Alexander Solzhenitsyn once observed that what was taken from the East by force is now being relinquished by the West voluntarily. It is tough not to think of what Solzhenitsyn said nearly a quarter of a century ago as one observes recent developments at Vanderbilt University.
Without any outside pressure, Vanderbilt has freely chosen to strip its religious organizations of the right to require that their leaders share the group’s beliefs, goals and values. Carried to its full extent, it means an atheist could lead a Christian group, a Jew a Muslim group, or any number of strange possibilities.
The story began the way these stories always begin: A homosexual student joined a Christian organization that did not share his acceptance of homosexuality. When he was removed from the group, he complained that the group would not alter its membership criteria just for him. Instead of finding another organization, he filed a complaint that resulted in the investigation of hundreds of organizations.
That bears repeating: Rather than telling one student it would be easier to join a group of like-minded people, the university is investigating over 300 groups and threatening to shut down many of them unless they change their core religious practices and beliefs.
Among the groups threatened with shutdown is the Christian Legal Society (CLS). It committed the cardinal sin of including this language in its constitution. “Each officer is expected to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.” That sounds a lot like what Christian groups do. So, what exactly is the problem?
Reverend Gretchen Person – interim director of the Office of Religious Life at Vanderbilt – summarizes the problem as follows: “Vanderbilt policies do not allow this expectation (or) qualification for officers.” CLS has already amended its constitution in an effort to satisfy the Vanderbilt administration. It even removed a stated requirement that Student Coordinators “should strive to exemplify Christ-like qualities.” I mean, what if a homosexual wants to join the group and fears that exemplifying Christ-like qualities includes celibacy? We could not tolerate that kind of intolerance.
But Vanderbilt is not satisfied with the “progress” it has made in its investigation of hundreds of Christians in order to satisfy one person. It is now demanding that CLS drop its requirement that officers lead Bible studies, prayer and worship. I mean, what if a person wants to join, become an officer, and avoid doing the things everyone else has always done – like, for example, lead? Should we not accommodate him by changing standards of conduct for everyone so he can be a leader without leading?