Lutheran Student Fellowship at Vanderbilt forced into unofficial status by University policies

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Newsletter for June 2012

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 It has not disappeared with the official status that has been revoked by the University.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
Nashville, TN

Redeemer is the congregation that sponsors and funds LSF at Vanderbilt. The group is also a Christ on Campus Chapter. The student website is I serve as the pastoral advisor and one of our members is the faculty advisor.


Lutheran Student Fellowship at Vanderbilt forced into unofficial status by University policies — 18 Comments

  1. I know there are important perks for a university-recognized RSO other than money, but what are those.

    The early Church thrived due to persecution by the Romans. Christians were forced to hide and worship in secret. Somehow, the Church grew. Welcome to the Post-Christian society.

    With the right marketing, the Lutheran Student Organization could be viewed as a countercultural, underground group. That would be seen as “cool” by many students.

  2. This is not fair, because I know for a fact that certain fraternities can not contain women. Is that not discrimination to them?

  3. There was an 11th hour push in the Tennessee legislature that was successful in passing a law that made policies like this illegal. However, it was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam at the beginning of last month because Vanderbilt is a “private” university. You can read the story here:
    There are a lot of very well connected alumni/donors who are very upset about the policy.

    The group made the right choice to remain faithful, and become unofficial.

  4. Does Vanderbilt practice that form of discrimination euphemistically called affirmative action?

  5. “So we would not be able to require the Lutheran Student Fellowship president to actually be Lutheran and hold to the Lutheran confession!”

    It seems the LCMS has a similar problem with congregations.

  6. How can they get federal funds and deny students’ first amendment rights? It seems this could be challenged and either Vanderbilt would have to comply with the first amendment free exercise of religion, or forfeit stuff like federal funds and student loans for their students.

  7. @Mrs. Hume #7
    How can they get federal funds and deny students’ first amendment rights?

    We are discovering that “first amendment rights” only apply to radicals, all sorts, but not to conservative Christians whose tenets aren’t “PC”!
    If Vanderbilt’s Lutheran group elected a Lutheran lesbian president, I’ll bet all would be “cool”!

  8. Dear Pastor Young,
    Just out of curiosity, can you tell us which other Campus Centers refused to sign, and which ones knuckled under?

    -Matt Mills

  9. Thanks for all the encouraging comments. We are one of twelve groups that took a stand together. The following link lists the others groups that have objected to the administration’s policy:
    I’m not sure which groups have agreed to the new policy. We many not know until next fall when the semester starts. I know the Roman Catholic group decided not to renew official status and issued a press release on its own. A student and priest conducted inteviews with news organizations. I saw them covered on Fox News. So we are definitely not alone.

  10. I have been asked about the benefits of “official status.” The biggest benefit for us was the referrals that came through the office of religious life. A new student who inquired about Lutherans would be directed our way. We also participated in the student organization fair that occurred at the beginning of the fall semester. So we won’t be able to introduce our group to incoming freshman. The only other thing we received was classroom space for our meetings. Each year the office of religious life has tried to get us to receive funds from Vanderbilt, but we have refused. (I’m not sure how much money other groups receive, but it would interesting to know.)
    Our tentative plan to get the word out is to use flyers and ads in the school newspaper along with regular emails to the local LCMS churches. We will either meet in a lounge in one of the buildings or at a restaurant close by.

  11. Pr. Young,

    We kept you and the Lutheran Student Fellowship in our prayers during the Divine Service yesterday, along with LCMS campus Ministry.

    To BJS Readers:

    Last week we had two overnight guests, Mr. and Mrs. S., both graduates from Washington and Lee University here in Lexington VA. They are devout Lutherans and he just graduated from Harvard Law School. At table we discussed what it was like to be an orthodox Lutheran in Cambridge, MA. and Harvard. First, Mr. S. pointed out that the policy that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many others follow is called “all comers” in which no one can be discriminated in even volunteer groups. (Does this also mean a Lutheran could be admitted to a Muslim group and lead it? or white student in an African-American group?…reductio ad absurdam) He also said that every congregation in Cambridge literally flies a rainbow flag at their church buildings. In Cambridge, the homosexual presence is simply overwhelming and everywhere. Our friends in Christ sounded like strangers in a strange land.

    Reiterating what Pr. Young stated: the main benefit in being recognized at a college/university is access to students who checked a religious preference, but incoming freshmen are checking so many boxes on forms, this is just one more minor concern for too many incoming students. And it has been my experience in campus ministry for 11 years here is that the students who come to Liturgy are those for whom the faith is crucial and/or their parents and/or pastor seek out the campus ministry. So it is essential for pastors in congregations to identify graduating seniors, encouraging them to seek out the LCMS campus ministry and helping the family to make contact, and even more so in the erosion of 1st Amendment rights

    Peace in His Name,
    Pr. Schroeder

  12. @Pr. Mark Schroeder #14

    “The passing Gospel Shower”

    Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
    before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say:

    “I have no pleasure in them”

    Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened
    and the clouds return after the rain.

    In the day when the keepers of the house tremble.
    The strong men are bent.

    The grinders cease because they are few.
    Those who look through the windows are dimmed.
    The doors on the street are shut—

    When the sound of the grinding is low.
    One rises up at the sound of a bird.
    All the daughters of song are brought low—

    They are afraid also of what is high.
    Terrors are in the way.

    The almond tree blossoms.
    The grasshopper drags itself along.
    Desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home.
    The mourners go about the streets—

    Before the silver cord is snapped,
    or the golden bowl is broken,
    or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain,
    or the wheel broken at the cistern.

    The dust returns to the earth as it was.

    The spirit returns to God who gave it.

    Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher.

    all is vanity.

    “The passing Gospel Shower”

  13. So get back at them with their own tactics. Everybody sign up for the LGBT club, elect yourselves officers, and change the charter to promote knitting or something.

  14. @Mark Huntemann #11
    That we ever considered this world at any time in history a Christian world in the first place is a big reason why the church is in such disarray and why we have such difficulty grasping that people and institutions could treat Christians so unfairly. To quote Luther (loosely paraphrases), ” Christendom is hidden; you won’t find it with your eyes or reason!” As Pastor Schroeder observed of his guests, we are strangers in a strange land called out of darkness into the light of that hidden kingdom and sent to bring Christ to the nations in the place where God has set us. That requires us to remain faithful to who and what we are called to be. I think that is part of what you are alluding to in the Passing Gospel Shower.

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