go home. Their campus dining and residence were still open to the elite few, I knew they could take me in. The only one who could provide me with what I needed during the most vulnerable time in my life. I was hoping I would find respite in a time that NEVER should have occurred if Cedarville had allowed me to stay in the first place, but because I was not the elected elite few and not a shining star in Mindy May’s eyes, she sent me packing.

I spoke to one of Cedarville’s licensed counselors who told me she was so sorry but could not talk to me on the phone because the counseling office was no longer open. She referred me to title 1X who told me to file a police report and turn it into her.

From there I got connected with my campus Pastor’s wife, who also worked as a staff member on Cedarville’s campus; she assured me they would find me safe. She contacted Mindy May personally and with my permission, told Mindy everything that happened. She explained that I needed access to my belongings in my dorm as most of the items I had taken with me were absconded from me and that I needed temporary housing to keep me safe from the man who was threatening to permanently harm me again and to hurt my family. Cedarville was the safest place I could be. I knew Cedarville. In my broken, vulnerable, physical, and mentally shattered state I needed safety.

Cedarville preached God’s love and safety but never gave it. Hypocrites.

My pastor’s wife told Mindy how I had been raped and how I was left with nowhere to go. She made valid all the reasons why I needed to be back on campus and allowed in with the elite few.

Yet Mindy still said no.

The same year of the assault, Dr. Mindy May won “Staff Member of the Year”

She deemed the risk of one more student staying on campus too high to overcome. She told the Cedarville staff member to help me find a residence but that Cedarville did not want to be put at a higher risk for coronavirus so she would not let me return.

In doing so she proved that unless you are a chosen selected valuable few to Cedarville you are disposable. Cedarville offered no protection to me- the disabled. No protection to me the- homeless. No protection to me- the raped. It did not matter because I was disposable. 

The real truth is if Doctor White or Mind May’s imaginary daughter had been in a situation where they would be homeless Cedarville never would have forced them to leave. They would have never gotten hurt and they certainly would have made room for them to return. But I was not valuable enough. 

I was left disregarded and sent to a random stranger’s house. Hoping to goodness my attacker did not find me. Bleeding, sick, and hurt, hiding in a stranger’s house with a stranger’s belongings and trying not to completely lose hope. 

Hurt, marred and stunned by the world, I get a call from Cedarville’s Title 1X who implies I could be the problem. I was asked if there was anything you did wrong? If I possibly tempted him? I was told he should not have done that even if I was butt naked dancing in a strip show, but still, maybe I tempted him. Compassion with twisted ideology. Questions with manipulation and false conceived mercy with guilt. I had done nothing wrong yet I felt I was the one to blame. 

Cedarville, a school that preaches love and acceptance maintains a defiled view of the life of its students. Cedarville, a group that challenges compassion for those in need will trample over you if you are not like them. Cedarville, an institution paid to provide housing and food will take that from you if deemed necessary.

“Cedarville, a school that preaches love and acceptance maintains a defiled view of the life of its students.”

It sickens me to know that the woman who made the decision for the trajectory of my safety and my life during such a vitally vulnerable time still has the ability to make decisions over many girls’ life. She remains the Dean of Women to this day. It sickens me to know I will spend many years in debt trying to pay back the hospital bills that never should have occurred. It sickens me to know that I will spend thousands of dollars and twenty years of my life paying back Cedarville student loans that should no longer be my responsibility. It sickens me to know that a God of love and a God of justice is being presented at Cedarville yet no justice has been brought for what I was forced to endure. 

While I have endured this great tragedy that never should have occurred, I still pray for Cedarville, I pray for their students, and I pray justice will be brought for their failures and what I was forced to endure by their hands. 

Impractical, Immoral, and Illegal: Cedarville’s Dangerous Dress Code

Cedarville University maintains a dress code characterized by archaic principles of “modesty,” a term that is disproportionately applied to women to label them as distractions to men in the academic environment. Cedarville claims to strive for professionalism in its dress code but merely promotes gender stereotypes: men are sex-hungry and women must guard themselves by covering as much of their bodies as possible. Cedarville’s policies are not only a bother to students forced to wear jeans on hot days and struggle to find dresses with straps large enough to cover a good amount of their seductive shoulders, but it finds no basis in Scripture. Instead, it finds its basis in blatant sexism propagated by school administration and enforced by misinformed Resident Assistants (RAs).

Cedarville’s Policies

The rationale for Cedarville’s dress code policy is to encourage servant attitudes toward Christ and others through their dress and appearance. I guess “servant attitudes” go out the window when the personal cautions (PCs, Cedarville’s form of a student write-up) start flowing.

Cedarville’s first rule is undoubtedly pointed at women. “Clothing should not be excessively short or revealing,” the handbook reads. However, no mention is made of men wearing very short shorts or tank tops that expose most of their upper body. Instead, examples are lengths of skirts and dresses, covering up one’s butt if wearing leggings (except if you’re in the gym, which makes zero sense as a distinction), and no low-cut shirts or “immodest” straps, all of which are examples that apply exclusively to women.

Cedarville’s second policy is simply a violation of First Amendment protection of free speech–which is nothing new–by stating that “Clothing should not have slogans that are inconsistent with University values.” This statement is conveniently vague, which is part of why Cedarville was awarded a “Warning” rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education last year. It simply gives the university power to interpret and discipline against any slogans it deems to be against its values. It does not only rule out graphics containing vulgarity, nudity, or clearly inappropriate messaging. It goes a step further into the dangerous realm of subjectivity in which Cedarville seemingly loves to reside.

Later, the handbook states, “Shorts, sweatpants, and pajama pants should not be worn to class or chapel.” The shorts policy really only applies during the first few weeks of the fall semester and the last couple of months of the spring semester. However, is the symbolism of wearing pants really more important than students being comfortable during the summer months? Why not allow students to be comfortable as they pursue their education? Cedarville students are not more professional than, for example, OSU students just because they have to wear jeans when it’s 84 degrees outside. This rule seems pointless.

“Clothing should be gender appropriate” is just a bizarre rule to have. I do not know if the rule exists to prevent men from wearing dresses but once again this rule seems to apply exclusively to women. Women are far more likely to dress “masculine” than men are to dress “feminine” because most men’s clothing is basically unisex.

Other rules include wearing shoes in buildings, wearing shirts outside of dorms, and removing hats in classes or chapel. These rules seem fine, except that the hat policy is inconsistently enforced and students find themselves victims of a double standard.

Cedarville’s Enforcement

As impractical as these policies are, Cedarville’s enforcement of the dress code is perhaps even worse. Cedarville’s culture of favoritism extends from administrators protecting those close to them from discipline down to the Resident Assistants (RAs) that they train and grant power to over other students.

RAs do not seem to be well-trained on the dress code requirements–but then again, perhaps they are simply victims of its vagueness and subjectivity. Many RAs abuse their power, but at the same time, they are brainwashed into believing they must confront people with minor dress code violations (or even non-violations that they subjectively deem questionable) or face getting punished themselves by another RA who snitches on their lack of uniformity.

Here are a few examples of dress code enforcement:

One of Cedarville’s softball players was PCed on her way to practice because her softball pants were deemed inappropriate. A girl went to a volleyball game wearing shorts and an oversized sweatshirt that went almost to her knees and was told she needed to change because it gave a bad image that she was not wearing pants. There are dozens of instances of girls wearing baggy shirts or sweatshirts or coats over leggings and still being dress coded.

A girl wore a high-low dress that extended to the knees in the front and the ankles in the back and was told she needed to change–she was late for class but her RA told her “then change quickly.”

After Mission Impossible, a female student was locked out of her room and was walking around campus in leggings–acceptable dress according to the dress code since Mission Impossible involved exercise–but was stopped and told she needed to put on some pants because she “showed too much.”

A girl was wearing shorts–not short shorts, normal length women’s shorts–and was told to change by an RA because they were too revealing.

One female student wrote, “Wore a shirt that had long sleeves, but the shoulders were cut out. Was told I had to change because the straps by my neck weren’t ‘quite two fingers in width.’ Heaven forbid Cedarville men be exposed to my shoulders.”

