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Baptist group plans to remain on Vanderbiltís campuscomment (0)

April 26, 2012


Nashville-based Vanderbilt University’s push for religious groups to allow any interested student — no matter his or her beliefs — to serve in leadership positions continues to fuel concern. 

The university’s decision has led to Vanderbilt Catholic’s departure, an inundation of the opposition message and a stand by Baptists to stick it out.

The newly adopted, controversial policy requires any campus-recognized group — including religious groups — to apply the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. For Christian groups, that means they cannot require their group leader to be a Christian. 

A coalition of 11 Christian student groups — known as Vanderbilt Solidarity — are insisting their leaders should be chosen based on shared 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,” the Solidarity groups said in a statement April 9.

On April 18, the support broadened when a group of Vanderbilt students, faculty and alumni 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 the same day students who oppose the policy handed out 4,000 MP4 players loaded with the video on campus. 

“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, said in the video. 

One student on the video, junior Pieter Valk, asked, rhetorically, “If we can’t ask our leaders to be religious, what’s the point of our group?”

Alumnus Thomas Singleton said he fears 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 Solidarity 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, Christian Legal Society and (until it left the campus because of the policy) Vanderbilt Catholic — claims the policy violates “the central tenets of our faith.” 

The remaining 10 groups applied for registered status on campus, but included their own constitutions containing faith-based requirements for leadership positions. If the school does not recognize the constitutions, the groups would be considered unregistered next year.

The Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) is not a member of the Solidarity, but it is determined to remain. 

“We have been assured by the university that we can select leaders committed to the organization’s mission,” said Thom Thornton, Vanderbilt’s BCM director.

Bill Choate, collegiate ministries coordinator for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, affirmed BCM’s decision. “We intend to do what we have always done on campus (since the early 1920s) until the university denies us that privilege,” he said.

“Baptist Collegiate Ministry is not going away.”

Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs, said, “All registered student groups at Vanderbilt must be open to all students. This debate is about nondiscrimination, not religious freedom, and we stand behind our policy.” 


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