Saturday, April 21, 2012

Persecution breeds unity

Writing at yesterday, I highlighted several instances of Christian solidarity across sectarian and denominational lines in response to growing hostility toward religious freedom by the Obama Administration. In his Breakpoint commentary today, Eric Metaxas commends the united effort of Christian student organizations at Vanderbilt University in response to a new and blatantly discriminatory school policy requiring them to allow non-believers to hold leadership positions.
Back in January, the university put out new regulations aimed at student political and religious groups. The regulations require that “membership in registered student organizations [be] open to everyone and that everyone, if desired, has the opportunity to seek leadership positions.”

Theoretically, under the regulations, a PETA chapter at Vanderbilt — if one exists — would really have to admit, and possibly be led by, a fur-draped carnivore. I’m guessing that’s not what the Vanderbilt administration had in mind. But I do have an idea whom they are targeting: Christian groups.

You see, last fall, Vanderbilt told the Christian Legal Society that its requirement that officers “lead Bible studies, prayer, and worship” violated university policy because it “implied that these leaders must hold certain religious beliefs.”

Call me cynical, but it’s hard to imagine the university admonishing a campus Gay and Lesbian group for requiring that its leaders support same-sex marriage. Or can you imagine them telling the local Hillel chapter that it must accommodate Jews for Jesus? I don't think so.

The regulations are such a blatant example of what lawyers call “viewpoint discrimination,” that campus Christian groups are fighting back: a coalition of eleven religious student groups called Vanderbilt Solidarity is reapplying for registered status at Vanderbilt without changing their membership requirements.

Their goal is to make the university publicly explain and justify its blatantly discriminatory policy. They may not prevail in their quest for registered status but even then they will have done us all a service by refocusing the debate on the issue: religious freedom.
Vanderbilt Solidarity has issued the following statement:
NASHVILLE - This year, Vanderbilt University has for the first time in its history demanded that our reli­gious student organizations leave campus simply because we insist that our leaders agree with and strive to live by the religious beliefs we espouse. Today, we—the members of eleven such groups, standing together in an act of Solidar­ity—have submitted applications for registered status with constitutions containing the same faith requirements that Vanderbilt has always approved, until last year.

Each of our eleven organizations 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. To do so would not only compromise our very reason for existence, it would also violate the central tenets of our faith. In standing together, the Solidarity groups commend Vanderbilt Catholic’s recent announcement that it will leave campus rather than surrender its right to have leaders who share its faith. The St. Thomas More Society has indicated its intention to follow the course charted by Vanderbilt Catholic, and Solidarity also commends its integrity.

For decades, Vanderbilt acknowledged what most Americans hold to be self-evident: a faith-based organization cannot be properly led by people who do not profess the group’s faith. Until recently, Vanderbilt explicitly protected the freedom of all student organizations to select members and leaders who shared and supported the group’s purpose, including—for religious groups—its faith.

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. If Vanderbilt will give fraternities and sororities a broad exemption from its policy, why won’t it give religious groups a narrow exemption?

We urge Vanderbilt to respect our religious freedom, which—as Congress and the Su­preme Court have repeatedly emphasized—protects our right to select leaders and members who agree with our respective faith traditions.

Even while taking this action, we—the religious students and ministries repre­sented by Solidarity—continue to pray that our much beloved University will change course; that it will again welcome students who take their faith seriously; and that it will once again live up to the values of true diversity, pluralism, and re­ligious freedom that it claims to respect. But regardless of whether the administration changes, our mission and commitment remain the same: to serve Jesus Christ faithfully, to minister to the Vanderbilt community in His name with integrity, and to share His love and grace in everything we do.

Vanderbilt Solidarity is comprised of the following campus groups: 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.
David French at National Review Online connects this expression of Christian unity with similar expressions in response to Administration efforts to curb religious freedom.
Fortunately, however, the Christian community on campus is resisting. This week, the largest Christian group on campus, Vandy Catholic, has announced that it will leave campus rather than comply with university demands. In the coming weeks, other Christian groups — representing hundreds more students — will also respond as well. The university has long told its critics that the religious objectors to Vanderbilt’s policy were in the decided minority (as if that somehow justified the university’s abuse of liberty), but the reality is quite different. The Catholic-Protestant unity in response to Vanderbilt’s intolerance reflects the Christian unity in response to Obama’s HHS mandate and demonstrates a deep commitment to liberty and inclusion — genuine inclusion, not the veiled repression inherent in Vanderbilt’s double standard.
In the face of persecution, Christians of all persuasions are standing in solidarity with one another. The insulters of our intelligence, in universities and in government, will soon learn a lesson that every failed experiment since Babel has had to learn the hard way.