Chaplain Rod Reed and assistant professor of family studies Nick Ogle reclined in lounge chairs on the cathedral stage, coffee in hand, for a less structured approach to a difficult chapel topic: sexuality.
Instead of a normal chapel session, students were encouraged to anonymously text in their questions on sexuality to a phone number displayed on the screen. Reed and Ogle explained that the purpose of the question and answer session was to create a more open environment on campus to sexuality.
“Sexuality is a topic we haven’t really talked about enough or regularly enough on campus, specifically with people internal to campus that you can still have the conversation with a week or a month after chapel,” Reed said.
Reed said there seemed to be a lot of openness on campus for discussing these topics in a small-group setting, and Ogle commended campus programs like Stone’s Throw, At the Well and Residence Life for not being afraid to tackle these issues. However, Reed said he wanted to open the door for a more campus-wide discussion.
“From the campus, it’s okay to talk about these things and it’s okay to struggle with these things,” he said. “I think students would be surprised at the compassion they would receive in talking about their sexual struggles with faculty and staff on campus.”
Ogle introduced the discussion by answering the question, “How do we lay this foundation?” He began by distinguishing the difference between the permissive sexuality of today’s “hookup culture” and the restrictive sexuality of the evangelical culture.
Ogle referenced Rob Bell’s “Sex God” by saying people were neither made to be animals, craving sex for survival, nor were they made to be angels, rejecting their sexuality. Humans were created with a sexuality through which they can relate to God and others.
Reed concluded the introduction by saying we all have healthy, sexual urges as a part of God’s design, but we are all broken in our sexuality. He said it was important for us to be good stewards of our sexuality, using it to be faithful to God and honor others.
This opened up the Q & A session, and the student response revealed they were eager to talk more. During the 30-minute discussion, Reed and Ogle received 77 questions via text message.
Ogle said they had to switch phones because the first was dying from receiving so many texts.
Reed and Ogle only had time to answer a few questions, primarily dealing with masturbation, oral sex and homosexuality. Most questions wanted to draw the lines between right and wrong.
Ogle gave students a three-question test to answer most questions about sexuality.
First, is it permissible? What does Scripture have to say about the issue? Does God give a clear answer to the question?
Second, is it beneficial? Does any good come out of the situation? Or does it bring shame and guilt?
Third, is it consuming? Do you spend all your time thinking about it or doing it? Is it addictive?
Ogle explained it was hard to put things in black and white when there are so many gray areas. He encouraged students to address each situation relationally.
Students had a variety of reactions to the sexuality chapel. Junior Brian Franz said it was a bold move for John Brown University.
“It’s pretty hidden and it will bring out more of the serious issues as a result of this,” he said. “They kind of confronted some of the hard stuff and they didn’t say they had all the answers. They just said this is real and we need to talk about it and I think that’s a great first step.”
Others, like junior Braden Paterson, thought the approach was too general and relative.
“It’s a dangerous place to be when you are worried about stepping on people’s toes and offending them,” he said. “I agree that our approach should be carefully considered and loving, but we must take a stand on issues of sexual immorality. Sanctification is the goal, not relativism or loopholes.”
Overall, students thought it was a topic easily discussed in small groups but agreed it needed to be addressed campus-wide.
Junior Lindsay Hubbell said that her friend group talks about the issue all the time, but agreed that the topic needed to be discussed more.
Walker resident director Brooke Huizenga summed up the purpose of chapel by saying it would be good to move the conversation outside of dorm rooms and hallways.
“It’s good to be able to get a viewpoint from people who are beyond the college life stage that can speak into that not only from their studies but also from their experience and their understanding of Scripture,” Huizenga said, “which is totally different when you are in your 40s than when you are in your 20s.”