A girl wore a dress with black leggings underneath. An RA complemented her outfit and then proceeded to say she would have to PC her because her dress had ridden up in the back.

A girl was dress coded in her own hall when the dress code does not apply to residence halls (clearly, based on the amount of people I’ve seen traversing back and forth to the bathroom in their underwear).

A girl went to the gym wearing leggings but knew she was meeting friends immediately after, so she brought a giant coat that covered her completely. She wore it the entire time until she sat down in her seat. Within seconds, an RA approached her and told her she would have to PC her. The student explained that she had come from the gym and brought a coat to cover up, but the RA did not care. Even those who try to follow the rules are punished.

My personal favorite story is that a student wore a beanie in class to cover up her braided hair and because it was winter. An RA chewed her out and tattled to the professor. The professor said, “And? Go sit back down.” Bravo.

Clearly, enforcement makes no sense. Students are not only targeted when they clearly break the dress code but even when they do fall into subjective RA standards. For crying out loud, how can you get PCed when you are wearing Cedarville-authorized sports practice clothes? Based on dozens of stories, the issue often seems to arise when girls look too good in their clothes. RAs seem driven by both jealousy and the sexualization of women. News flash: shoulders, knees, legs, and stomachs are not sexual. Pants that fit well are not sexual. If a girl fills out her pants or shorts, more power to her. We’re really going to punish girls for hitting leg day consistently and/or having good genes?

The answer is yes, we are. Because as much as Christian culture condemns the sexual revolution, there are few institutions that seem more deeply affected by it. Sex has become an object of fear, so anything that could be interpreted to be sexual in any way is an object of fear as well and must be shut down.

All this to say, enforcement is out of control. RAs do not enforce rules correctly or evenly. Women are sexualized while men freely wear shorts, sweatpants, and hats to classes and cutout tank tops that show most of their chest—usually without discipline. But heaven forbid a sliver of a woman’s stomach show. There is a massive double standard when it comes to dress code enforcement of men as opposed to women.

Furthermore, most RAs are absolutely horrible at giving out PCs and have no idea how to handle confrontation from any non-brainwashed student who dares to defy their “authority.” Any disagreement is labeled as disrespectful behavior.

One student received a warning about wearing leggings on campus and the next day wore them, but with a long shirt to cover the back. The RA who warned her told her that her outfit was inappropriate as she was on her way to class. She told the RA her outfit fell within the dress code (which it did) and that she did not have time to give the RA her ID because she would be late for class. The next day, she received a report stating that she had been PCed and was reported as being disrespectful and confrontational for disagreeing with the RA. The RA also approached her friend group to force them to give up her name. The student requested a meeting with the RA and RD to address the situation, figuring maybe the RA had gotten the wrong impression, but the RA refused to have a meeting. After speaking with other students in this RA’s residence hall, the student found that this was a consistent pattern of behavior. Somehow, RAs who consistently cause issues like this continue to maintain their positions of authority.

At the very least, stop sexualizing women on this campus through discriminatory dress codes and enforcement procedures and figure out how to address real dress code violations appropriately and fairly.

Biblical Teaching on Dress

Cedarville uses two verses to address modesty, both of which only address women. 1 Timothy 2 is part of CU’s Biblical support for its dress code. It says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

Scripture’s definition of modesty here is ensuring decency and not dressing opulently with excessive adornment to draw attention to yourself.

Clothing has completely changed from what it once was during the time the New Testament was written. Paul says that braided hair or jewelry is inappropriate. Peter agrees. Pants were not even worn by men during Paul’s time, much less by women. Furthermore, styles such as braids or wearing jewelry had very different meanings during that time. Thus, we must read into the spirit and context of the text. In the preceding verses, Paul calls believers to live quiet and peaceful lives as Christ mediates on our behalf. “Therefore,” he writes, men must not draw attention to themselves through disagreement but should live in prayer, quietness, and peace. Likewise, women should not draw attention to themselves by wearing clothes that are indecent or excessive, such as wearing clothes that are incredibly expensive or jewelry that is meant to flaunt their wealth.

Cedarville’s dress code does not follow Biblical teaching. It follows faux man-made doctrines about dress and ties “good behavior” and being a good member of a “Christian Community” to an antiquated dress code that puts all of the responsibility on women to cover themselves up to avoid the apparently untamable perverted eyes of men. It puts the blame on the woman rather than the sinful thoughts of another man. Nothing is immodest or suggestive about leggings, for example. They are the exact same as jeans or a skirt when it comes to modesty. Shoulders are the furthest thing from sexual. What about women’s shoulders specifically is sexual? Men can wear barely-there tank tops in the gym without consequence. For that matter, women can wear leggings and other tight clothing in the gym, but once they exit the building it becomes a problem. This makes absolutely no sense. If this type of dress is acceptable for some people in some places, it is acceptable, full stop. Of course, there are exceptions such as more professional environments, but wearing leggings to a Biology lab is not less appropriate than wearing them to the gym.

While on the subject of Biblical teaching, Proverbs 20:10 says, “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Cedarville needs to eliminate these double standards–these unjust, unequal weights and measures. They are far more unbiblical than a girl exposing her shoulders or wearing pants that accentuate her body made in the image of God.

“The Shame” by Zelal Guzlan

Psychological Effects of Dress Codes

In a study performed by the National Women’s Law Center, they found that dress codes enforce the idea that women are distractions for men which causes women to underperform educationally because they become self-conscious and do not want to stand out.

According to The Atlantic, “Educators and sociologists, too, have argued that dress codes grounded in such logic amplify a broader societal expectation: that women are the ones who need to protect themselves from unwanted attention and that those wearing what could be considered sexy clothing are “asking for” a response.”

At best, dress codes are petty and cause unnecessary discomfort to students in an already difficult social and academic environment. At worst, it perpetuates rape culture which is the idea that sexual assault is inevitable and partially the fault of the person assaulted. Laura Bates, founder of The Everday Sexism Project, wrote for TIME, “When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis. It matters very much indeed.”

Not only does it send the wrong message about women to men, it sends the wrong message about men to women. Shauna Pomerantz of Brock University said it well: “It’s saying the male response is your fault. Your body is causing negativity…It is [also] offensive to men. It suggests they don’t have the ability to talk to a female student without going wild.”

Over and over it has been shown in studies that dress codes disproportionately affect women (you can google it if you don’t believe me). This objectification leads to psychological effects on women who fear being a “stumbling block” for another male.

Let me make something clear to the women reading this. Wearing clothes that make you comfortable, confident, and contained (you know what I mean, probably don’t wear a bikini to class) is all you should ever have to worry about. A man’s response to your clothing is between him and God. And to the men, you are better than that. If you arrived on campus tomorrow and all girls started wearing leggings or shorts, you would not lose your minds and be consumed by sexual fantasies.

Title IX is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any school that accepts federal funding, which Cedarville does. It reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

In August of 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that dress codes may not discriminate on the basis of sex according to Title IX. The school in question was an “indirect” recipient of federal funding, much like Cedarville University. The court stated, “The text of Title IX is clear. The statute broadly prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. That sweeping prohibition is followed by a handful of exceptions. Dress codes are not listed among those exceptions.”

In other words, Cedarville may have a dress code as long as it does not constitute sex-based discrimination. However, as we have seen, the dress code is disproportionately applied to women and specifically addresses women in its specifications, not men.

It’s time to speak up against Cedarville’s discriminatory dress code.

The ACLU says, “Dress codes that are targeted at or unevenly enforced against particular groups of students may violate laws prohibiting race and sex discrimination. Dress codes are frequently unevenly enforced against girls for wearing clothing that is considered a “distraction” to boys.”

Cedarville’s dress code is one such example. The dress code clearly targets women over men and therefore constitutes clear discrimination. Not only does it represent women as a distraction to men, but it prohibits free expression by disallowing any messaging inconsistent with university values.

