“Kill the Conversation? Chapel Series on Sexuality Creates Controversy”

Hannah Van Otterloo — Staff Writer

“I think with any hard topic, it’s much easier to stand on the sidelines and cast stones than it is to come stand in the fray and get what I would call ministry mess on you,” said Aaron Baart, Dordt University’s Dean of Chapel. Baart’s chapel series on sexuality and faith may lead to this “ministry mess” that he refers to, if it hasn’t already. The series, which started on October 16 and concludes on November 13, has had a variety of responses from students, the community at large, as well as others from abroad.

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The chapel series is based on Dr. Preston Sprinkle’s books Grace and Truth: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality and Gender. Sprinkle runs the Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender in Boise, Idaho, has published two Grace and Truth books, and is currently working on his third. Baart’s inspiration and idea for this series came after attending a multi-day workshop with Sprinkle last year on sexuality and faith.

“Sometimes these things come up and Christians use truth like a weapon and grace like an excuse, and he (Sprinkle) doesn’t do either and… holds them [both] up, and I really appreciate that,” Baart said.

While Baart’s main source of inspiration may have come from Sprinkle, the final driver that led him to pursue this topic is the prevalence of pornography in our society.

“I’m just really heartbroken right now for a generation that is experiencing their sexuality backwards. They’re experiencing [sexuality] through their avatar, through their online personalities… At very young ages [they have] exposure to hardcore sex, but they haven’t had their first kiss yet… Most of them have seen gang sex scenes in pornographic video before they’ve held somebody’s hand on a date … to me that sets the human mind up for all sorts of disaster,” Baart said.

Another specific driver is the Dordt community he serves.

“I feel like based on all the conversations I’ve had in 10 years with students… if you’re going through four years of college and we’re not having a significant conversation about sexuality during that time window… we will have failed our students,” said Baart. “You will walk into a world fraught with temptation, all kinds of brokenness, and sexual brokenness runs deep for a lot of people.”

By delivering messages on this brokenness, Baart hopes to bring the topic of sexuality back into conversation, especially in relation to faith and image bearing. He hopes walls will come down and people will confront their own stories and their own sexual struggles in a healthy way. This confrontation, this conversation that combines the talk of Christianity and sexuality, will hopefully help avoid hurt and heal wounds.

Yet some people do not view the chapel series in a positive light. One site speaking out is pulpitandpen.org, that describes itself as  “a ministry of Polemics Ministries United (PMU) located in Sidney, Montana, and is a media outreach of the Fellowship Baptist Church.” On November 1, Pulpit & Pen published an article titled, “Dordt (Christian) University Now Teaching Gender is Determined by Clothing Choice,” writing, “There was once a time when universities were expected to teach science, and Christian universities were expected to teach both science and a Biblical worldview. Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, is doing neither.” This verdict included a 90-second video clip of the chapel from October 30.

Some comments on the piece show people jumping on this analysis. One reader, Paul Hahn, wrote, “This upsets me like you can’t believe. I spent thousands of dollars to send two of my kids there and now regret every dime.”

Others, however, are more skeptical of this death sentence for Dordt University. Gena Koning Bloemendaal wrote, “I think this article is very misleading… I would be very interested in further research and accurate reporting. Did you speak to the university president or any of the faculty? Doesn’t appear so. Get the straight story before dragging the institution’s name through the mud.”

But on-campus, students have their own opinions on the chapels.

“It’s good that Dordt is talking about these things because we do live in a pocket of Northwest Iowa, and where I come from in Colorado, these topics are a really big issue. For [us to be] effective kingdom workers, Dordt is equipping its students to approach the tough topics in our society. If you go anywhere else outside of Northwest Iowa, you are going to be presented with these issues and knowing what the Bible says about it and learning how to properly address it are all tools we should have in our belt as Christians,” said Zachary Sanford, a Junior Engineering major at Dordt.

Bethany Ten Haken, a Freshman, agreed. “These are really good conversations to have, and I enjoy that they do it in a way where it doesn’t feel like they are preaching at us, but they’re having a conversation with us, and that’s really cool.”

Not everyone may not share these attitudes about the series, and Baart recognizes this. “I understand there are some people who are going to have divergent views on this, but that’s not a reason to stop talking. We’ve had theological disagreements within the church between people for millennia, like the disciples fought with each other and parted ways in Acts… Everybody has to argue and fight about stuff. The question is… Can you do it well, and can you do it [in an] honoring [way]? There will be people who arrive at different conclusions than Dordt does, than I do, on issues pertaining to sexuality, but that doesn’t mean we stop breaking bread together, and that doesn’t mean we break fellowship with one another. I think if we do that, then only evil wins.”

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