Tufts Protects Cherished Diversity

“Leadership: It is reasonable to expect that leaders within individual Student Religious Groups be exemplars of that particular religion. Therefore, an “all comers” policy for group leadership may not be appropriate for all SRGs. Justified departures from the Tufts nondiscrimination policy in SRG criteria for leadership will no longer present grounds for de-recognition. This reflects a policy change.” ( The updated Student Handbook from Tuft’s University)

InterVarsity’s Tufts Christian Fellowship was de-recognized by Tufts Community Union Judiciary this fall. The reason for TCUJ  de-recognizing TCF was identical to the reason sixteen religious groups at Vanderbilt are non-registered. In both situations, the non-discrimination policy has been interpreted to mean that the use of religious criteria or belief requirements for student leadership selection is a form of invidious discrimination.

Tufts Christian Fellowship appealed the decision to the Committee on Student Life. This committee recognized that Tufts had a “policy void” regarding leadership selection for religious groups. The committee therefore instituted a new policy wherein religious groups are allowed to use religious criteria for leadership. The above quote from the student handbook is the result of the committee’s efforts to find a way forward, balancing both the needs of religious groups to preserve their identity and particularity and maintain a high commitment to non-discrimination. InterVarsity is optimistic that Tuft’s Christian Fellowship will be reinstated once it provides the theological basis for why they use faith-based leadership requirements for the leadership selection.

Two member’s of the Committee on Student Life wrote a Blog post about the process and rationale behind the decision. They conclude the post with the following:

“Our goal is to foster and protect cherished diversity here at Tufts, and we believe this new policy helps meet this goal.”

We applaud Tuft’s commitment to robust religious pluralism. We hope that Vanderbilt might share that goal both in its vision and practice. Additionally, for the sake of integrity and pluralism, and the sixteen religious groups representing over 1000 students that remain outside the recognized community at Vanderbilt, we hope that Tuft’s actions may provide a way forward in our context.

You can read Tuft’s Handbook here.

You can read the blog post here.

You can read an article from Christianity Today here.

By dpg96

A New Semester

Welcome to a new semester! As we begin a new year, we have confidence in God’s care for His people and His purposes. Our hope, prayer, expectation is that the gospel will advance on campus this year regardless of impediments that we encounter.

InterVarsity’s three chapters, along with 13 other student religious groups, start this year as non-registered students religious organizations due to the university’s new non-discrimination policy, which forbids religious groups from using religious criteria in student leadership selection. We don’t yet know fully what the year will be like as non-registered groups.  Obviously, for the 1,400 students who participate in these groups, this situation is far short of ideal. In addition to a sense of marginalization, we face practical challenges that we are learning to navigate. For example, the university has agreed to let us reserve space for free (which is a blessing), but to do so we cannot use the university’s name on any of our public communication, which makes it difficult to communicate to new students that we are near and around Vanderbilt.  We are also not allowed at any student organization’s fairs, which makes it harder to meet students and invite them into our community.

If you want to read a recent article summarizing last year, including comments from our Graduate Christian Fellowship staff worker, Tish Harrison, click here.

If you want to read a recent student opinion in Inside Vandy, click here.

As we enter the new year, we covet your prayers more than ever. Below are a few things we invite you to be praying for:

a. That all deregistered religious groups would find ways to meaningfully connect with students. We can no longer use digital signage, university list serves or websites, attend the Student Activities Fair, etc.

b. That God would continue to unify the body of Christ on campus with true unity that preserves real distinctions, truthfulness, and integrity. Toward that end, campus ministries have come together and are planning a weekly prayer service on Thursday mornings. More details to follow.

c. That God would grant wisdom and love to the staff from each of the deregistered groups as we attempt to navigate this new climate.

d.  That the university students and personnel would witness the tangible love of Christ as we relate to them and be curious about the “hope that is within us.”

By dpg96

An Open Letter to Vanderbilt Administrators and the Board of Trust

Vanderbilt administrators recently notified our organizations that our registered status will not be renewed unless we pledge not to use religious criteria when selecting student leaders of our religious organizations. In the name of an “all-comers” policy, fifteen student organizations will no longer be welcome on campus, effectively disenfranchising over 1,400 students or more than one out of 10 students at Vanderbilt.

The Tennessee legislature, 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and other government leaders have clearly condemned Vanderbilt’s policy. Thousands of current students, faculty members, parents of current students, and alumni have voiced concern that this policy besmirches the reputation of Vanderbilt University as a place of reasoned conversation and principled pluralism.

We reiterate our support of a fair and reasonable non-discrimination policy. We agree that all campus groups should be open in membership to all students. We would affirm the university’s nondiscrimination policy if it clearly allowed religious groups to have religious qualifications for student leaders – as is the case at most American universities.