According to the ACLU, “The First Amendment prohibits schools from picking and choosing which views students are allowed to express. All views have to be treated equally, so long as they are not obscene or disruptive. This means that if a school permits items like t-shirts with slogans, buttons, or wristbands, it has to permit them no matter what message they express.”

Of course, Cedarville can argue that it maintains religious exemption which is true to an extent. However, if Cedarville chooses to keep a restriction on free speech, it must be more specific. Its vague nature allows improper enforcement and discriminatory practice.

Based on the court’s recent ruling, Leah Reynolds of TNG Consulting recommends, “Schools should pay careful attention when implementing sex-specific dress codes, as courts may find a violation of Title IX, especially when those codes are based on chivalry, modesty, and other antiquated notions of propriety for girls that are not similarly applied to boys.”

Conclusions

In summary, Cedarville’s dress code is impractical. It forces both men and women to wear clothes that are not comfortable based on antiquated ideas of “professionalism.” Furthermore, the dress code falsely claims to be based on Biblical standards when in actuality it is based on man-made standards of so-called modesty. Finally, the dress code’s uneven application and specification only about female dress standards dangerously ride the line of legality.

What can be done about Cedarville’s harmful dress code?

In the short term, we would encourage students to fill out the “Changing Campus Culture” survey provided by Cedarville’s Title IX office this past Monday and send written complaints to key administrators such as Dr. White, Dr. Wood, Dr. May, and Dean Brad Smith about the discriminatory dress code, particularly if it has affected you or those close to you. Also share this post to raise awareness about this issue.

In the long term, Cedarville University must alter its dress code. It is not merely an inconvenience. It goes deeper to affect the hearts and minds of students for the worse. It is impractical, unbiblical, and illegal. It is time for change, and the only way the change will occur is by students speaking out to the administration. We can complain all we want, but if we want things to be different we need to speak out now, often, and effectively.

Checking the Pulse: Cedarville’s Chapel Experience

Cedarville University sells its chapel experience as the “heartbeat of campus.” In other words, chapel is a staple of the University and a defining feature of its character. Many prospective students and parents helping their children choose a school are drawn to Cedarville by the daily chapel that takes place during the week at the Dixon Ministry Center. Not to mention, conservative Baptist donors’ pockets empty at the thought of daily services at a university that has such diversity of academic programs.

The concept of chapel is not unique to Cedarville. In fact, most if not all Christian colleges and universities have some form of chapel. However, Cedarville is different in that it mandates chapel every single weekday for students with 8 excused and 8 unexcused absences per semester. Beyond these skips lies the possibility of fines and more severe disciplinary action.

Cedarville’s mandatory daily chapel is laced with many issues including poor guest speakers who return over and over and worship songs that seem to repeat over and over, not to mention the mandatory aspect and strict enforcement of arbitrary rules and the often confusing mirroring of the local church experience.

What’s the Big Deal?

Even from a few quick social media posts about chapel, it became clear that criticizing chapel is quite controversial. Many point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with the gathering of believers to worship and hear God’s word preached every day. With this point, I would agree. At a basic level, gathering together in a spirit of worship is commendable—so long as that worship is characterized by quality, does not detract from commitment to the local church, and is firmly planted in truth. The problem is that Cedarville chapel does not meet these standards

Lack of Quality.

Quality is a vital component of the gathering of believers. Of course, truth must be proclaimed from God’s word, and in doing so, the proclamation must result in more than mere listening. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Unfortunately, this is all Cedarville achieves by mandating daily chapel: 4,000+ hearers of the word, many of whom are deceiving themselves—deceiving themselves by thinking the frequency of worship equates to quality of faith, or by believing chapel acts as a substitute for a local church, or by expecting faith by osmosis, meaning that hearing words sung and preached will magically sanctify their hearts toward Christlikeness.

Why does chapel cultivate a community of “hearers”? Because with repetition comes monotony and with monotony comes apathy. You can only sing “whoah God we love you for setting a fire in our hearts” so many times before it loses its meaning. You can only hear SGA student leaders spout the same shallow catchphrases and try to be relatable so many times before you begin to groan every time you realize it’s an SGA chapel. You can only hear Dannah Gresh yell “Go Girls!” so many times before you begin to question all of your life choices. Or maybe that last one was just me.

The point is that quality attracts quantity: the better the chapel experience, the higher attendance will be. A telling measure of Cedarville’s quality was during its COVID-affected semesters where chapel was optional and could be viewed online. Attendance was mediocre at best and most likely highly disappointing for the administration. But to them, it surely could not be a problem with chapel itself but merely its virtual nature. “Don’t worry,” they told us when they lifted COVID mandates, “chapel is back.” Back, of course, with no changes made to address the clear disinterest that has built over the last several years.

We will not waste time here recounting every single mistake every speaker has made because, frankly, Cedarville should not take the blame for every single off-the-wall comment a speaker makes. The issue really lies with inviting speakers back and strongly endorsing them even after they have made theological blunders (i.e. Dannah Gresh) and with lacking diversity in its choice of speakers. Imagine how much more interesting chapel would be if we heard perspectives from more non-white males and those with different opinions from our own. Now I know that suggesting that has negative connotations and we are not saying there is something wrong with being white or a male, but rather that diversity of thought and opinion is the fuel of the pursuit of truth. Homogeneity—seemingly one of Cedarville’s priorities—is its flat tire.

The quality of chapel must be improved. Cedarville owes that to its students, especially when attendance is mandated under threat of disciplinary action.

Confusion with the Local Church

Chapel far too closely resembles a church. It is identical in every way except for communion, Baptism, and I suppose the official presence of elders and deacons.

We know that we are not to neglect gathering together as one body in our local churches as commanded in Hebrews 10:25. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to pray without ceasing. And Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

However, central to all of these is a personal choice. If someone is forced to gather, their heart is not present in worship. Worship is a personal choice for a personal experience with a body of believers and with God.

The reality is that chapel is too much like church. Worship and a sermon every day numb us to the importance of gathering with a local church. It is the definition of too much of a good thing and many students find themselves burnt out and struggling to motivate themselves to go to church, especially when many churches students favor are 30-45 minutes away from campus.

Inviting speakers with whom we disagree is controversial in secular culture, but as believers, we know that sound reason and a foundation of truth are strengthened by hearing and addressing different opinions

Truth and Tolerance.

Cedarville seems to forget that it is an academic environment, and not an ecclesiological one. Because of this, its principles and goals are different from a local church. Chapel, unlike church, is a place where a variety of viewpoints can be heard and tested by our own foundational faith. We ought to be like the Bereans, listening intently to what is taught and comparing it to what we read in scripture. Cedarville ought to be afraid of such a Berean approach to chapel. Much like the Catholic Church in the 15th and 16th century, which once dominated thought because no uneducated commoners could read the Bible in their own language, many speakers spout errant teaching wrapped in buzz words and catchphrases so they are never checked by impressionable students.

As students, we need to constantly tighten the security of our hearts. Subtle heresies are the most dangerous because they are disguised so well as truth.

You may be wondering how to reconcile a desire for diverse speakers and for the truth to be proclaimed. It may have felt contradictory as we wrote that Cedarville invites back bad teachers and preachers while also writing Cedarville ought to invite speakers from wrong viewpoints. How do we have our cake and eat it too?

First of all, the main issue lies with an endorsement of poor teachers and false doctrine. As far as allowing opinions Cedarville deems to be wrong, the obvious solution is to provide panel discussions with individuals who do not align with what Cedarville believes or even those who are staunchly opposed to Biblical truths. In this way, students are exposed to the “wrong” ideology in a constructive setting where that ideology can be addressed immediately without simply being laughed off. This is how we strengthen our faith, not through shallow teaching and monotony.

Steps for Change

We don’t like to whine about Cedarville without providing practical things that we believe Cedarville should do to fix the problem. There are four main areas of change we believe would not only defibrillate Cedarville’s dying “pulse” but also improve the Cedarville experience as a whole.

1. Decrease the frequency of chapel to 2-3 times per week

Chapel at a Christian university is completely normal and, when done right, can be a huge asset to the community academically and spiritually. But most universities have far less frequent chapels.

