Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Briefing For Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roadblocks As Opportunities

I rarely talk about matters of faith here, preferring to stay focused on more tangible preparedness efforts.  Yet having a strong faith is a key tool for your mental bug out bag.  While I profess to be a follower of Christ, I realize every one of us must make a decision as to what faith, if any, resonates with us.

This is going to be a rather long post.  And I promise it does have a preparedness nexus at the end.  Please bear with me.

I did my undergraduate work at Vanderbilt (BS, Public Policy Studies, A&S 92).  Given the University's ostensible commitment to academic freedom and intellectualism, I was rather surprised at the school's recent change to its religious freedom policy.  Claiming it was doing so to be in compliance with Federal law, the University has

repeatedly stated that a religious group may not: 1) require a leader, after he or she is elected, to affirm agreement with the group’s religious beliefs; 2) expect a leader to lead Bible studies, prayer, and worship at the group’s meetings; or 3) ask a leader to step down if the leader no longer agrees with the group’s religious beliefs. 

Citation here.  And if you want to see a copy of the actual email from the University to the Christian Legal Society confirming this is the University's position, click here.

This video explains it well:

Think about that for a moment.  You're a Muslim and want to join the Muslim Students Association (I don't know if such an organization exists, but I have to think something akin to it does.)  You and your fellow members want get together regularly, read the Quran, discuss issues in an Islamic context, and pray.  And if you were to join such an organization at Vanderbilt, your group cannot prohibit Christians or Jews or atheists from joining the organization and becoming leaders of it.  Nor can your organization expect its leaders to lead Quran readings, worship or prayer during its meetings. 

Note the religious organizations were not trying to keep people who may not embrace the stated views of the organization from participating.  In fact, they welcome new members for obvious reasons.  These student groups simply wanted to elect organization leaders that espoused the stated beliefs of the organization and who would serve by leading worship services and scriptural reading.

The University's efforts to end all discrimination on campus oddly ends where the fraternity and sorority houses are located.  The University continues to allow these organizations to deny membership based on gender.  Nor do Greek organizations have to comply with the "take all comers" policy that religious groups on campus do, meaning fraternities and sororities can continue to admit whomever they wish. (For the record, I did not seek to join a fraternity while at Vanderbilt.  Or a sorority, for that matter.)

Even the left-leaning University of Texas permits faith-based organizations to restrict leadership positions to those who subscribe to the organization's statement of faith.  Many other universities have adopted this same approach, concluding it's reasonable for religious organizations to insist its leadership teams accept the central tenets of the organization.

Some will no doubt say "What's the big deal?  The members of a religious organization do not have to elect a non-believer into a leadership position if they don't want to.  And if the non-believer won't lead worship at meetings, they can find someone else to do it.  This new policy isn't really an issue."

The truth is that this is a big deal. 

Colleges and universities are supposed to provide opportunities for intellectual exploration.  During my time at Vanderbilt in the late 80s and early 90s, the terms "diversity" and "inclusion" were essentially a faith of their own, espoused by the University, preached by various student organizations, and often the source of much discord among the students, faculty and administration.  I never had a problem with the notion that we should be respectful of everyone else, but it became clear to me - and to many others - that diversity and inclusion at Vanderbilt often meant belittling people of the Christian faith and minimizing the value of their beliefs.

Protecting the ability of any student organization to require its leadership to adhere to a set of fundamental beliefs - be they religious, societal, or even common goals - is inherently necessary to give an organization meaning and purpose.  The organization formerly known as Vanderbilt+ Catholic, in announcing it would not seek recognition as a student organization for the 2012-2013 academic year, put it best:

We are a faith-based organization. A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization. We cannot sign the affirmation form because to do so would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are as an organization.
Precisely.  The argument that the University's restrictions are not unduly burdensome because

  1. members of faith based organizations don't have to elect leaders who fail to adhere to the organization's stated beliefs, or
  2. members can seek someone other than the officers to lead worship
ignore the reality of what constitutes a faith-based organization - a group of people coming together to explore their common ideas and beliefs, led by those who necessarily espouse the same.

Okay - so you want the preparedness nexus of all of this? 

When I was a sophomore, John Murphy was a senior and president of the Student Government Association.  Service in SGA is often a thankless task, as I found out during my senior year during my term in the SGA Senate.  John is now the headmaster of a parochial school in Potomac, Maryland.  He wrote a provocative piece in the Wall Street Journal a year ago on Vanderbilt's change in its religious freedom policy.  What stuck with me was this revelation:

A similar blessing took place this spring at Vanderbilt. Student leaders of the 13 religious organizations opposing the school's policy began meeting at least twice a month to pray together. As World on Campus reported, "Even if they don't succeed in persuading administrators to rescind the policy, [one student leader said he] believes they've already won the spiritual battle and learned the lesson God was trying to teach."

Students affected by the University's new policy elected not to retreat but to adapt and overcome.  And that is the lesson for us that we can take from a bunch of college kids just trying to worship and explore their faith.  Roadblocks and challenges will come up in our efforts to be more resilient.  Unforeseen events will hamper our plans.  These are not just obstacles to be conquered.  These are opportunities for us to shine - demonstrating to others that individuals really can take care of themselves during a crisis. 

Let's learn from these students at Vanderbilt who refuse to be deterred by a policy that singles out religious organizations.  Keep doing what you believe you are called to do.  Keep doing what you think is right.  Stay in faith.  And above all else, when obstacles come up in your journey, remember that's not the time to quit.

Anchor Down.

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