Tish Warren Harrison, my counterpart at Vanderbilt University has written a fantastic and irenic column in the Vanderbilt University newspaper on the recent challenge to religious diversity at the school. Vanderbilt has recently adopted a new religious life policy that prevents groups on campus from requiring their members or leaders to adhere to any particular system of beliefs. This new policy obviously presents a host of problems for religious groups on campus as most campus religious groups feel that it is important (to say the least!) that the group’s leaders–if not their members–actually adhere to the religion with which the group is identified.
Under this new policy the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship at Vanderbilt has had their affiliation at the university revoked and have been placed under “provisional status,” which means that for the time being they can operate as usual, but that their future relationship with the university (whether they will be allowed to meet or advertise on campus, etc.) is very much up in the air. But InterVarsity is not alone on this score, nor is this policy problematic for Christian campus ministries alone. In fact, as I understand it, all the religious life campus ministers across all religions are unified in standing against the new policy.
In her column Tish articulates a vision of authentic diversity in the university, a vision quite different from that which is presently driving policy at Vanderbilt:
Our social responsibility in a diverse university is to protect and preserve ideas, not only one’s own ideas or popular ideas, but all ideas that are peacefully and thoughtfully expressed. I’ve seen this lived out beautifully these past months as students and campus chaplains, despite real differences in belief and practice, have met, dialogued and sought together to preserve liberty on campus for all student groups. This is the promise of pluralism — that communities can have opposing ideologies, yet not silence one another, but instead learn to live as neighbors and, more radically, as friends.
You can check out the rest of Tish’s article here and please pray that our universities would be places where differences can be articulated and lived out authentically, openly, intelligently, and civilly.