My way or the highway?

in Opinion by
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact clarion@bethel.edu.

A response to “Would you like some iced tea” from the March 30 edition of The Clarion.

By Christopher Bengtson

Christianity is a religion with much history and diversity of thought. Ever since its origin, there have been numerous interpretations of theological and scriptural matters. Nonetheless, I have often found that people assume that Christian faith implies agreement over certain matters. Certainly one such area is the topic of marriage, as was expressed in a recent opinion piece “Would You Like Some Iced Tea?”

I think that this piece failed to recognize the diversity of thought within Christianity by dividing everyone into two diametrically opposed camps: Christians who believe exclusively in heterosexual unions and anti-Christians who do not. I find this exclusionary rhetoric harmful and dangerous, but also inaccurate. There are many differing views concerning marriage within the Church and these views have been changing ever since its founding.

The phrase “biblical marriage” gets thrown around a lot without proper consideration of its historical context. Polygamy was widely practiced in the Old Testament. Rape, incest, adultery pepper the narrative as well. I’ve found that people are quick to defend polygamy in the Old Testament as “cultural” and thus acceptable, yet are not willing to apply that standard equally to different marriage practices today.

The “traditional” Christian sexual ethic of today, in fact, diverges quite significantly from historical perspectives by such prominent figures as Augustine. He believed that any form of sexual pleasure was sinful and the only case in which sex was acceptable was when it was done for procreative purposes within a heterosexual monogamous marriage. But even in such situations the act itself was sinful, it was only that such an arrangement granted the couple God’s pardon (1).

It was for these purposes that churches did not even officiate weddings until the medieval era, as marriage’s connection to sex was seen as vulgar. The institution of marriage for the first thousand years or so of Christianity remained purely a state matter (2). These views changed as the church changed its views on sex and marriage, which underscores the point that the views on marriage within Christian contexts have been more fluid than many wish to admit.

Marriage also does not equal consent. To say that one who is married should always consent to sex seems to denote an attitude of disrespect for one’s partner. Certainly forcing someone to do something against their will is not a picture of Christly love. I sincerely doubt this is what the author was aiming to express; however, what I wish to convey in following this line is that the notion of consent goes much deeper than extra-marital sex.

Rape culture is not something that disappears with the doing away of extra-marital sex, either. It is the attitudes that are expressed (primarily by men) that objectify, sexualize, and demean (primarily) women. While the brunt of rape culture is obviously rape, much of what is experienced does not involve sex at all. Catcalling, unwanted advances, and feeling unsafe walking alone at night are just some of the results of rape culture. The response to this, however, has been to tell women how to act to avoid assault or rape, and not to condemn the men who commit such acts in the first place. Simply ascribing to a “traditional” sexual ethic does not resolve these problems.

However, it seems that as the face of those that do not ascribe to such “traditional” views on marriage and sex, LGBTQ+ individuals are often denigrated as having loose morals or prone to promiscuity. I believe that misinformation, stereotypical depictions, and phrases such as “alternative lifestyle” have spread this image. In reality, there are just as many different approaches to issues of sexuality and marriage within the LGBTQ+ community as there are with heterosexual individuals. Yet, I believe much of the unfair treatment and attitudes expressed toward the LGBTQ+ community results from relying on overly simplified caricatures or stereotypes. Each human being is a complex whole that goes much further than their sexuality alone. To view one only through that lens is dehumanizing.

I think that a lot of people are also guilty of dehumanizing and applying a small lens when it comes to those who do not identify with the Christian faith, too. While many assume Christianity by default for those who attend Bethel, there are outliers. While the response of “why would they want to go here?” may seem reasonable at first, I think it is a lot more complicated than that. As there are many reasons a person may come to Bethel University, so there are many reasons an individual may not be able to transfer out. But just because someone disagrees with you spiritually, does that mean that they should be devalued? Seen as less? As those who view each person to be created in the image of God, I do not think this is the conclusion that should be reached. I think that we could all benefit from giving these topics a bit more thought and rethinking how we act in regard to those who find themselves on the margin both inside and outside of our community.

This is certainly not a call to do away with conversation, engaging discussions of controversial issues, or expressing certain viewpoints, but rather as a plea to respect the basic human dignity that is in every person. If holding a particular viewpoint leads you to demonize or dehumanize a person, then I urge you to consider why that is the case and adjust your views accordingly. The response of “leave it if you don’t like it here” seems to run contrary to the sense of hospitality and community that Christians are called to exhibit. No one should have to feel dehumanized, especially at a place that affirms the image of God being present in all individuals.

(1) Trevas, Robert, Arthur Zucker, and Donald M. Borchert. “Medieval Views: Augustine.” Philosophy of sex and love: a reader. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 29-36. Print.
(2) Sex and the Church: From Pleasure to Sin. Dir. Robin Dashwood. BBC, 2015. 

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