At Boyce College, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) Bible college, chapel occurs twice per week throughout the semester. Students are required to accrue 12 chapel credits per semester. That’s a little bit less than once per week. Interestingly, their chapels are usually packed out every time despite the fact that only twelve are mandatory.

Similarly, Union University requires students to attend 14 chapels over the course of the semester and offers chapel twice per week.

Covenant College, a Presbyterian university in Lookout Mountain, GA, allows eight skips per semester while offering chapel three days a week.

Ohio Christian University offers chapel two days a week and allows seven skips per semester.

Liberty University’s version of chapel, “convocation,” occurs twice per week. However, Liberty does maintain a rather strict policy that allows only two skips per semester. But one thing LU gets right is that infrequent chapel gathering allows for better speakers which works to promote huge student attendance, mandatory or not.

Universities that do not have chapel every single day still have vibrant chapel experiences, still meet Bible minor requirements, and still attract students to attend.

Quality attracts quantity. Mandates attract apathy.

2. Remove or alter the chapel mandate

I know what you might be thinking…getting rid of one of the biggest things that sets Cedarville apart?

I would disagree. I think Cedarville has far more to set it apart from other Christian colleges including its academics, community, and some areas of theology and if administrators think mandatory chapel gives them an edge, they’re simply wrong because if CU insists on having chapel every day, students who “want it to be mandatory” can simply go every day. It’s a revolutionary concept, I know, but one I posit would work for the University to still target that niche group of students that want to go every day of the week.

There are a few ways Cedarville could alter its mandate if it does not want to entirely end its requirement. Of course, there is the option to no longer have a mandatory chapel, but that is unlikely and would swing Cedarville too far out of grace with its supporters. However, Cedarville could align more closely with one of the colleges or universities listed above and offer chapel 2-3 times per week and require a certain number of chapels per semester. This allows students to act like adults and work chapel into their busy schedules and not be forced to attend every single day.

3. Vary the chapel style

I’ll say it again for irony’s sake. Monotony breeds apathy. When we get into the habit of coming into the same building to hear the same songs and the same style of speaking, we zone out. Suddenly everyone’s arriving at 10:04 to catch the grace period and leaving at 10:25 for the three consecutive classes they definitely have (understand my sarcasm: there is no way half of the top section has to leave at 10:25). Something needs to change. In addition to changing frequency and attendance policies, the quality of chapel must improve.

Mix up the songs that are sung. Consider allowing students to audition to lead chapel worship. Intermingle worship with teaching. Have chapels that are *gasp* fun. Change things up. Please.

Oh, and for the love of all that is good and right, get rid of or vastly change SGA (Student Government Association) chapel. Everyone hates it except SGA and SGA’s friends. It’s great that we’re giving a college student the chance to play preacher and for the SGA president and VP to get to give overly rehearsed and forced speeches to try to relate to the fellow students they seem so disconnected from, but if chapel were not mandatory it would be slim pickings at an SGA chapel for a reason.

Diversity in all its forms is an asset.

4. Diversify speakers

In true Baptist form, CU’s chapel is dominated by a bunch of white guys. For crying out loud, our president’s name is Dr. Thomas White, which is not his fault but it is still funny. A woman speaking in chapel is barely a biannual occurrence and when they do speak they can’t preach. After all, God doesn’t communicate with or equip women in the same way he does men, right? I think I read that somewhere in the Bible.

In all seriousness, Cedarville must diversify its speakers to enliven a repetitive chapel experience. Black speakers, white speakers, Hispanic speakers, female speakers, male speakers, speakers we disagree with, etc. should all be invited to speak in chapel. Diversity in all its forms is an asset. Why can’t Cedarville’s kingdom diversity initiative seem to make its way from Founder’s Hall to the chapel building?

It’s time for a change–and not only a change in the present. It’s time for Cedarville to seriously consider how it will continuously change chapel. It needs processes and procedures for developing unique experiences and making better connections for speakers to invite.

Closing Thoughts

Chapel is not all bad. It has its benefits, such as proclaiming truth and encouraging godly living. The problem is that it lacks finesse and technique. Cedarville is like a basketball player that can only dribble well but knows nothing about strategy or how to shoot the ball. They are working on the wrong area. Instead of mandating chapel, attract students to chapel. Instead of fearing differing opinions, present and confront them Biblically. Instead of detracting from local church worship, provide chapel as a means of spiritual nourishment that is an asset to students rather than a burden.

It’s time for Cedarville to objectively check its pulse and change its chapel experience.

Defined by One Mistake: What One Student’s Dismissal Revealed about Cedarville’s Disciplinary Process

This article is written about an anonymous student’s experience with Cedarville’s disciplinary process relating to alcohol use and posession. The individual requested their name to be omitted, so we will be calling them “Hudson” for the duration of this article. If you know who this article is about, please respect their privacy and do not share their real name or any additional details.

Cedarville University has one of the strictest alcohol policies of any university. While many secular universities have “insurance” policies to help underage students get out of alcohol charges, Cedarville prohibits the possession and consumption of alcohol regardless of age, location, or enrollment status. In other words, whether or not you are 21+, whether classes are currently in session or you are on a break, whether you are on or off-campus, and whether you are a student at any level, you cannot drink or even go to places where alcohol is “the main feature.”

Cedarville’s disciplinary response to a violation of this policy is remarkably vague. “Violations of these guidelines may result in dismissal,” the handbook reads. But where does the University draw the line of dismissal? It would seem Cedarville itself does not even know, as we will see in this story of a student who by all accounts was a stand-out Cedarville student who was dismissed after their first alcohol offense.

The frightening reality is that this student’s disciplinary process revealed that the handbook seems to exist merely as a way of silencing students who Cedarville Student Life may deem a threat to the University’s reputation or an inconvenience that is not worth expending time, money, or effort. If you are influential enough or bring the school enough money, the handbook does not apply as strongly to you. But if you just are one student in a sea of 4,500 others–even with excellent academics and community involvement–the handbook will be used to its fullest extent.

The Incident

Hudson was in his last year at Cedarville University. In addition to being involved in major-specific activities and org activities, he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and the International Justice Mission.

Hudson was well-liked among students. In fact, although we never met, I had heard from many of my friends what a good guy he was which is something I don’t usually hear–typically I hear from my friends about people they don’t like.

But on October 9, 2021, things took a turn in Hudson’s life at Cedarville. He and his friend drank on Cedarville’s campus and decided to ride their bikes around the lake. A noise complaint was made to Campus Security, and Hudson and his friend were stopped and confronted about the smell of alcohol on their breath. The two admitted that they had been drinking and granted Campus Security permission to search one student’s dorm, where they found 28 against-covenant items, only 4 of which were Hudson’s.

According to the Campus Security report,

“When Campus Security arrived to investigate [a noise complaint], they discovered that two of the individuals [redacted] and [Hudson] had the smell of alcohol on their breath, were slurring their words, and had difficulty standing up without support. When they were first confronted by CS, [redacted] and [Hudson] denied that they had been drinking any alcohol. However, after further questioning, they began to be more truthful. They eventually acknowledged that they had drank multiple drinks in a residence hall.”

Cedar-12 is always on the prowl, don’t worry. They’ll never leave a student unbothered in their car in a parking lot.

Later in the report, it notes that “[redacted] and [Hudson] acknowledged ownership of the alcohol.” It failed to specify how much of the alcohol was owned by who, which we’ll come back around to later.

Hudson was understandably shaken by the experience and was faced with the possibility that he might be expelled from Cedarville University. In the car with the security officer who drove him home, he asked if they thought he would be kicked out. The officer said he was probably fine because he had no previous record. Two days later, on Monday the 11th, he met with the dean of student life Brad Smith.

The Response

What stood out about his meeting with Brad Smith was that both Hudson and his friend were “charged” as if they were the same person. Although 24 of the 28 items found were his friend’s, Hudson was never granted permission to be adjudicated separately throughout the entire process. After the meeting, Dean Smith said that they were most likely dismissed but the final call would be through Mindy May.

