I learned recently that Gordon College, a small faith-based college in Wenham, Massachusetts, could lose its accreditation. This is puzzling, because according to their website Gordon College was recognized by the Princeton Review as one of the “best” colleges, a designation reserved for only about 15 percent of the 2500 universities and colleges considered. How then, could it possibly get its accreditation pulled, something that significantly downgrades the value of a degree and the job prospects of its holder?
It all comes down to the fact that Gordon adheres to the increasingly unacceptable narrative of sexuality that reserves sexual intimacy to men and women in marriage and as part of its student code of conduct requires students to refrain from any sexual intimacy outside this relationship. According to a Boston Globe article:
“The college’s website lists policies for students, faculty, and staff that ban them from engaging in “homosexual practice” on or off campus. The standards also forbid sex outside marriage, drunkenness, blasphemy, profanity, theft, and dishonesty.”
It seems that the major concern is that this is discriminatory toward those who engage in homosexual practice. Not mentioned is that it is also discriminatory toward heterosexuals who engage in sex outside of marriage. It discriminates against those who steal and lie, including, I suspect acts of academic dishonesty. No one seems to be objecting to an institution enforcing standards in these areas.
My point is not to enter the contentious landscape of this debate for or against. It is to observe that there is an implicit privileging of a sexual narrative that is occurring here against the consciences of those who hold a different narrative. It essentially is saying that all groups who intersect with public life (and it is very hard not to) must adhere to this new sexual orthodoxy or else be removed from the public square.
One of the more troubling aspects of this struggle for sexual hegemony is the Western secular cultural imperialism that it imposes, not only on those who hold more traditional views in the West but also upon those who come to the West (including our colleges and universities) from other more traditional societies in South America, Africa, and Asia. Likewise, advocates for this new sexual narrative have tried to impose this on religious bodies with constituencies in these countries. From interactions with acquaintances in these parts of the world, there is great anger toward the West because it is one more example of imperialism and colonialism in a post-colonial world.
I wonder if there is room for a kind of social experiment. I wonder if there is a way for a “negotiated peace” between the new and the traditional sexual narratives where neither tries to put the other out of existence. Each contends that its understanding of sexuality makes for a good and flourishing society. On that they both agree. It might be interesting to see which narrative actually delivers the goods, or even if each might learn something from the other. That can’t happened if they are each dedicated to the destruction of the other narrative, or even simply their own survival.
I particularly see this in the world of higher ed. Why not let a Gordon College be free to pursue its understanding of sexuality? There are plenty of other institutions who have adopted the new sexual narrative and those who want to work or study where this narrative is the norm have plenty of options. A variety of institutions have been decrying the increasingly sexualized cultures of their campuses and the rise of sexual assaults. It would be interesting to see whether colleges like Gordon struggle with the same problems. Donna Freitas’ study of student sexuality at public, private, and church related schools chronicled in Sex and the Soul suggests there may be a difference. I would suggest that if it is truly student welfare rather than a hegemonic agenda that is the uppermost concern, that the experiment be allowed to continue.