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Should Christianity have spurred boy to wrestle girl?

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 26, 2011 | 8:23 pm

Religion comes up in sports in all kinds of ways. This is a sort of new one:

Joel Northrup, a sophomore, and a favorite to win his 112-pound weight class, said he didn’t feel it would be right for him to wrestle Cassy Herkelman, a freshman from Cedar Falls, Ia. It’s against his religious feelings.

That’s from the Wall Street Journal, and I’ll interpret what Joel was saying: It’s not that Joel’s religion, Christianity, says anything explicitly about wrestling (except for maybe the story of Jacob) but Joel is concerned that wrestling a girl would lead to some impure thoughts. Rather than find himself in that situation, he’s just going to avoid the temptation.

Fair enough. What’s odd is how tone-deaf Caryn Rivadeneira, a guest blogger for Christianity Today’s women’s blog, seems to be to Joel’s concerns—and why she thought that Christianity actually should have motivated Joel to wrestle Cassy Herkelman. Rivadeneira wrote:

I applaud Joel’s decision to back away from any seeming violence toward girls. But I wonder why he thinks the Christian faith smiles on violence-for-fun against fellow boys. I’m confident that it doesn’t. My guess is that his decision to default has more to do with his view of who is against him on the mat than it does with actual violence. And I think his refusal has more to do with his cultural view of girls than his Christian faith.

To those who are sympathetic to Joel’s decision, no matter how strong and tough Cassy may be — after all, she made it to the state competition with a 20-13 record — she is still a girl. Therefore, she is too weak. Her girl-hood prevents her from being seen as someone who is gifted by God to use her body and her muscles and her spirit to wrestle. She is a would-be victim on the wrestling mat. Or, she’s a sexual object. But a contender? Nah.

Every time I’ve thought about this story over the past couple of days, I think of my husband, Rafael, on his first day of class at the University of Illinois. To most students, having a girl sit down next to you wouldn’t have been any big deal — a thrill maybe even. But Rafi was coming from an all-boys prep school. He hadn’t sat next to a girl in school since eighth grade. He was thrown for a loop.

Really? I mean, really?! How is wrestling a girl in a competitive atmosphere like sitting next to a girl in a classroom, even for someone from an all-boys school? Sorry, but this is totally out of touch with reality.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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