We all know how the Mindy May story ends. Hudson was dismissed.

As a student, Hudson was committed to Cedarville and had a lot of friends who supported him throughout this process. He was deeply involved in the campus community and his fellow org members advocated for his membership not to be terminated.

But Student Life’s response did not align with the love and support Hudson felt from the rest of campus. When the appeal process began, he sat before a student council chosen by SGA along with faculty. Some of the students tried to ask questions about him as a person, but for the most part, all questions regarded this singular incident–and the incident as a whole, not just his involvement. After the council concluded, Hudson waited for their deliberation. Twenty minutes later he was officially dismissed.

As he waited, he had heard laughter from the room where they discussed their decision.

The official decision called for “Immediate Dismissal for violation of CU alcohol possession.” Graciously, it states that “[Hudson] may reapply to CU for the Fall 2022 semester” conditional on “a positive letter of recommendation from a counselor with whom [he] has shared the details of this event, as well as his acknowledgment that he has struggled with alcoholism” after “a number of sessions” as well as “A positive letter of recommendation from a pastor of the local church where [Hudson] attends and with whom he has shared his struggles with alcohol.”

This is laughable and so typical of hyper-conservative Christian organizations to address a one-time sin as a lifestyle issue. Hudson was supposed to get counseling for alcoholism. Let me restate. For alcoholism. Why? He drank one time. This is not a struggle with alcohol. This is drinking one time. It is absolutely absurd for the University to make these claims as grounds for dismissal.

I wish I could be there when Hudson transfers to another university and they ask cautiously, “Can you tell us about this administrative dismissal?” and Hudson says, “Yes, I drank one time when I was 21” followed by howling laughter from any sane school administrator. They’d probably congratulate him for being the only student who got in trouble for drinking when of-age EVER at that school.

The Double Standard

Of course, possession or use of alcohol is prohibited at Cedarville University, but it is by no means a zero-tolerance policy. In the section that addresses alcohol, the handbook says, “Violations of these guidelines may result in dismissal.” (p. 16, emphasis added) This is an incredibly vague statement and could apply to any violation of the handbook. A more specific section of the handbook is possession of firearms, which states that disciplinary action up to dismissal is possible and includes fines and specific regulations regarding what is allowable on campus. The disciplinary process for alcohol use and possession is not made clear, and even after his dismissal, Hudson discovered a final level of appeal on his own without being made aware by the University, which was a direct appeal to the Presidential Cabinet.

No statement is made that its alcohol policy is “zero-tolerance” meaning automatic dismissal. If you ask me, I think I know why. For students like Hudson, he contributed greatly to the culture of Cedarville through his service and commitment to community. But when the entire soccer team got busted at a 21st birthday party, they got off scot-free. “But Cedarville Interpreter, they got put on probation.” Wow! That means absolutely nothing! That means no drinking if they’d get caught, or maybe holding off until probation is over.

@ the Cedarville Soccer Team

My question is what is the difference between Hudson and the soccer team? Ah, the soccer team is viewed as an asset by the administration. They make Cedarville marketable to incoming students because “We’re a real school with real sports!” They also bring money to the school through sponsorships and funding. Because of this, they get off with a slap on the wrist while Hudson is dismissed, treated like a nameless face on a Campus Security report.

I know personally of multiple individuals who have been caught with alcohol who were not dismissed. The difference? They had connections at the school.

Cedarville’s double standard in this area–as in so many other areas of disciplinary action–is sickening.

If you disagree, consider this: if Dr. White’s own child were attending the University and got busted for alcohol, would a gracious redemption plan suddenly come onto the table?

The Implications

There were three things that stood out about Hudson’s dismissal, which he outlined very well in his final appeal to the Presidential Cabinet. Firstly, his case was adjudicated together with his friend who was charged for criminal offenses. He writes:

As we can see in the first page of the CU Campus Safety report, my charge was described as “NON-CRIMINAL INCIDENT : RESIDENT LIFE ISSUE/VIOLATION”, versus the other individual I was caught with [redacted]  “ORC CRIMINAL : 2925 : 14 DRUG PARAPHERNALIA OFFENSES”.  Due to the difference in nature of our charges, I requested on multiple occasions our cases be judged separately yet despite my greatest efforts, this apparently was not done.  At every stage, from start to finish, our cases were presented as one in the same.  Even the dismissal papers we both received were almost identical, with the only difference being the addition of “substance abuse” to [redacted]’s form. 

This is incredibly malfeasant on the part of the Cedarville administration. To judge two separate cases as one simply because they were associated is misguided at best and unjust at worst–I, personally, call it an injustice. This sends the message to students that if they are even in the room with someone who has made bad decisions, they could be held liable as if they were that person. So don’t visit anyone’s dorms or apartments–if you get in trouble and then you’re there when they get busted for weed it might as well be yours.

This is absurd.

Second, there was no attempt by Cedarville administrators to bring Hudson back into the community. Instead, he was treated like a dirty sinner who needed to be gotten rid of. In his appeal, he writes:

There was no effort to attempt to bring me back to the community.  From start to finish, the solution seemed to be an effort remove me from the community for the betterment of the Cedarville Campus.  While I can see this reaction being understandable for repeated patterns of disobedience or lack of a desire to change, I did not exhibit either of those.  I find this approach to be inconstant [sic] with 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and Matthew 18:15-17. 

While I recognize Cedarville is not the church, I nevertheless wonder why I am treated so much more harshly than the sinner of Matthew 18:15.  I feel rather than having my misconduct declared to me and offered an opportunity to be restored to the community, I have been treated as the sinner in verse 17 “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The actual community of Cedarville came behind Hudson during this difficult time. According to him, he received little judgment from his friends and colleagues. Ah, but from the administration, there was no holistic consideration of who he was as a person. Instead, he was defined totally and completely by one incident and given no chance for redemption.

Such swift dismissal is ironic coming from a University administration who designed a redemption plan to hire a sexual predator a few years ago.

Third and finally, Cedarville’s appeal process was not fully explained to Hudson. This is not due process.

“‘Tis not due process, ’tis dumb process.”
-Thomas Jefferson, probably

Hudson writes in the appeal:

Upon the completion of the appeal, I was never offered this second level of appeal.  We were brought before the appeal board who decided to uphold Dean Smith’s decision and then to Dean Smith’s office where he explained to us that dismissal was upheld and we were to start the process of leaving Cedarville immediately.  Only after reviewing the “Appeal and Hearing Board Process” document did I realize I was entitled to this second level of appeal.  I don’t believe there was any ill will in not advising me of this right, but one would hope future students would be accurately apprised of their rights under the policy.

I would agree with Hudson that there was probably no ill will in this situation, but when it comes to the most important disciplinary proceedings at a University, leadership is neglectful if they do not know about and inform students of all levels of the appeals process. Based on past situations, Cedarville loves to sweep issues under the rug and do away with anyone who exhibits imperfect behavior or does not fit their mold, so it does not reflect well on a University that already has this reputation to also withhold the details of its disciplinary process from students facing dismissal.

Even during the disciplinary process facing dismissal, Hudson continued to invest in the University. He went to his classes, saved seats for his friends in chapel, and contributed to the campus community. But it didn’t matter. Drinking alcohol once is so vile a sin that students must be immediately removed–unless they’re good at kicking soccer balls into goals I guess.

Cedarville’s alcohol policy is outdated and impractical, but it probably won’t change anytime soon

Reshaping the Policy

As someone who went through this broken disciplinary process, Hudson had two recommendations if Cedarville chooses not to change its alcohol policy. First, distinguish between underage and of-age students. If a student is underage and is caught drinking, they have violated the law and Cedarville is within its rights to discipline the student.

However, students who are of age should not receive the same level of discipline. Hudson pointed out that he did not, “want future students to misunderstand the goal of that policy or Cedarville’s effort to create a safe campus by assuming drinking is a greater sin that is harder to be redeemed from.”

I honestly don’t understand Cedarville’s deep fear of alcohol, but their policy clearly sends the wrong message to students about what is right and wrong, especially by showing no distinction between underage students and those who are over 21.

