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As I write this article at the end of the spring semester 2012, Lutheran Student Fellowship at Vanderbilt is no longer a recognized student organization on campus. And yet our group is still very much alive. It has not disappeared with the official status that has been revoked by the University. We are all still breathing and walking and talking. More importantly, we have maintained the good confession.
The end of our student organization status came after months of trying to reason with University officials over their new nondiscrimination policy that is to be applied to all religious groups. It may sound strange for a church organization to be on the other side of a nondiscrimination policy. After all, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners! Actually, it’s not strange at all when dealing with the language and the standards of the world. The University’s nondiscrimination policy is being selectively applied to only religious groups, and it makes each organization bow at the altar of cultural acceptance over one’s distinct confession of the truth. Specifically, student organizations can no longer hold confessional requirements for their leaders. So we would not be able to require the Lutheran Student Fellowship president to actually be Lutheran and hold to the Lutheran confession! The Baptist group cannot require its officers and Bible study leaders to be Baptist! Insane, right? Not in an insane world.
The way this madness started is that a homosexual student was removed from the Christian fraternity to which he belonged because he did not hold to the group’s stated beliefs. A complaint was lodged with the University, and that started the ball rolling to force all religious groups to accept all students and all beliefs. The constitutions of the religious organizations on campus were reviewed, and any that had restrictions or requirements for members or even officers were flagged.
When we first applied for student organization status in 2003 it was my understanding that religious groups had to welcome all students, which is fine and good. We wanted all students to come hear what Lutherans believe. But to force groups to compromise on their beliefs or to be led by those who don’t hold their beliefs, defeats the purpose of what the University was originally trying to achieve in offering a diverse religious life.
Understand that prior to this new policy any group of students could start their own religious group. If students wanted to call themselves Skeptical Christians or Secular Humanists, they could (as long as they got a faculty advisor, which wouldn’t be too hard.) But when it comes to the devil and world, silencing the truth is the real objective, not equality.
It is not satisfying at all to watch the Vanderbilt administration get caught in its own web of political correctness. Once upon a time I’m sure the administration desired the wide-eyed freshmen to come to campus and challenge everything they had ever been taught. They could encounter many different faiths and worldviews. Such a philosophy was bad enough for a university that used to be affiliated with a Christian body. But now diversity of thought and belief is not allowed on campus.
Perhaps the worst of it is that Greek fraternities and sororities can reject students for not being “cool” or for their looks. But Christian groups that are open to all students aren’t even permitted to uphold their integrity and purpose by maintaining their confession through committed leaders.
So there we were this semester in our weekly meetings: five students, two professors, and a pastor. In addition to studying Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, we had to discuss our response to the University’s sweeping change. To a person we were united in not signing the new required nondiscrimination language from the office of religious life. Signing a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything in one sense, and there was a good chance that our group would never be overtaken by non-Lutherans who wanted to elect themselves into the officer positions. Nevertheless, to sign Vanderbilt’s new nondiscrimination clause would be to admit that we have been intolerant on everything from our views concerning sexual immorality to the exclusive claim of truth coming from Scripture alone. We decided not to surrender our religious liberty or our allegiance to Christ for campus acceptance.
Our group will continue “unofficially” in spite of the shameful choice of the administration. We pray for the leaders of Vanderbilt University, and we pray that God will continue to uphold us in his grace that we may always maintain the true confession of the One who then promises to confess us before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).
Pastor Philip Young
Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church
Redeemer is the congregation that sponsors and funds LSF at Vanderbilt. The group is also a Christ on Campus Chapter. The student website is vanderbiltlutheran.org. I serve as the pastoral advisor and one of our members is the faculty advisor.