We long for Vanderbilt to be an intellectual community that welcomes principled disagreement and respectful dissent. We desire to preserve our religious identity and organizational integrity precisely so that we can make a distinct contribution to a truly diverse campus conversation. The faith-based leadership requirements Vanderbilt asks us to waive have been developed and preserved for over 2,000 years by our faith communities. We cannot set them aside and remain true to our identity.

We respectfully urge the Vanderbilt administration to adopt a policy that not only clearly advances our shared commitment to non-discrimination but also adequately preserves the religious liberty and the creedal integrity of faith-based student groups.


Asian American Christian Fellowship

Baptist Campus Ministry

Bridges International

Christian Legal Society


Every Nation Campus Ministry

Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Graduate Christian Fellowship

Lutheran Student Fellowship

Medical Christian Fellowship

Midnight Worship


By dpg96

Rejected Religious Student Groups Invite Vanderbilt into Constructive Conversation

Monday, May 21, 2012

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Nashville, Tenn.—In the last month, Vanderbilt University has rejected a Christian student organization for requiring that its leaders have “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” The university also informed thirteen other student religious groups that it will not review their applications for recognition as registered student organizations, unless they pledge not to use religious criteria when selecting student leaders.

“In the pursuit of its “all-comers policy”, Vanderbilt has withdrawn its welcome mat from 15 student organizations including Vandy+Catholic, Baptist Campus Ministry, and InterVarsity, “ said Pieter Valk, a student with Navigators at Vanderbilt. “Those groups serve over 1,400 students, more than one out of 10 students at Vanderbilt. It’s ironic: even as Vanderbilt pursues a policy to affirm campus diversity, it’s acted to eliminate a large and vibrant community on campus.”

On May 21, student religious groups issued an open letter to the Vanderbilt administration and Board of Trust, urging the university to develop a policy which values both diversity and religious liberty. Signed by 12 of the groups rejected by Vanderbilt, the letter states, “We reiterate our support of a fair and reasonable non-discrimination policy. We agree that all campus groups should be open in membership to all students. We would affirm the university’s nondiscrimination policy if it clearly allowed religious groups to have religious qualifications for student leaders – as is the case at most American universities.”

“Students have repeatedly and respectfully expressed our concerns to the administration for nearly a year now. Not only has the Vanderbilt administration ignored us, but they have also shown blatant disregard for similar appeals made by the Tennessee legislature and 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The administration has actively pursued a policy which they know would force our student organizations off campus,” said graduate student Ty McCleery. “We’re asking the Vanderbilt administration to reconsider their position. We simply request a policy which affirms both non-discrimination and the creedal integrity of faith-based student groups.”

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical organization whose groups at Vanderbilt have lost their registered status, stated on its blog, “We want to stay true to the creedal tradition we have inherited, which is why we ask our students to affirm this creed. It protects the religious identity and particularity of our group. Whether the university means to or not, taking away this ability will slowly lead to a washing out and watering down of our basic faith.”

“We are deeply saddened that Vanderbilt has chosen a course which penalizes religious organizations that require leaders to share their beliefs,” said Tish Warren, a campus minister with Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. “We love Vanderbilt, and we want it to remain a place where student religious groups who take their beliefs seriously are welcomed. We’re convinced that Vanderbilt will be a stronger, more diverse community with a more robust intellectual conversation if it allows the whole gamut of religious and non-religious students represented in the student body to choose to form communities around their beliefs.”

For more information, see: www.intervarsityatvanderbilt.org/faq

By dpg96

Discrimination Versus Invidious Discrimination

Note: The Vanderbilt Administration is disallowing registered status to religious groups who discriminate on the basis of religious belief. Readers may find it helpful to read our FAQ to better understand the context for this post.

The term “discrimination” as it is commonly used has become a type of “scarlet letter” for our day. Vanderbilt’s expanded non-discrimination policy implies that religious groups who choose their student leaders based on religious criteria are practicing invidious or immoral discrimination. However, the administration has offered scant moral argument as to why using religious criteria to select leaders of a religious group is, in fact, a morally repugnant type of discrimination.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “discrimination” as “recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.” By this definition, to discriminate is simply to make distinctions, a necessary and important aspect of daily life. The question we need to ask at Vanderbilt is “What kinds of discrimination constitute invidious or morally evil discrimination, and what kinds of discrimination do not?”

First, some discrimination is based on a realistic understanding of differences. Certainly, distinctions based in prejudice are invidious, but naming genuine differences is rational and honest discrimination. In the mid-nineties, a dear friend of our ministry was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease and became legally blind. When her driver’s license expired, she went to the DMV, where she informed the employees that she was legally blind and just wanted an updated ID. She was told, “We cannot test your eye-sight once you have a license because that is discrimination.”

