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.