Response to the ‘Letter to Calvin parents’

The anonymous author of the guest Op-Ed on March 1 challenged Calvin parents, and perhaps Calvin as an institution, to acknowledge that some students may be sexually active. The author stated that in some circles and conversations, we might pretend this is not true, and perhaps in doing so, miss opportunities to talk about important issues related to sexuality and safety. Thanks for the encouragement.  

I would hope we’re able to speak honestly and openly, in the right contexts and with wise conversation partners, about human sexuality in all its complex and beautiful design. This should happen in residence hall rooms, KE apartments, in our homes, our churches, our schools — wherever Christians gather to shape, sharpen, polish and repair our lives as humans and as disciples of Jesus.

When we as a college start with a policy and perspective that says slow down, be wise, listen to God, and wait till marriage, we know that disagreement or shame can smother further dialogue. But it is the place we start, unapologetically — it’s our aspiration and hope for what we teach and model to students, based on God’s aspiration for human sexuality. We affirm chastity, with a broad understanding of the word, beyond just sex before marriage, even as the world around us lustfully screams “look here, watch this, try that… whenever, wherever, whomever.” (Consider listening to Pastor Mary’s recent sermon on lust and chastity.) We affirm the good gift of sex and that our bodies and relationships matter to God, and we resist any notion that sex is merely about self-fulfillment and irrelevant to faith. We can and should talk about what makes sex good, what makes it safe, what makes it holy.

Indeed, given the innumerable ways we as humans have distorted sex through power, violence, exploitation, casualness and ignorance, we ought to find ways to have more conversation, not less — especially in Christian circles. Calvin leans into this through the programming of the Sexuality Series, efforts of the Sexual Assault Prevention Team, Students Against Sexual Violence, classroom topics, sermons and chapels, and candid and personal conversations with counselors, health care providers, chaplains, RDs, faculty and many others. I’m certain we don’t do this perfectly, but we strive for fearless and faithful engagement in all things.

The notable story at Calvin is not that some students are having sex (since we already know that), but that the vast majority are choosing to be different, a fact we know from health data on sexual activity that shows the significant differences between what happens at Calvin vs. national averages for college students (ACHA-NCHA survey, 2015). I’m encouraged by so many of our students who are responding faithfully to Christian teaching in this matter, and grateful for the way our community is trying to guide students and each other in a spirit of truth and grace. And let me be clear — grace abounds for all of us, no matter our personal histories. We serve a God of grace, mercy, and second chances, so it’s never too late to dedicate or re-dedicate ourselves to live as Jesus invites us to live.

“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11 (from The Message).