Vanderbilt faith groups make case in new video

Baptist Press
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Posted: Apr 18, 2012 5:52 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- A coalition of Vanderbilt University students, faculty and alumni opposed to the school's "all-comers" policy has released a six-minute video explaining why they believe the policy defies common sense and discriminates against Christian groups.

The video was posted on the Internet Wednesday (April 18), the same day students who oppose the policy handed out 4,000 MP4 players loaded with the video on campus. Players also are being given to the university's board of trustees.

The new policy requires any campus-recognized group -- including religious groups -- to apply, across the board, the university's non-discrimination policy, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. For Christian groups, that means they technically cannot require their group leader to be a Christian.

"I don't think this is over. I think Vanderbilt alums and other people will continue to speak out and speak up," Bill Campbell, who is identified as the former head of admissions, says in the video. Campbell says he believes Vanderbilt is "discriminating against the Christian organizations."

One student on the video, junior Pieter Valk, asks, rhetorically, "If we can't ask our leaders to be religious, what's the point of our group?"

Junior Alex Whitmore adds, "It is a lack of common sense. It would make sense that an organization should be able to appoint the leaders based on the core beliefs of the organization."

Alumnus Thomas Singleton says he fears that the policy will devolve to the point that "if a non-Christian isn't elected" to lead a Christian group, "it is going to be assumed that there was discrimination."

The policy also is being selectively enforced, Singleton said.

"Vanderbilt's non-discrimination policy says you can't discriminate based on sex, religion, race, sexual orientation," he said. "What is the biggest organization on this campus that discriminates according to sex? It's fraternities and sororities."

Law student Palmer Williams said she thinks "it does seem unfair" for the policy to apply "to one organization that I was a part of -- Campus Crusade for Christ" but not to "Tri Delta, which I was a member of."

Several people in the video question whether they'll be able to support Vanderbilt in the future. Cat Majors, a senior, said she is transferring to Rice University, "primarily for the reason that they have a graduate student fellowship that isn't being attacked by the administration, I know that I have the right to practice my faith there freely and openly."

The video was released about a week after a coalition of 11 religious groups, known as Vanderbilt Solidarity, said they will not follow Vanderbilt's requirement. They have submitted applications with constitutions that have not been updated to mirror the university's nondiscrimination policy. The video was posted on the Internet by Vanderbilt Solidarity.

"Each of our eleven organizations is a faith-based group dedicated to sharing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on campus," the statement said. "As such, we simply cannot allow those who do not share our faith to lead our ministries, as Vanderbilt now demands. To do so would not only compromise our very reason for existence, it would also violate the central tenets of our faith."

The coalition expressed bewilderment that "a university founded by Methodists" would prohibit "religious groups from selecting religious leaders while simultaneously allowing fraternities and sororities to discriminate in selecting their leaders and members."

One group, Vanderbilt Catholic, had already announced it was leaving campus.

Members of the coalition are: Asian American Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru, Medical Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Bridges International, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Every Nation Ministries, Beta Upsilon Chi, and Christian Legal Society.

Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.

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