We’ve definitely never been to one of these before.

Hudson’s second recommendation is to clearly define whether or not the policy is zero-tolerance. He said,

“This immediate dismissal approach is inconsistent with the central themes of the overall discipline policy: progressive sanctions and restoration. There was nothing about my case that indicated any progressive punishment. And, rather than restoring me–for my good and the good of the university–I was punished by taking away my chance to graduate with my class.  This sanction is far more severe than the offense.”

Zero-tolerance policies should be listed as just that: zero-tolerance. The policy states that dismissal is possible, but not the only recourse. You cannot convince me that Cedarville had just cause to dismiss Hudson more so than its soccer players. On the whole, he was a golden child of the University. His volunteer experience alone as well as the community that surrounded him with faced with dismissal demonstrates that.

But did he know the right people? Did he play the right sport? No, but he did dare to drink one time and be there when someone else got busted for drug paraphernalia.

Or not.

Where was the redemption plan the University touted a couple years ago? Where was the love and acceptance Cedarville claims to foster? Where was the excellence in effort to holistically view Hudson as a person and seek his reconciliation? Where was the integrity in conduct to explain the appeals process to him? Cedarville may defend its actions by saying they are fostering a godly community. Love for God, they might say, comes first. I have one thing to say in response.

Love for God will never come at the expense of love for others.

It never ever will, because God loves his creation and pursues them constantly, even when they make wrong decisions or fall into the trap of sin. But Hudson was not treated with love, he was treated ignorantly and wrongly. Still, he holds absolutely no ill will toward the University or the administrators that dismissed him. He is a better person than I because I am frankly upset for him. Cedarville needs more people who are committed to its community at such a high level and give of themselves not only at Cedarville but in its surrounding community.

Our Recommendation

We recommend that Cedarville University change its alcohol policy to prohibit alcohol on all University property but allow alcohol use off-campus, at least over breaks, for of-age students. Underage students should not be permitted to drink, but Cedarville should not seek to do the government’s job by regulating students over breaks. That is serious overreach from a private institution like Cedarville University and constitutes an invasion of privacy.

In our first article, we argued against Cedarville’s archaic policy and wrote:

God does not write off enjoying anything unless it is harmful to our bodies or hurts others, neither of which are true about alcohol. Cedarville ought to take this Biblical message to heart and change their policies to allow responsible use of alcohol. Unfortunately, that will probably never happen for one simple reason: Cedarville is so concerned with their image that they are more willing to treat their students like children than follow actual Biblical principles.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Vote on alcohol, circa 2145 A.D. at best

That is still the sad reality. Cedarville will likely never change until the entire Southern Baptist Convention does, many affiliates of which just stopped prohibiting interracial dating a couple decades ago. So buckle up: it may not happen in our lifetime…or our kids’ lifetimes.

Saving face, it seems, is always Cedarville’s first priority and they get away with it because the face they save is that of a godly, Biblical university with high moral standards for its students. But what higher morality is there than Scripture, and how dare they claim their standards are superior to those God himself created?

It is time for a change at Cedarville. No student deserves to go through what Hudson did, treated like a criminal in a place he loved and called home. He pleaded in his appeal: “Please get to know me as a sinner saved by grace who has made a mistake rather than a case that needs to be removed from Cedarville.”

Cedarville University did not listen.

OP-ED: In light of disturbing divorce rates in the church, Christians must reexamine their outdated teachings on relationships

This op-ed was submitted by an anonymous student at Cedarville University who shared their unique perspective on marriage and divorce as someone who has experienced both. They argue that the problem does not lie with “secularism,” but with wrong teaching and toxic dating cultures, such as the one at Cedarville.

Here is a confession: I was married. Without sharing too many details, soon after we got married everything suddenly changed. At first, I dismissed it as simply the standard difficulties of the first year or two of marriage, but as the months went on, it became clear that these problems extended far deeper. Sadly, our marriage eventually came to an end.

This tragic end to what I thought was a forever, covenant relationship spurred me to study the teachings of the Bible and the church on divorce. I will admit, my views may be biased based on my experience, but at the same time, I have an inside look at this oft-veiled aspect of the Christian life.

When we hear “divorce” or “dissolution” in the church environment, it is often attributed to a lack of spirituality or a shortcoming of faith, especially if infidelity is not the reason for the separation. However, the teachings on dating, marriage, and divorce propagated by the evangelical church hold an alarming portion of the blame.

Christians must adopt a balanced approach to relationships that allows reasonable safeguards and encourages marriage covenants defined by both longevity and mutual enjoyment of the marriage.

What do we believe?

According to sociologist Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut, Christians who attend church regularly have a divorce rate of 38%. This rate is alarmingly close to the secular divorce rate, which begs the question: Why? In a church setting where divorce is frowned upon, divorce rates should be much lower than those in a secular culture defined by casual sex and lax views on marriage and divorce. Why are the rates so similar?

As I grew up in the evangelical church, the topic of divorce was always a hot-button issue and considered a non-negotiable sin, apart from instances of sexual immorality. Focus on the Family says, “many Christians see nothing wrong with divorce, at least in their own particular situation. But the Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce.”

Across the spectrum of denominations, Christian cliques, and innumerable “convictions,” divorce is approached as something that must never be considered in marriage.

I distinctly remember in one of my youth group classes in high school, a married couple told the class that even if one or the other cheated in the marriage, they would try to reconcile. While this is great in theory, it ignores significant trust issues that surface due to instances of infidelity.

Outside of the church and other Biblical organizations, divorce is viewed as little more than an inconvenience. Professor’s House magazine describes divorce as a way to improve your life, get out of uncomfortable situations, and escape toxic interactions.

Both the Biblical and the secular approaches to ending a marriage can be incredibly dangerous. For example, far too many believers are committed to their marriages at the expense of their physical safety. Many pastors have advocated for their members to remain in abusive marriages rather than pursue the unspeakable measure of divorce.

On the other hand, the idea of “casual marriage,” where marriage is simply a legal agreement between two partners that can be ended when it becomes inconvenient, can be incredibly dangerous because the marriage is characterized by an underlying uneasiness—a mutual understanding that “if you mess up, I can end this any time I want.” Both approaches are extreme perspectives on how to approach marriage and the unfortunate reality of divorce.

Beyond the innate fear of divorce that riddles evangelical circles, the promulgation of purity culture—the idea that all or most physical intimacy or attractiveness should be saved for marriage—has caused irreparable harm to the Biblical community and negatively affected Christian perspectives on divorce.

Even at Cedarville University, the inclusion of a dress code that targets women disproportionately to men places the blame of sexual impurity on the clothing choices of women rather than the eye-movement choices of men.

The problem with the purity approach to relationships is that it turns marriage, sex, or really intimacy of any kind into a sort of mystical thing we are all supposed to do rather than a normal, common, shared experience. It is placed on a pedestal above all other life goals as the “pinnacle” achievement of the Christian life. While marriage is of course a wonderful experience, it is not the be-all-end-all of our existence.

Another key issue with purity culture is that it limits any and all sexual expression to the confines of marriage. While there are certainly positive things to be said both practically and theologically for saving sex until marriage, the Bible really does not speak on other forms of physical affection. In fact, the Bible really only presents premarital sex as a threat to sexual purity, not necessarily as sexual purity itself.

The key verse used to define premarital sex as sin is 1 Corinthians 7:2: “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” So … to avoid the temptation to engage in sexual immorality, we should get married? That doesn’t really make much sense. But that begs the question, where is sexual immorality defined as premarital sex?

As a matter of fact, in this passage, Paul corrects the Corinthian church’s view that abstinence from all sexual contact, even within marriage, makes one “purer.” He is telling them that sexuality is a good—and potent—form of loving expression. And let’s remind ourselves that this is the same chapter where Paul encourages men to be single forever because of its advantages to ministry, which, while certainly valid, is not a widely encouraged lifestyle within the church. It seems to me that this chapter has simply been cherry-picked by theologians.

