Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Christian College Porn Star: How Should Christian Schools Handle Students’ Sin?

My alma mater, a conservative Christian college, recently made the news for suspending a student for acting in porn films.

I got an excellent education at my alma mater. I love that it taught me how to evaluate all areas of life from a Christian perspective but did not require students to be Christians to attend. In fact, some of my best and most thought-provoking conversations about faith on that campus were with agnostic and Deistic friends. (I also felt fit in better with those friends than with many of the Christian students, but that’s a post for a different day. . . .)

The college had (and still has) far fewer restrictions than most Christian colleges; in fact, its rules are similar to those of many secular universities, but they are actually enforced. Students know that they will face serious consequences if they break one of the school’s two big rules: One involves the hours that girls and guys are allowed in each other’s dorms (intervisitation). The other strictly prohibits drinking. Being a non-drinker who liked being able to walk from the bathroom to my dorm room wrapped in a towel and not run into any guys, I was glad for these rules. I felt like I had just the right amount of freedom for that stage of my life, and the rules created an atmosphere where I felt comfortable.

So, my first reaction in hearing of the porn actor’s suspension was that the school handled the situation well. He was treated as any student caught violating the big rules might have been – suspended with the possibility of returning in a year if he showed a willingness to find another way to earn money. The student knew the rules when he chose the college, and he should be willing to accept the consequences. If he wanted to become a porn star, he should have gone to a different college. My initial concern was whether the student who recognized the student and reported him was also disciplined for viewing pornography.

However, the more I think about the situation, the more I’m not so sure the aspiring porn star (who, based on a quick Google search, might not need the “aspiring” qualifier) should have been suspended. He is a student, not a faculty member, and he is not necessarily expected to adhere to Christian doctrine, even if he did agree to follow a certain code of conduct when he accepted the school’s offer of admission. Do his actions outside of class really affect the college’s core values? (News reports do say that he considers himself a Christian and suggest that he sees no conflict between those beliefs and his acting career.)

When the local Christian high school expelled a student who got pregnant, I was disgusted. It seemed to me that the school was suggesting her sin was worse than anyone else’s. Am I being inconsistent in abhorring a high school student’s expulsion but supporting a college student’s suspension for similar offenses?

I can’t quite explain why my initial reactions are so different in situations that are so similar. I think maybe it has something to do with the different nature of high school and college. High school is required (at least until a student reaches a certain age), and while a Christian high school is a private school that should certainly have the right to enforce a higher standard of morality than a public school, expelling a student from high school seems to be a harsher punishment than suspending a college student for a year. College students are also legal adults (most of the time) and should be expected to take greater responsibility for their actions.

Higher education is a privilege. Students tend to have a much greater choice in which college they attend than which high school they attend. Being suspended from college does not necessarily derail an academic career; in fact, in this particular case, I expect the student will have many offers from liberal schools who want to denounce what they undoubtedly see as discrimination. (In fact, in one of the articles I read about the matter, the student’s lawyer used the word “discrimination.” I think that’s a false accusation, however, as any student caught acting in a porn film would have received the same treatment from the college.)

In the end, the question I can’t quite answer is "What is the most Christlike way for a Christian school to respond when students’ sin becomes a public matter?" Should the school make and consistently enforce rules that foster spiritual growth among the majority of the student body, or should it extend extra grace and mercy to individual students who sin, particularly if students have not professed a faith in Christ or have professed faith and show repentance from the sins in question? And does it make a difference whether the school is a high school or a university?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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