Eleven religious student groups at Vanderbilt University have united to reapply for registered status in the school, even though their religious requirements for leaders violate Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination policy.
The coalition, calling itself Vanderbilt Solidarity, said in a statement that each group “is a faith-based group dedicated to sharing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on campus. As such, we simply cannot allow those who do not share our faith to lead our ministries, as Vanderbilt now demands.”
The members of the coalition include: Asian American Christian Fellowship, Beta Upsilon Chi, Bridges International, Christian Legal Society, Cru, Every Nation Ministries, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Medical Christian Fellowship, and Navigators.
Last fall, Vanderbilt placed several faith-based groups on provisional status for being noncompliant with its non-discrimination policy, Christianity Today reported. It began enforcing the policy after Beta Upsilon Chi, a Christian fraternity, was accused of dismissing a student because of his sexual orientation.
Vanderbilt updated its non-discrimination policy in early March, stating that all “registered student organizations must be open to all students as members and must permit all members in good standing to seek leadership posts.” The policy does make an exemption for single-sex organizations, including fraternities and sororities.
“Most perplexing, a university founded by Methodists is prohibiting religious groups from selecting religious leaders while simultaneously allowing fraternities and sororities to discriminate in selecting their leaders and members,” Vanderbilt Solidarity said in its statement. “If Vanderbilt will give fraternities and sororities a broad exemption from its policy, why won’t it give religious groups a narrow exemption?”
A few weeks after the policy was updated, Vanderbilt Catholic, one of the school’s largest student religious groups, announced it would leave campus at the end of the year because of the policy. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to proclaim our Catholic faith,” Rev. John Sims Baker, chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic, told The Tennessean. “What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt?”
Vanderbilt Solidarity commended Vanderbilt Catholic in its statement, as well as the St. Thomas More Society, which intends to follow Vanderbilt Catholic’s course, the coalition wrote.
UPDATE (April 11): In a post on its blog, InterVarsity at Vanderbilt--which represents the Asian American Christian Fellowship, Graduate Christian Fellowship, and Medical Christian Fellowship student groups--denied being a part of any "protest" movement against the university.
"Our turning in an application for registration along with other student groups who have walked with us through this year has been called a 'protest' move and, unfortunately, could be interpreted as an attempt by us to manipulate the university," InterVarsity posted. "We intentionally invited further dialogue and relationship with the university. Our constitution retains faith-based requirements for leadership because we are a Christian organization. However, our cover letter to the university and our constitution were written from a posture of trying to live out who we authentically are (hopefully lovingly) and not primarily as a power move or protest."