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The Image I Reflect: Considering Consent From a Biblical Worldview

The Image I Reflect: Considering Consent From a Biblical Worldview

hand mirrorApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Cedarville University’s Title IX office would like to challenge the campus community to examine the ways in which we are sometimes less than loving as we focus on this theme:

“The Image I Reflect: Conversations About Respect, Consent, Power, and Healing”

This theme is meant to challenge us to look in the mirror and consider our beliefs and behaviors, to reflect on the ways that we are tempted to act toward another that could diminish their sexual dignity or objectify them.

This week's focus is on consent — a difficult theme for a place like Cedarville to grapple with.

On other college campuses, consent has become a popular topic. College administrators, sexual assault prevention educators, and students alike have spent a considerable amount of time discussing what consent looks like and how to respond when it's ignored.

But, how can we have a conversation about consent on a college campus that has a standard for maintaining sexual purity? Are we just embracing our culture’s values or accepting a double standard? No!

In talking about consent, Cedarville is not presupposing or condoning intimate physical activity that is outside the bounds of what the Scriptures teach. Our desire is that each of us chooses to honor Christ with the choices we make about our sexual conduct. We desire Romans 12:9-10 to be true of us: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

In her article "In Praise of Consent*," Kristen L. Guidero from Indiana Wesleyan University explains that teaching consent helps address the sexual crises in our culture by helping us better understand what is at stake in sexual behavior, now and for a healthy adult life. It helps us to consider and treat honorably the sexual dignity of ourselves and the future spouse God may give to us. Consent reminds us to care for ourselves and others as image-bearers of a holy God.

Let’s start with a definition. What do we mean by consent? Cedarville uses this definition:

Consent is an informed decision, freely given, made through mutually understandable words or actions that indicates a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.

At first glance, this definition seems to be a “no brainer” — almost everyone will agree that consent is important. But on college campuses, including our own, there seems to be a gap between this cognitive understanding of consent and how individuals experience consent (or lack of).

So, how do we practice this concept as we seek to honor one another and set expectations and boundaries for how we are treated? Some beginning thoughts:

  • Consider that the other person is your fellow image bearer whose dignity, value, and long-term physical and spiritual health are more important than what you desire in a moment.
  • Consent is vital for any progression of physical intimacy.
  • Godly relationships are built on honest communication and mutual respect. Ask, and listen for, a clear and positive agreement prior to moving things forward. Don’t make assumptions based solely on body language, or that a person is being silent, or on your own previous experiences.
  • Geography does not equal consent: Someone choosing to be in a room or space alone with you does NOT imply consent for sexual activity.
  • Honor and respect one another. Pay attention to the cues someone gives you that could be communicating their discomfort with a situation: Is the person pulling away, freezing, do they seem uncomfortable, or do they not respond in any sort of way? These cues are the nonverbal equivalent of a “no,” and they are a signal to stop. If someone’s body language is ambiguous, or if you’re not quite sure what it is saying, don’t assume it’s saying what you want it to be saying!
  • Coercion always equals no consent. Coercion is using unreasonable pressure to compel another to engage in sexual activity against their will. When someone makes clear that they do not want to engage in certain sexual activity, that they want to stop, or that they do not want to go past a certain point of sexual interaction, continued pressure beyond that point is coercive and selfish.
  • Alcohol and other substances greatly increase the risk that consent will be violated.
  • Receiving consent does not mean that a behavior is biblical or appropriate. We are calling our community to a higher standard.

Getting consent for any type of physical intimacy is the responsibility of the person initiating the intimacy, but we should also remember that each of us has a responsibility to provide or not provide consent. Be honest, clear, and firm in conveying your boundaries. If they are not respected, let someone know and ask for help in addressing it.

We also need to be mindful of the power dynamics at play in relationships and sex. How does age, year in school, status or popularity, or our previous experiences affect the vulnerability of someone? Next week’s blog, written by our Confidential Advocate Celeste Hurley, will examine this in more detail.

Please watch the video below for more information on the Cedarville University Title IX office.

* Guidero, Kristen L. (2020) "In Praise of Consent: Why Talking About Sex on Christian Campuses Matters Differently Than We Think; A Review Essay," Growth: The Journal of the Association for Christians in Student Development: Vol. 19: No. 19, Article 5.

Posted in Title IX

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