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Our values aren’t handcuffs.
By Samuel Krueger
It seems that every other printing of The Clarion has a piece about a student taking issue with the Bethel Covenant. A recent example is the piece from the last publication, “Choosing Not to Sign the Covenant.” That is just one example. It doesn’t matter what specifically someone disagrees with, but the topics usually revolve around the Covenant’s stance on alcohol, relationships and homosexuality.
This piece is not making an argument for or against any sort of lifestyle or behavior, but simply pointing out what I see as ridiculous expectations and attitudes about something that is far more complex than someone’s personal preferences. So let me preface by stating that I don’t care about what someone does in their personal time. That is, unless it affects me negatively as a private citizen.
Most people know me as the former chairperson for the College Republicans here at Bethel. While I consider myself more conservative in several aspects, my stances on relationships and sexuality are much less so. With that said, do not read into this piece as a slam against anyone who disagrees with the Covenant.
The problem is instead of simply being a lifestyle, chosen or not, they become a club with which people beat on our university. These disagreements distract people from the point of this university: to learn in Christian community. This isn’t to say that one can’t drink and be a Christian at the same time, but the vision that Bethel has for its students leads it to prohibit certain things.
I believe covenant life is important, and so do many of the people who support our school. However, it can be problematic for an institution when a student, or group of students, becomes offended with the university’s core beliefs and the policies that uphold them.
The problem here is not that people disagree with the Covenant. That is fine. What concerns me is that people who are looking for schools see Bethel, read its covenant, agree to it and then attack the school for “bigotry” or “lack of inclusiveness.”
My solution? Don’t get involved with an organization or institution that you disagree with at such fundamental levels.
This entire conundrum is the result of a generation of people (myself included) who really haven’t heard the word “no” – a generation of entitlement. People have the audacity to walk into a strong institution that is nearly 150 years old, with values that are much older, and then expect it to change to fit their way of life.
I’m sorry, but that is not how this works.
You chose to be here. So, if you really think about it, doesn’t it seem a bit pretentious to believe that a century-old university’s beliefs are a direct attack on you personally? If your identity is so concretely based on what you do at parties, or on the weekend, then maybe the issue isn’t with the institution, it’s with you.
When I decided to attend Bethel, I knew that they weren’t going to change their theology because a Lutheran from the suburbs didn’t believe the same things they did. Instead, I listened. I didn’t expect to change. I considered myself fairly secure in my beliefs, but then I took a class with Professor Gary Long during my sophomore year. My worldview changed. Bethel challenged my views from all different angles. My views on worship, teaching and even sexuality were all molded in some way or another.
Most Lutherans believe women aren’t supposed to preach in the church. Then campus pastor Laurel Bunker changed my entire conception about what it means to be a teacher. My point is I was challenged by people who thought and lived differently from me. In the end, I am a better person because of it.
Bethel is in a delicate position in our world. Frankly, it is dangerous to be labeled as a religious institution and act religiously at the same time. On one hand, Bethel is an amazing, growing university. We have amazing faculty, wonderful programs and a beautiful campus. We have big plans for the future.
On the other hand, Bethel is never farther than a single mistake from throwing all of those things away. These disagreements aren’t simply about uncomfortable dorms, or gross bathrooms. Publicizing some of these gripes can have serious potential consequences.
When a student accuses Bethel of human rights violations because they prohibit certain lifestyles, it has massive potential to destroy the university itself. I think that Bethel is a great example of the part that Christian higher education is supposed to play in the world. And it is in all of our best interests as both students and citizens that it continues to exist. The sad part is that the moment Bethel has to directly confront a controversial issue like transgendered athletes or admission policies, the entire system could come crumbling down.
All across the country, private universities like Bethel are being threatened with boycotts and suspension from athletic leagues because of their insistence in holding to their religious values. The Atlantic reported in July 2016 that schools like Hillsdale College are opting out of federal funding programs so that they can continue to operate on their own terms. Private universities already have it hard enough.
I am not saying Bethel can’t be a more friendly to the LGB community. Quite the contrary. The more we can do to make Bethel a more accommodating university will increase our ability to grow in Christian community while being challenged by other people’s views. However, the way we get the change we want is not by drawing negative attention to the university from the media and donors. I am a firm believer that the best change is change done slowly, cautiously.
I love Bethel. This university has allowed me to pursue my passions and connected me with other people on a level that only a Christian university can. The Covenant fosters this community.
I don’t agree with the Covenant on everything. I think students should be able to drink. I don’t think simply being gay should provoke a negative reaction from students, faculty or anyone for that matter. However, I do recognize that there is a reason the Covenant exists, and that there is value in it.
In the end, the Bethel Covenant isn’t a pair of handcuffs, but rather a set of values that encourage our community to live godly lives, and uphold the integrity of our university and the respect that people have for us as students.