The Scrapbook is closely watching the fight at Vanderbilt University between the administration and a number of student religious organizations. Last fall, Vanderbilt placed five religious groups on provisional status for being in violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy, and four of these remain threatened with removal from campus.
A little background: The university’s reevaluation of its student groups stems from an incident in the fall of 2010, when Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi revoked the membership of an openly gay brother. The situation divided the campus over how religious organizations should be allowed to constitute themselves. Most have recognized that membership in student organizations should be open to all—the dispute centers on how members choose their leaders.
And so, on January 31, the university called a town hall meeting to discuss the issue. Administrators clarified that the policy for student organizations is “all comers”—that is, any student may join and also may run for office. There’s no obligation, they say, for religious organizations to elect nonbelievers to leadership positions, but in the interest of nondiscrimination, no one may be barred from running for office for religious reasons.
It was Jordan Rodgers, the Commodores’ quarterback and an active member of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes (and the younger brother of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers), who articulated the obvious. “If someone that doesn’t share the faith is teaching [in a leadership role], then what’s the point of even having these organizations?” Rodgers asked at the meeting. “The fact that we are not going to change the fact that you have to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ to be a teacher, to be a leader, to teach new people of any faith that come through our doors . . . we don’t feel that’s a problem.”
In his response, Vice Chancellor David Williams summed up the university’s thinking. “The university is going to have to make a decision on what side of the line they want to be,” he said. “Do they want to say ‘It’s totally all comers’? Or do they want to basically say, ‘Well, we understand the concept of some faith-based organizations, and we agree we will create an exception for them, either by membership . . . or by leadership.’ And I just think that’s something [on which] this university, at this point and time, has made a choice.”
We won’t be holding our breath waiting for Vanderbilt to have a change of heart. But for the sake of religious freedom and common sense, they ought to.