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Campus divide

"Campus divide" Continued...

Issue: "Return to war?," May 5, 2012

But Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas Zeppos refused to budge. And to make sure all groups comply, even those that don't have statement of faith requirements in their constitutions, administrators demanded all groups sign a document affirming the nondiscrimination policy.

That was the last straw for John Sims Baker, a Catholic priest and chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic. Although the Catholic group's constitution did not violate the nondiscrimination policy, the group could not in good conscience agree in principle to allow anyone to serve in leadership, Baker said. In a letter to parents and supporters, Baker praised the group's student leaders for standing up to school administrators: "Their resolve makes our situation a success story rather than a failure," he said. "It has become quite clear to the students that we either stand for something or fall for anything. We choose to stand for Jesus Christ, and we expect that our leadership do the same."

But RUF's Croft doesn't think Vanderbilt has gone as far in restricting religious liberty as Baker and leaders of other Christian groups claim. Although he thinks the policy is unhelpful and bad for the school, he doesn't believe the rule allows the university to tell groups who can lead them or water down the Christian message. "I just don't think they're there yet," Croft said of school administrators. "I don't think we have to fear that. Let that come when it does. Let's not jump the gun and say they've already done that. Let's continue as we are and take that to the university. If we need to leave, we will."

Croft said he understood why the policy's opponents described it as a slippery slope of secular control over religious groups. But if it is, the school is at the top of the slope, not the bottom, he said.

Rod Mays, who coordinates all RUF chapters, said the Vanderbilt group is taking the same approach he would direct other chapters to take. RUF is known for working with campus administrators in official channels, and wants to be a sanctioned organization, he said: "It's just a different philosophy of ministry. It has nothing to do with compromising the gospel. We're completely free to do what we want to do."

RUF does not feel as threatened by the nondiscrimination policy because it doesn't interpret leadership the way some other groups do, Mays said. Each RUF chapter is led by an ordained PCA minister who is ultimately responsible for leading students. That job does not fall to other students, like it does at some ministries. And the campus minister's authority gives the group some freedom in the students it allows to serve in different capacities: "Obviously, RUF is not going to have a Muslim, a Hindu, an avowed fornicator or a homosexual teaching the book of James. But one of those people might bring cookies to a Super Bowl party. We want them to be exposed to Christians and the gospel."

School administrators have maintained their defense of the policy despite ongoing criticism in Nashville and around the country. In a prepared statement, vice chancellor for public affairs Beth Fortune said the school does "not believe our nondiscrimination policy to be incompatible with religious freedom. ... Vanderbilt's policy does not mandate whom student organizations should elect as leaders-it simply allows for anyone to be eligible for membership and to seek a leadership position. Student organizations do and will always have the right to elect the leaders of their choosing."

Swain, who has led the fight against the policy, thinks the momentum of opposition building among alumni and donors will force the school to reconsider. Vanderbilt is a private school, but its reliance on roughly half a billion dollars in federal aid and $24 million in state funds could open a door to legal action. State lawmakers already are poised to pass a law that would prevent state schools from following Vanderbilt's lead. They so far have stopped short of approving amendments that would make state aid contingent on compliance with the law or require Vanderbilt to apply its "all-comers" policy to fraternities and sororities as well as religious organizations.

As Vanderbilt Catholic's Eucharistic Procession-possibly its last-filed back in to Benton Chapel, the students took to their knees in the pews. Although university officials have told the group it can continue holding mass in the chapel next year, it may have to cancel the procession.

But no matter what happens in the fall, Baker encouraged the students to continue following Jesus as they walk across campus every day: "You honored Him publicly by showing Him the honor and adoration due Him."

On and off

Religious organizations that refused to sign the nondiscrimination policy at Vanderbilt, and already have or are likely to leave campus:

• 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

• St. Thomas More Society

• Vanderbilt Catholic

Religious organizations that plan to remain on campus:

• Reformed University Fellowship

• Baptist Collegiate Ministry

Leigh Jones
Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Atlanta and is the managing editor of WORLD's website.

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