Another verse, 1 Corinthians 6:16, is used to argue against premarital sex. It says, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.” However, this verse specifically addresses prostitution, which is and has always been an incredibly dark and abuse-ridden industry.

From my research, any other verse used to contend for abstinence specifically addresses prostitution, adultery, incest, and other forms of clear sexual immorality. I’m not necessarily encouraging premarital sex and certainly not promoting casual sex, but as I read theological opinions about premarital sex, I came away with these serious questions. Sex within marriage is certainly the best-case scenario and is an incredibly important part of a marriage covenant. But is it possible that it is not the only allowable form of sexual expression?

“The double standard at Cedarville that baffles me is that they push students to date, marry, and procreate as soon as possible, but when people want to do date-y, married, or even procreate-y things they get in trouble. Just something to think about.”
-Editor, CI

A practical issue with sexual abstinence until marriage is that Christians are driven to marry young in order to be able to have sex without any guilt. Virginity is held as a pinnacle of purity and pride which, if nothing else, raises it on an unnecessary pedestal that all too often borders on sexual idolatry.

Getting married too young, for the wrong reasons, and having unreasonable expectations for how amazing being married will be can all be catalysts for unhappy marriages and divorce. This rush to get married also leaves fewer opportunities to find major red flags that should suggest ending a relationship before marriage.

Beyond the scourge of purity culture, those who are forced to consider divorce are often terribly mistreated by the church. In addition to the shame, rumors, and judgment that begins to flow freely when you reveal you have been divorced, at John MacArthur’s church, you cannot even become a member if you have been divorced for a reason they determine to be “unbiblical.” The thing is, what about a past divorce disqualifies you from worshiping God with a community of believers? The answer, of course, is nothing.

What should we believe?

Believers at all levels must adjust their view of divorce in all its forms. Instead of viewing it as a dirty, sinful cop-out from difficulty or as an easy, convenient, selfish transition to a “better life,” the church must shift gears toward a far more balanced approach.

Specific to Cedarville, stop telling students they need to date and get married/have kids as soon as possible. There is no set timeline for when you have to find someone. The “ring by spring” culture is no joke, even though it is sold as one–it is very real and incredibly toxic.

Find a relationship when you are in a good place to do so and when you find someone with whom you have a genuine connection and that is in a good place too. But in the meantime, don’t avoid making friends or having fun because you’re waiting for that person to show up. We will never get these years of our lives back, so we should live life to the fullest and have some fun along the way.

The “ring by spring” culture is no joke, even though it is sold as one–it is very real and incredibly toxic.

In Genesis 2:24, we are told that God’s original design for marriage is that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” and the two shall not be separated. However, sin corrupted God’s perfect plan, and now we are left with broken marriages riddled with emotional, physical, and verbal abuse.

While situations of abuse are certainly cause for divorce, other circumstances, such as the physical or emotional absence of a spouse with no chance of reconciliation, should also be considered as causes for divorce. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

In my situation, I fought for my marriage. I suggested counseling, tried to talk things out, and reached out to others for advice. In the end, my former spouse shot down all methods of reconciliation, and I was left with the incredibly difficult realization that dissolving our marriage was the only way forward. Believers must avoid treating people like me as if we are dirty or tainted because of our experiences.

Instead, the Biblical community of the global church must change its approach to recognize the heartbreaking reality of abuse, infidelity, and abandonment within marriages and accept victims of such circumstances with open arms. Most importantly, the church should shift its focus to reconsider the false and damaging doctrines that have fueled high divorce rates within the Christian community for decades.

Obviously, people who fail their spouse and never apologize or reconcile are wrong, and they must repent of that sinful approach to their marriage. But disturbing church policies exist, such as MacArthur’s church, which prohibits membership for someone who has been divorced and has not been reconciled to their spouse. What kind of message does this send to the world: that churches cast out and reject genuine believers who have faced incredibly difficult circumstances?

Such policies tell believers or potential believers that some sins are unforgivable, and they must live with shame for the rest of their lives. Stop rejecting divorced believers. Start accepting them and the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to the Biblical community.

Love God. Love others, especially those who are broken.

Surviving CU

We are often asked: “How do I survive as a social or political moderate or even a liberal on such a conservative campus?” The meat of this question is a much more general principle we must all confront when we inevitably step out into the real world. That question is, “How do we operate in environments that are hostile to our beliefs?” This is applicable not only on highly conservative campuses, but on highly liberal ones too and, more importantly, workplaces on one end of the ideological pole where we all could end up one day.

How we function ultimately comes down to our attitude. A student–we’ll call him Joey–came to Cedarville with whimsy in his soul. He saw Cedarville as a Christian university with solid academics and a relatively typical campus community. At CU Friday and various escapades across the Cedarville website, there was no mention of strict speech codes, discriminatory dress requirements, or enforced legalistic ideology. He arrived and was soon shocked to realize that he had to watch himself around everyone.

Like many other wide-eyed freshmen, the honeymoon period came to a screeching stop. As he began to study Scripture in a new light, he saw discrepancies between what was taught at Cedarville and what the Bible actually said and was disturbed to see how it played out at the university.

Well, this is my story. I’m Joey (yeah, that’s totally my real name guys…busted) and so I have personal experience on how to survive in an ideologically hostile environment like Cedarville. Here are a few tips I learned along the way that helped me and hopefully they help you too.

1. Choose friends wisely and carefully

It’s important to make friends who are similar to us because there is a bubble of safety apart from the bubble of Cedarville’s campus. It really begins with getting to know people, being cautiously vulnerable, and then finding differences in common. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a lengthier process than being the picture-perfect student engaging in “intentional community,” but the good news is that it is worth it—you will find deeper connections and more authentic friendship with those people. If you do anything against the Cedarville “covenant,” make sure you are very careful and truly trust those you share that information with. I have a lot of people I know that I can tell about anything and they are by far my best friends at CU.

However, as important as it is to make friends with similarities, it is also very beneficial to make friends with differences. Not all of my friends are exactly like me or do all the same un-Cedarville things I do, but I still care about them and get advice from them on things that come up in my life. Asking for advice is not the same as taking it and I have never encountered a situation in my life where hearing multiple perspectives was not beneficial, even if some of those perspectives were wrong.

Also, if you ever need a friend feel free to DM us. We are always down for a conversation! There are real people behind this page who really do care about all of you, so even if you’re in a jam our DMs on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and our email are open.

2. Move off campus

Even more practically, moving off campus can be an incredibly helpful way to remove yourself from a toxic or highly restricted environment if that is where you find yourself. Living off-campus means really no oversight from Cedarville except when you are on campus. If nothing else, it can be a respite.

Now, I should clarify. I personally don’t think being on campus is that bad. However, if you are struggling, finding off-campus housing can be a practical way to take care of yourself.

3. Tolerance goes both ways—make concessions to those with more conservative or liberal beliefs

Belief in true tolerance—valuing the humanity and values of others with differing opinions—goes both ways. It means accepting people who are different just as we expect others to accept us. That goes for people who believe in things that are wrong or even ignorant, too. We’re called to love everyone, not just people we like or agree with, and be constantly open to change even our most hard-set opinions. That’s a lesson that we hope one day is embedded in Cedarville’s culture. I truly believe that sort of cultural shift is what will ultimately lead to change.

4. Remind yourself who you are

Being called a “liberal” can be used as an insult at Cedarville—even if you are really just more liberal than some other people. Don’t let what others think or say get to you because you know who you are. Find a way to remind yourself who you know yourself to be. Take care of yourself and even consider writing yourself notes if that’s what it takes. Calling back to the first tip, hold on to friends who encourage you.

5. Study scripture

When you are holding onto beliefs that are contrary to Cedarville’s, keep reminding yourself of the Scriptures that support them, constantly delve into what the Bible truly has to say, and never stop refining and checking your beliefs.

We hope these few simple tips help you along your way at Cedarville. If you are struggling, remember that this situation is only temporary. If it comes down to it, transferring and taking more time to finish your degree is better than letting your mental health suffer. But if that isn’t the best option for you, or you’re like me and you love your professors but have problems with certain rules and aspects of Cedarville’s culture, hopefully, these tips can help you make the most of your time.

