Hurricane Sandy had the conference organizers and attendees of the fifth Love and Fidelity Network national conference on "Sexuality, Integrity and the University" at Princeton University on edge a few days before the Nov. 2-3 event. Tens of millions of people on the East Coast, including those in Princeton, N.J., where the Love and Fidelity Network (LFN) is based, were without power. All campus events were canceled within a few days of the conference.
"Are you sure this conference is going to happen?" conference speaker Robert Oscar Lopez, a Los Angeles-based educator and author of The Colorful Conservative: American Conversations With the Ancients From Whitley to Whitman, kept asking organizers. Yes, he was assured.
"On the drive from Newark to Princeton, I witnessed the miles-long queues for gas and toppled electrical poles looking like fallen dominoes," Lopez recalled.
But students and faculty from more than two dozen campuses braved the aftermath of the storm to do something radically countercultural in the name of chastity, marriage and family.
For the first time, all eight of the Ivy League universities were represented, along with other schools as far away as Stanford University and Brigham Young University. The conference turned out to be a well-attended powerhouse of scholarship, spirited discussion and networking.
In meeting with the students, Lopez recognized that he was in the company of "fighters" who were both grounded and idealistic.
Lopez wrote about his conference experience for the online magazine American Thinker. In "Young Blood and Good News: A Report From the Sex Wars in Princeton, N.J.," Lopez summed up his perception of the conference participants: "They have mastered logos by choosing highly qualified scholars as mentors. They have mastered ethos by staying true to their faith against all odds. And, most importantly, they have mastered pathos by seeing the sexual alienation of their peers with compassion."
Founded five years ago by Princeton alumna Cassandra Hough, the Love and Fidelity Network (LoveandFidelity.org) is a national program that aims to reshape the conversation about marriage, family and sexual integrity on college campuses, equipping students to advocate effectively and intelligently for the institution of marriage between one man and woman, the importance of the stable and intact family and the value of sexual integrity.
LFN has grown into a network of student members and groups at 25 colleges and universities, with growing interest at several others.
"It’s not enough in this culture to simply assert this or that claim about sex. Young people need reasons and arguments, and LFN has been really committed on answering this need," said Christopher Tollefsen, professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina.
While students who have attended LFN conferences are largely Catholic, evangelical Christian and Mormon, participants also included Muslims and Orthodox Jews. "While most participants are people of faith, we welcome those who do not identify with any faith," said Caitlin Seery, LFN’s program director.
Generally speaking, LFN members face some uphill battles amidst a pervasive campus hook-up culture.
Audrey Pollnow, a Princeton philosophy major, described the hold of this culture on her own turf: "There’s a strong cultural commitment campus wide to the idea that sexual decisions are a private matter and that people can be harmed by sex only when it is non-consensual or when it isn’t enthusiastically consensual.
"A lot of students arrive on campus and conclude that hooking up is the norm and jump right in. Some of these students didn’t even think of it before they came to college. Others are eager for it when they arrive. Hooking up is widely accepted as a norm, or at least as something within the norm, and this leads to many opportunities for sexual encounters that leave people unhappy and desensitized."
Pollnow had no interest in hooking up and was enabled by LFN to advocate chastity more effectively. She became president of the Anscombe Society, an LFN campus group named after Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who wrote in defense of chastity and the institution of marriage. The society has received both university and LFN support for campus events it has hosted.
LFN encourages its student leaders to engage in dialogue with a variety of groups on campus, including "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" groups, women’s centers, sexual-health educators and others. "Finding common ground, as well as respectfully discussing differences, is very important to fostering understanding and good will on what can at times be sensitive topics," Seery said.
A crucial aspect of fostering genuine understanding is holding one’s moral ground.
Diana Baker, Class of 2013 at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., joined LFN four years ago and has attended three LFN conferences.
"I appreciate the eclectic academic and religious backgrounds of the conference speakers. The knowledge I have gained and the sense of community support has inspired me to stay strong despite difficulties at Holy Cross," Baker said.
"LFN has given me access to start my own student group and access to scholars who support true love," added Columbia University law student and LFN member Lyndon Plothow.
Plothow’s group, the Fidelio Society, has also received financial and administrative support from the university for hosting discussion groups and speakers on a variety of topics, including "The Effects of Pornography" and "Sexuality and Marriage."
Tollefsen sees LFN’s success and similar efforts as an indication that a sexual counterrevolution on campuses is "in its robust infancy."
Luciana Milano, president of the Anscombe Society at Harvard University, affirms Tollefsen’s view: "The sexual counterrevolution is growing. Many students of different faiths and backgrounds have come together to share a distaste for the sexual revolution. While we are a small, vocal minority at Harvard, I am confident that our views are shared and practiced by many more."
The most successful LFN campus groups are those supported by a large group of faculty, staff, ministry leaders, alumni, parents and community members. The students at Yale, for instance, organized True Love Week as an alternative to the campus’ Sex Week, with the backing of many alumni and parents. LFN student members at Princeton University have 17 tenured faculty members and 14 ministry leaders and chaplains co-host a reception each semester in support of the students’ initiatives and message.
"When university administrators and the student body see large communities of people behind our student leaders, change happens. We know these supportive community members are out there. We just need them to step forward, to whatever degree they can, in support of our students," LFN founder Hough said.
At this year’s conference, Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, stated that the sexual revolution was a revolution "based on an idea" — a very bad idea that individuals, families and society have been paying for ever since. As he put it, "It’s going to take a revolution of ideas — ideas for sexual integrity — to reshape the culture for the better," he said.
Jo Garcia-Cobb writes from Mount Angel, Oregon.