Is not the whole purpose of licensing to discriminate against those who should and should not be driving? It is not invidious discrimination to say that our friend cannot safely drive. It is making a truthful distinction.  In the same way, claiming that someone who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus lacks the ability to lead a Christian prayer service with prayers “in the name of Jesus” or that a Christian cannot honestly profess the Muslim Shahada is not invidious discrimination.

Secondly, there is a difference between discrimination based on traits we are able to change versus those we cannot. There are strong moral arguments against discrimination based on race and sex, in part because these are relatively fixed identities. However, religious belief, unlike ethnicity, involves our will and is malleable.  While we do not control biological traits, we do have a say in our religious identity and practices. Consequently, every major Christian denomination in the world practices some form of discrimination, making “distinctions” when selecting elders, vestry members, deacons, or lay leaders. Implying that creedal discrimination in leadership selection is morally on par with racial discrimination insults ethnic minorities and belittles the civil rights movement.

The university has castigated religious groups with the epithet of “discrimination” without ever explaining how the common and historic practice of using religious criteria to select leaders for a religious organization constitutes invidious discrimination. In so doing they have removed protection for religious beliefs and practices from their policies (you can read more about that here) while claiming the moral high ground of resisting “discrimination.”

Our religious beliefs themselves compel us to condemn invidious discrimination in the strongest terms possible, but we fail to see how asking the leaders of a Christian organization to share the beliefs of the organization constitutes invidious discrimination. If the act of making choices based on religious criteria is considered morally repugnant by the administration, then it is the nature of religious belief and practice itself that they find offensive.  If this is their true position, then we ask them to admit this and explain why. Perhaps then we can truly begin an honest dialogue together.

Vanderbilt’s Misstatement about Open Nominations

In a recent interview with Channel 5 news in Nashville, Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt’s Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, argues that the policy under debate at Vanderbilt is not about religious freedom. Instead, she says it is about non-discrimination of any kind. She asserts that Vanderbilt’s new non-discrimination policy simply requires religious organizations to allow any student to run or be nominated for a leadership position, which she says does not infringe on the religious liberty of student organizations.

We have never taken issue with the university’s intent for their policy: eliminating discrimination on campus is an important, worthy endeavor. However, Fortune’s argument ignores the central objection raised by campus religious organizations: the policy has the effect, intended or not, of diminishing religious liberty on campus by placing significant constraints on the criteria groups can use to select leaders. If harming religious liberty is the result of the policy, it does not matter whether Vanderbilt intends to diminish religious liberty. Vanderbilt can unintentionally discriminate against religious groups by intentionally acting to remove discrimination on campus. To use an analogy, if citizens of a town object to the pollution produced by a paper manufacturing plant, it is not a sufficient answer to their objection if the plant owner simply claims over and over that his purpose is producing paper, not pollution.

Additionally, in the interview, Fortune states, “We’re not dictating at all who the leader should be, we’re just simply saying that everybody in good standing in that organization should have the ability to offer himself or herself for a leadership position.” If Fortune’s statement were true, then Graduate Christian Fellowship’s 2011 constitution would not have been rejected by Vanderbilt for non-compliance with its new policy. All Intervarsity groups at Vanderbilt have open nominations for officers. Graduate Christian Fellowship, Medical Christian Fellowship, Asian American Christian Fellowship, and many other student religious organizations being forced off campus by this policy would have no problem complying with the non-discrimination policy if all that were required of us was an open nomination process.

It is extremely important to distinguish between the ability to offer oneself for a leadership position and eligibility or qualification for that position. When our constitutions were rejected in May 2011, it was not because we prohibited students from being nominated for leadership (we did not prohibit this). It was because we had faith-based qualifications for leadership.

Furthermore, the university’s insistence that democratic process will remove any concerns stemming from the policy ignores the reality that Vanderbilt is deciding the criteria for who is eligible or qualified to serve in leadership of religious groups. As we wrote in our FAQ for this blog: “Even if we elect leaders, we want to be able to use doctrinal commitment as a criteria in that election process and to ensure that those leaders hold to our creed throughout the tenure of their leadership in our groups.” Fortune’s statement is misleading: Vanderbilt is not only requiring that we allow all students to be nominated but also that we change our standards for who is qualified to serve as a leader. This is our point of contention, for we are not willing to give up our ability to name our own creedal qualifications for leadership in our religious organization, an ability that is essential to preserving the religious identity, integrity, and message of our communities.

Students Seek to be Heard by Board of Trust

Watch the video below to hear concerns of students, faculty, and alumni about the expanded non-discrimination policy.

Below the video is a list of events students have organized this week. This is a truly student led movement! We have watched with wonder and gratitude as a powerful grass-roots student movement has grown up here at Vanderbilt. We’ve been consistently impressed with the passion, integrity, initiative, respect, humility, thoughtfulness, and unity that these Christian students at Vanderbilt have demonstrated.If you live in Nashville, tonight (Wednesday) at 9:30, there is an on-campus service to which you are invited.