Do you have any tips on making it without being the picture-perfect student? Leave them in the comments!

All Photo Credits: Cedarville University.

On De-essentializing Gender Roles

Below is an essay written by an anonymous Cedarville student. She does an excellent job of expressing her view of womanhood and egalitarianism with support from logic, ethics, and Scripture. She rightly points out how important it is for women to come to an understanding of their purpose, especially in an environment that twists it as Cedarville does. We hope you enjoy her writing as much as we did! -CI staff

I’m afraid to write this essay, but I want to write this essay, not to defend my opinion, to highlight women at the depreciation of men, to interpret Scripture wrongly or, worse, to make my commentary about Scripture higher than the written word itself, but to allow men and women to hear me wrestle with societal and Christian concerns over manhood and womanhood. I want my heart, my desire not to denounce anyone who has a different understanding of gender expression than me, to be felt on these pages, and yet, I want to challenge the people I feel like denouncing through my pursuit to destroy the essentialization of manhood and womanhood.

I never considered that my very womanness could limit my ability to follow God’s calling in my life until I arrived at Cedarville University’s campus in the Fall of 2018. I confess that I, a student at a complementarian-oriented Baptist university, come from a Vineyard church, with an egalitarian doctrine that regards Christian ministry through service and evangelism instead of authority and headship, freeing men and women to preach, work, and or stay in the home as they follow God’s calling for their lives. So I didn’t understand how large the gender role foe in Christianity was until what one of my Bible professors said my freshman year, something I wrote in the margins of my class notes, kept churning in my mind, begging me to critically juxtapose his words with Scripture. This Bible professor said that men are leaders, lovers, providers, and protectors and that women are honorable and honoring, nurtured and nurturing.

If I was more confrontational, I would tell him that the very verbiage of his description gives men more agency as the nouns he uses to describe men are active, present tense, and while he gives women two identifying nouns that are also active, present tense, his use of honorable makes the supporting adjective sound like a woman’s supporting role, and his use of nurtured, a past tense verb, objectifies women as something that needs taken care of, by men, as the providers.

My Bible professor’s comment relates well to traditional gender role expressions in American society, but his description is historically limited.  Nancy Pearcey talks about how men and women worked together before the Industrial Revolution, with home-front businesses, defying modern gender stereotypes.  When the Industrial Revolution pulled men away from their homes, from their wives and children, to work long days in noisy factories, men assumed a new role as the main provider for their families.  Women were excluded from the public sphere as they had to remain in their homes, the private sphere, in order to take care of their families, while men were away.  Real men became breadwinners.  Real women became housewives.  This separate spheres’ concept highlights how so much of gender expression may be culturally-constructed rather than biblically-based, but Nancy Pearcey’s dogma primarily emphasizes how society’s essentialization of manhood and womanhood restricts women, leaving me to mull over what men have done and continue to do to limit what women can or can’t do instead of encouraging me to value the image of God in men around me.  

Perhaps my Bible professor would agree that the gender roles he described could be attributes for all men and women. I think of how Jacob honored Rachel, how Jesus honored the woman at the well, how Isaac nurtured Jacob, how Gauis nurtured Paul, how Deborah led the Israelites, how Phoebe led the church in Cenchreae, how Michal protected David, how Rahab protected the Israelites, how Ruth loved Boaz, and how Joanna and Mary Magdalene provided funding for Jesus’ ministry. And while I don’t want to believe that my Bible professor would ignore those examples or claim that men or women in the Old Testament or Apostolic Age may have had more unique roles, his clear distinctions between men and women force gender into narrow categories, determined more by societal stereotypes than biblical authority.

Maybe part of the problem with his description is that men are told how to be leaders and lovers and protectors and providers in a certain way, making interactions with women in their lives who may act as leaders and lovers and protectors and providers in the ways that they have been taught to act make men uncomfortable and intimidated, as if non-gender bound women threaten their identity as men. I wonder what the world would be like if Christian men and women noticed how the Bible does not essentialize biblical manhood and womanhood, how they would no longer feel constrained by an apparent gender role or threatened when that identity is attacked.

Maybe the classist example James uses to condemn the distinctions men and women have made among themselves in chapter 2 applies to gender as he claims that God chooses the poor in the world, those who are oppressed and beaten down and socially inferior, as the ones who can be rich in faith and heirs of His kingdom.  And maybe women have been especially oppressed, beaten down, and socially inferior throughout history.  But what if women’s gender expression restriction isn’t new?  After Adam and Eve ruined the possibility of living in complete harmony with each other and God by doing the very thing God told them not to do, God cursed the serpent because he deceived Eve, and He cursed the ground because Adam disobeyed Him, but while He tells Eve that her labor pain will increase and that her husband will rule over her despite the fact that her desire will be contrary to his, God does not preface His explanation of the consequences of sin to her as a curse.  God does not blame Eve for taking on a leadership role in the garden by offering Adam a piece of fruit, and He does not blame her for being deceived by the serpent, like he blames Adam, for his intentional, undeceived disobedience.  Instead, He tells Eve that her unintended sin has negative, long lasting consequences for womankind.  

Complementarians interpret God’s assertion in Genesis 3:16 that “he [Adam and husbands and men] shall rule over you [Eve and wives and women]” as a prescriptive command of God, but I don’t believe that God would create an unfair and unequal establishment for how men and women should interact, based upon men’s supposed role to rule over women. Egalitarians believe that God’s assertion is a description of the consequence of sin, the sin-broken relationship between Adam and Eve, husbands and wives, men and women. I understand that both complementarians and egalitarians agree that men and women are equal, that they are just as valued by God, but complementarian men who act as if their manhood allows them to have more authority over women distorts the very equality they preach and defaces the image of God in men and women. And yet egalitarian women who subdue men, who teach in a domineering manner, like Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 2:12, similarly tarnish God’s image as their motivation for equality becomes an effort to avenge their oppression rather than to promote peace between themselves and men. The helper God created for Adam was a complementary partner, not a subordinate servant, made from the same material as Adam’s body rather than from the ground, highlighting Eve’s complete embodiment of and participation in Adam’s humanity and God’s design for men and women, mutual equals, to work together as they follow God.

And so I, like Catherine Booth asserts in Female Ministry: Or, Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel in 1859, still don’t understand why a woman’s voice is stifled in church if men and women are meant to use their unique gifts and talents to glorify God and further His kingdom.  I hear my aunt tell her daughter not to run, to close her legs, and to act like a lady, but watching my apostolic cousin grow up without being allowed to wear short sleeves, without being allowed to wear pants, without being allowed to wear jewelry, without being allowed to put on makeup, all in the name of Christianity, hurts.  Entire religious denominations set standards for men and women based on their interpretations of 1 Timothy 2, hindering women from freedom of expression, outside of gendered constraints.  Although my aunt at least interprets 1 Timothy 3 consistently, yet dangerously literally, I wonder how complementarians might embrace women in leadership if they interpreted 1 Timothy 3:12 like 1 Timothy 3:9-10, in context, as culturally relative and therefore, not a prescriptive command for all women at all times.  

I’ve spent the last four years trying to understand the impact of my freshman Bible professor’s off-hand comment about gender. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing this essay in disarray, scouring the library and the internet for examples of great Christian women who can shock complementarian men, reading various interpretations of controversial biblical passages regarding gender roles, reflecting upon my own church’s thriving men’s ministry and head female pastor, researching how gender expression has changed, and synthesizing reviews for books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and Captivating and Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Men Only and For Women Only, attempts to essentialize biblical manhood and womanhood, but most of my notes didn’t make it into this essay. I could keep writing about this subject because I believe that the church’s theology on gender is incomplete, more reliant upon culture than God’s word. But any theology, any man-made interpretation, even my own essentialization of manhood and womanhood through my desire to de-essentialize gender roles, is affected by sin and can never perfectly explain God’s perfect intent. But as I keep striving after God’s will for my life, I will not allow what society or Christian culture or my freshman Bible professor says about my femininity to prevent me from being who He has called me to be.