(Via Alarm-Alarm) An article in the New York Times Magazine about conservative Christian Colleges hosting dances on campus.
Mark Oppenheimer writes as a very thoughtful outsider. When confronted by the question, "Didn't these people preach hellfire against dancing?" he makes this insightful comment:
If you want to know why J.B.U. students didn’t dance until now, it makes more sense to look out your window at Siloam Springs than to look down at the Bible on your desk. The Bible doesn’t say you can’t dance. For that matter, it doesn’t say that you can’t drink or can’t smoke. The rules against these vices are what evangelicals call “prudential” rather than scriptural: they don’t have the force of commandment, but you follow them just to be careful. These rules arose as part of a Protestant subculture so determined to eradicate sin that it began to interdict behaviors that might be baby steps on the road to perdition. This subculture is not mandated by the Bible, but it’s the marrow of towns like Siloam Springs and schools like John Brown University.Despite their professed commitment to Scripture as the sole basis of the Christian life, radical Protestants have always policed themselves even more strictly than the Bible prescribes. New England Puritans, 19th-century Sabbatarians and 20th-century temperance activists all advocated rules against one biblically permissible activity or another...
It’s hard to say which came first for conservative Christians: the cultural prohibitions or the scriptural justifications. The rules against smoking and drinking have a plausible basis in Paul’s metaphor in I Corinthians 6:19 of the body as “a temple,” a sacred site not to be despoiled: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” But other prohibitions seem rooted entirely in prudential culture — where else would we get the notion, enshrined in the rules of some Christian colleges, that boys must keep their hair cut short, lest they confuse gender roles? And how can dancing be prohibited? For Miriam dances after the victory at the Red Sea, and David dances after the ark’s return to Jerusalem. Ecclesiastes tells us there is “a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Traditionally, the answer was that dancing, like long hair on men, might have been appropriate in biblical times but did not fit with contemporary understandings of temperance, modesty or prudence. But within this answer was a tacit concession that as culture changes, some rules change, too. That understanding has allowed for an extraordinary transformation in how evangelicals perceive dance: impossible as it would have seemed 50 years ago, many of them now believe that dancing is particularly desirable. In the first half of the 20th century, various swing dances, like the jitterbug and the lindy hop, were often associated with juvenile delinquency and miscegenation, what many parents feared. Swing still seems like an artifact of the ’40s and ’50s, but now that era has become, in the evangelical mind, a prelapsarian age before the pill, the Crips or gay marriage. Parents who themselves were forbidden to dance now urge their children toward what has become, standing against the muck of popular culture, a wholesome pastime.