Please be praying for all the events listed and for the Board of Trust meeting, which takes place this week. Please also be in prayer for the student spokespeople and organizational leaders who are organizing these events, fielding questions  from the media, and facing increased public scrutiny (all of this while taking finals) and for all students who are participating in these events.  Also, be in prayer for us as campus ministers. All of us, students, faculty, and campus ministers, have had a wearying, trying year. In this busy and important week, we need the guidance, wisdom, unity and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We want to see God glorified and would invite you to pray with us toward that end!

1. Today, students  are distributing 4,000 MP4 players to students, faculty, and staff from 10 locations on Vanderbilt’s campus. These Mp4 players feature a seven-minute video presenting the response of Vanderbilt students, faculty, staff, and alumni to the administration’s expanded non-discrimination policy.

2. Tonight (Wednesday) at 9:30 pm, students, faculty, alumni and concerned friends will be gathering for a prayer service at the Student Life Center Courtyard to worship and pray that God would bless Administrators and the Board of Trust with wisdom as well as to pray that God would prepare the hearts of those in the faith community to respond in a way that reflects Christ, no matter what the outcome.

3. Thursday, students have invited board members to a barbecue lunch in the Student Life Center Courtyard. Please pray that some board members would attend and that good conversations might be had between students and board members.


***If you would like to show your support***

Please change your profile picture and banner back to the white cross and #wearevanderbilttoo, and please post about this week’s events and the issues surrounding them using #wearevanderbilttoo.

WEAR White
Whether you are at Sanctuary @ Vanderbilt, Lunch w/ Board of Trust, or going to class, please wear white starting Wednesday. To the public, it signifies that you are concerned about the decisions being made at this week’s Board of Trust meeting, and to other believers, it signifies that you are praying for them and the entire Body of Christ at Vanderbilt for strength and revival!

Update and Clarification on Application for Registration

Yesterday, Graduate Christian Fellowship submitted an application for renewal of registration. Our turning in an application for registration along with other student groups who have walked with us through this year has been called a “protest” move and, unfortunately, could be interpreted as an attempt by us to manipulate the university.  However, at least for the groups we represent, that isn’t the spirit with which we have submitted our application for 2012-2013 registered student organization status. After being on provisional status for a year, we submitted the best constitution we could, seeking to reflect the desire of the university that all students be allowed to be considered for student leader roles, while also maintaining our integrity as an organization. We intentionally invited further dialogue and relationship with the university. Our constitution retains faith-based requirements for leadership because we are a Christian organization. However, our cover letter to the university and our constitution were written from a posture of trying to live out who we authentically are (hopefully lovingly) and not primarily as a power move or protest. We wish the emerging conversation around groups’ decisions to resubmit their constitutions better reflected this distinction.

We included this cover letter with our application to register:

Dear Vanderbilt Office of Student Life,

Graduate Christian Fellowship appreciates your work on campus, and we want to continue the good relationship that we have enjoyed with Vanderbilt for decades. We have worked to be responsive to the direction and guidance of administrators in revising our constitution this year. As a good faith effort to work with the university, we would like to submit this new constitution and receive feedback on whether it is suitable or, if not, on what specific wording or phrasing causes concern.  However, we cannot in good conscience sign the current Officer and Adviser Affirmation Form as we currently understand it to be interpreted.  As a religious group whose very purpose is to proclaim Christ’s redemption of every area of human life, we will continue to select key leaders who share our beliefs and mission.  We would therefore be dishonest in affirming that we will comply with the new interpretation of the current non-discrimination policy.

 As part of our ongoing commitment to clear and open dialogue with the university, we respectfully submit an example of an addendum to the Officer and Adviser Affirmation Form that makes it a document we can sign and commit to.  We hope this will make it clear that we support Vanderbilt’s dedication to the principles of non-discrimination.  GCF fully supports these principles and affirms the value of every person as a unique bearer of the image of God regardless of race, gender or gender identity, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation and therefore affirms that every student is worthy of protection, dignity, respect, and inclusion as a voice in our community.  Nevertheless, we are unable to sign the Officer and Advisor Affirmation Form without the modifications we suggest, or similar changes that reflect the integral role of shared faith and mission in religious identity.

 As our letter states, we could not in good conscience sign the Officer/Adviser affirmation form honestly, so we also included the Officer and Adviser form with this qualification as an example of what we could sign:

*Qualification:Because in TitleVII Congress made clear that it is not discrimination for a religious organization to require its leaders to agree with its religious beliefs, a view which the Supreme Court has twice affirmed, in 2012 in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in 1987 in Presiding Bishop v. Amos, this religious organization will continue to require, among its other stated criteria for leadership, that its leaders affirm agreement with the organization’s doctrinal statement and commitment to the organization’s stated purpose,as it has done for many years as a recognized Vanderbilt student organization.