From the oldest of times, people danced for a number of reasons. They danced in prayer or so their crops would be plentiful… They danced to stay physically fit and to show their community spirit. And they danced to celebrate, and that is the dancing we are talking about. Aren’t we told in Psalms 149, ‘Praise ye the Lord, sing unto the Lord a new song, Let them praise his name in dance.’ It was king David that we read about in Samuel, and what did he do? He ‘danced before the Lord with all of his might, leaping and dancing’… Ecclesiastes assures us that ‘there is a time for every purpose under heaven.’ A time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to mourn, and there is a time to dance. There was a time for this law, but it is no more. Now, it is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was ‘In the beginning…’ and the way is has always been, and it is the way it should be now.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that we take all our theological cues from Ren McCormack, but you have to admit that he does make some good points. Obviously, dancing is mentioned in a positive light in several biblical passages and is hardly expressively forbidden in a manner like, say, incest.
Still, reasonable minds might conclude that there are forms of dance which are not God-honoring (or, if you don’t believe in God, not wise given today’s sexually predatorial climate) and would best be avoided. Furthermore, reasonable minds might surmise that this is an area where discernment and nuance might come into play, and that it might be possible to discuss the merits of certain forms of dance and certain venues and come to a meeting of the minds over what is acceptable and safe and what is not.
As it turns out, reasonable minds have convened west of my alma mater at John Brown University, a nondenominational Christian located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas in the middle of the Ozark mountains. There a 90-year ban on “social dancing” was recently rescinded after a series of negotiations between students and administrators. Mark Oppenheimer wrote an excellent article “The First Dance” which appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine which details the give and take that led to the school’s first “theme” dance, a swing contest in the school gym, and the ways in which evangelical subculture is changing with respect to its view of dancing and other previously forbidden entertainments.
It is a sensitive and well-written piece, and Oppenheimer has obviously done his research. It will only be online for about another week and a half, so I would recommend that you print it and read it in full. For those short on time, here are a couple of money quotes:
J.B.U.’s about-face, while abrupt, was not totally unexpected. In the past 10 years, several of America’s most established evangelical schools, including Baylor University in Texas, Wheaton College in Illinois and Cornerstone University in Michigan, have lifted restrictions on dancing, even as they have kept various rules against activities like drinking, gambling, smoking and, of course, premarital sex. They are opting to allow formal dances, like swing or ballroom. Of course, it’s unlikely there will be hip-hop or bump-and-grind at J.B.U. They will not be krumping. But for millions of evangelical Protestants, dancing has become increasingly acceptable. There are still conservative Christians, particularly in Baptist, Pentecostal and independent Bible-church traditions, who don’t dance, but they are growing scarce. The old joke about why Baptists won’t have sex standing up — because people might think they’re dancing — has become antiquated.
They would have fun, as it turned out. And by dressing up nicely, but not suggestively, and dancing exuberantly, but not too closely, these students and professors would say with their bodies not only that Christians may dance but also that they should. It’s a message that would sound shocking to John Brown. But in today’s evangelical culture, J.B.U. students are not unique. Their appreciation for dancing is part of a turn outward, toward secular society and toward those Christians, including many from ethnic minorities and many from abroad, who never learned they weren’t supposed to dance. As Christian campuses become more diverse and seek to prepare students for a cosmopolitan world, they are aligning with the growing number of faithful who believe that dancing can glorify God, carry the Good News and even give a secular pastime a “redemptive” purpose.
Could such an earth-shattering event ever take place at Harding University? That would depend in large measure on whether or not students and administrators can learn to negotiate in mutual respect and trust, as they did at JBU. For administrators, that means modifying their views of students as sexual time bombs ready to get off at the drop of a dance step. For students, it means being known for more than rushing the stage at a concert, to actually put in writing (and yes, grammar and spelling do count) intelligent, articulate and workable proposals.
And then students must brace themselves for being told “no.” Over and over and over. But they must persist, if not for themselves, then for future students, and then someday, when the time is right, someone will listen to them and think ya know, that makes sense, and the powers-that-be will finally say “yes.”
That’s the way it works outside The Bubble, in the so-called “real world,” and it could happen on a conservative Church of Christ college campus as well. In fact, I know firsthand that it has.
Who knows, maybe the day will come when the rafters at Rhodes Memorial Fieldhouse will be rattled by more than the sound of 3000 screaming Rowdies cheering the Bisons on to victory. If it does, I promise that I’ll even make the trip over and “busta move” or two myself–if I’m still able.
Just don’t expect me to dance as well as Ren McCormack.