Chronicle of Higher Education offers shallow view of Christian colleges and student marriages

Before you get too far along, you might want to click on the video above and watch this introductory video from Cedarville University in Ohio.

Yes, it's promotional, but I believe it also captures the gestalt of this rather theologically conservative evangelical school.

I believe such understanding will help as you evaluate a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education that gives somewhat short shrift to the notion that one happy byproduct of Christian education is a crop of Christian marriages. That implied negativity, among other issues, is one of the journalistic problems I found in the article, headlined, "‘Ring by Spring’: How Christian Colleges Fuel Students’ Rush to Get Engaged."

Let's start with a slightly longish excerpt:

It was "surreal" for Nikki Garns when Cedric Martin got on one knee in Pennsylvania’s Caledonia State Park, framed by a beautiful waterfall and mountains, to ask her if she would marry him. When she exclaimed, "Yes!," Ms. Garns was only a sophomore.
Mr. Martin’s proposal, although it felt surreal, wasn’t a surprise. For about a month before the engagement, both Ms. Garns and Mr. Martin had talked with her parents, assuring them that they were mature enough to be engaged. Initially, her parents said they thought she was too young. After talking with their daughter one-on-one, however, Ms. Garns’s parents gave Mr. Martin their approval.
Ms. Garns isn’t the only student at Houghton College, a Christian college in western New York, who’s engaged. Like many Christian institutions, Houghton is gripped by a trend known as "ring by spring," which refers to the aspiration among many students to be engaged by the spring semester of their senior year.
And, like other colleges, Houghton acknowledges the trend, and even advances it. The college’s counseling center offers a couples retreat for seriously dating or engaged couples, which brings 12 to 15 couples to a local camp to listen to a renowned speaker discuss the Biblical fundamentals of marriage. Six weeks after the retreat, the couples meet up again for a "Great Date Night."

I realize the Chronicle is a secular newspaper and I have no idea of the faith background, if any, of the reporter and editors involved with this story. But think about this: students at Christian colleges find themselves "gripped by a trend" in which these young adults want to get engaged and be married. Shocking, isn't it?

Now, that anecdote is about Houghton, a very middle-of-the-road evangelical school. The more conservative Cedarville University is a fine school, having produced, among other graduates, DeMaurice Smith, who heads the NFL Players Association and televangelist David Jeremiah, whose father was a Cedarville president. But Cedarville isn't exactly typical of other Christian colleges and universities, something reflected in the article's reports from Pepperdine University and Baylor University, where the "ring by spring" emphasis is not as pervasive.

I digress. A real question in this story is: How far has society come when it is a gripping "trend" for young adults at a faith-friendly school to want the one thing instilled in them since childhood: marriage and, presumably, a family. We're in a postmodern era, I know, but, really?

My greatest journalistic problem here is that, while the story attempts balance, a reader senses that the idea of promoting marriage is less than optimal. That's a curious position in an age when sexually transmitted diseases (including HPV) are showing all-time high infection rates. One might imagine, on that basis alone, that encouraging monogamy and waiting until marriage to have sex could be viewed positively.

Not to mention the spate of sexual assault allegations on many campuses (including some that are faith-oriented, such as Brigham Young University). In such an atmosphere, why not acknowledge the potential positives of those schools that encourage a pro-marriage culture.

No solution is perfect, of course, and there are situations where college students will feel "left out" amidst all the marriage-making. The Chronicle helpfully explains that LGBTQ students at colleges where such relationships are discouraged might feel "ambiguous loss" because they're on the outside looking in, as would be those heterosexual students who haven't been able to pair off.

The Chronicle report also includes this recorded witness of the apparent death of humor at the Cedarville University campus. Read this, and mourn along with me:

Krista McGee, an alumna of Cedarville University, said she complained to the college’s bookstore when she noticed a shirt designed for a baby that said, "I’m a product of the Cedarville University Mrs. Degree." The shirt was offensive to Ms. McGee, she said, because it upheld the assumption that a woman’s purpose at a Christian college is to "meet a guy, get married, and have kids."
And although the bookstore removed the shirt after Ms. McGee’s complaint, the fact that the shirt was seen as a viable product "speaks to deeper issues that are at all Christian colleges as to the role of women in the work force."

With all the issues to be found in the world today, is this something over which one should raise a ruckus? There seems to have been a tongue-in-cheek angle to the shirt that eluded McGee, and that's kind of sad, in my opinion.

Even more tragic, again for this observer, is the notion that traditional norms of courtship and marriage are so "quaint" as to merit snickers from a world where every day we're reminded of the mass failures and consequences of the much-vaunted "sexual revolution." A rethink by the Chronicle might be in order.


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