Prayerful consideration & Discussion: Vanderbilt Town Mtg.

Yesterday afternoon/evening I took the 3+ hours necessary to watch the Youtube video of the Vanderbilt Town Meeting (1/31/2012)*. I cried, laughed, yelled, verbally processed, emailed, posted on G+, tried to explain some of the material to one of my daughters, called out to the Lord for discernment for those called to be part of the Vanderbilt community & others called to be on campuses across our nation.

Honestly I’m still churning over the material and not prepared to write a response. But this is a blog and we’re part of an on-line learning community of followers of Christ seeking to find our way in higher education. Right?

As such I’ll share a few thoughts before I have to head to class (timer ticking). I hope a few of you ‘take a bite’ and provide responses/material to sharpen my thoughts. I’ll ‘check back in’ after class and the celebration my twin girls birthday 🙂

  1. Vanderbilt University personifies a campus which has chosen its own way, bringing to mind George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University:  From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief and my current studies of the book of Judges (OT532 Historical and Poetic Books. Professor David A. Dorsey, Evangelical, Myerstown, PA). For Vanderbilt’s’ description of “their story,” click here.
  2. As Carol Swain, Vanderbilt University law professor, writes,
    • “What would you think of a Town Hall meeting held in a room too small to accommodate the town, ground rules that don’t allow the opposition 5-10 minutes to present their side, and lastly rigid control over who had access to the microphones?  Welcome to deliberative democracy at Vanderbilt University” (Religious Freedom and the Vanderbilt Town Hall Meeting 1/31/2012).
    • Question: If Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos desired to directly engage with the conversation, but had a prior commitment, why wasn’t a different date chosen for the town meeting?
  3. Student after student shared with amazing boldness and persistence. A few highlights:
    • 1:27:28 A Roman Catholic student declared her embracing of the authority of the Church. This was as part of a challenge to Provost Richard McCarty who distinguished his Roman Catholic faith from his vocation. She pointed out how faith is not a hobby like juggling, making such ‘clubs’ different. In addition, if I remember correctly, she declared not supporting pro-life (the position of the provost) as heretical (Note: I’ll check that in a second run through). She underscored that diversity comes from the variety of organizations which act with integrity to their purpose. The administrator called for a “leap of faith” and offered off-campus Roman Catholic ministries. Note: Earlier in the meeting he had called out the on-campus Roman Catholic group (which he’s been connected with in some manner for years) as non-compliant, but not being accused of noncompliance at present due to it’s constitution/by-laws being incomplete regarding the leadership election/selection process.
    • 1:42:18 A law school alumnus pointed out, that whether or not the administrators were willing to acknowledge it, they were sharing and applying their beliefs throughout the dialogue.
    • 1:55:55 Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, part of FCA, took the field. He ended up going head to head with the legal council. He was a little out of his element, but he pressed on . . . way to go . . . even continued without the microphone. When there was no more opportunity to continue conversation, he left with a crowd. Quite a public statement.
    • 2:36:12 Wait to hear the first year student providing an excellent response to the administrator comment regarding ‘most qualified’ for the leading of a campus Bible study (i.e., A.J. Levine, PhD. A self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” AND the direction of taking a Christian Bible study in a Christian ministry seeking to follow Christ.
  4. Is this an ‘all comers policy’ or a ‘non-discrimination policy,’ e.g, Fox and Friends Video: Swain and Saio (2/1/2012)

Additional resources:

  1. Town hall brings concerns, misconceptions out into the open (Campus newspaper Town Hall Meeting report. 2/1/2012)
  2. Vanderbilt administrators defend nondiscrimination policy to packed town hall (Pierce Greenberg. The Nashville City Paper. 1/31/2012)
  3. Vanderbilt defends nondiscrimination policy for student groups: At forum, critics say ban restricts freedom (Bob Smietana. Tennessean. 2/1/2012)
  4. InterVarsity’s response and a number of other pieces, visit Campus Access Concerns. Note: InterVarsity’s been working against racial discrimination since the 40’s: Core Commitment #10: Ethnic Reconciliation and Justice (President’s Page. Alec Hill. 6/24/2003).
  5. Vanderbilt University’s Assault on Religious Liberty (David French. National Review. 2/2/2012)
  6. Fox News coverage includes:
    1. Why is Vanderbilt turning hostile to religion on its campus? (Todd Starnes. 2/1/2012)
    2. Vanderbilt flirting with religious suppression? (Video. 2/1/2012)
    3. University Defends Crackdown on Religious Groups (Todd Starnes. 2/1/2012)

Looking forward to reading your ‘first’ thought/responses. I wish I had the multidimensionality to have multiple conversations on a variety of topics, but I must head to class AND I will stay off the blog.

*Note: The original full video to which I had linked is no longer available. I have replaced original video with a piece comprised of excerpts [Update: 6/10/2014].

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Joel Hughes commented on February 3, 2012 Reply

    Disclaimer! My views are mine alone and probably don’t reflect those of ICVF or the Emerging Scholar Network.

    First read 1 Peter 4—noting especially verse 12 “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” In Peter’s day, this was not metaphorical. Nero was lighting Christians on fire to illuminate his garden parties. Christians have been martyred (e.g., fed to animals), persecuted (e.g., outlawed, detained, arrested) and otherwise harassed since Jesus’ time. This is not new or surprising or harmful to the gospel. It’s only “shocking” in America.

    The persecution should evoke a strong contrast between Christians and pagans. When viewed against the backdrop of the love of the body of Christ, people should see that the pagans are bloodthirsty tyrants whereas the Christians are loving and possessing of a supernatural peace of mind. So on the one hand, we must conduct ourselves carefully (i.e., gentle, non-violent, loving) and on the other hand we can be forceful. That is, we can protest, get arrested, etc. and the shameful scene of Christians being hauled off to the metaphorical arena should again contrast the institutions abusive oppression of Christianity and our harmless peaceful ways.

    Furthermore, it’s going to get worse. To quote the Vandy paper:
    “Most of the controversy surrounding Vanderbilt’s policy implementation is about the provision that prohibits student organizations from requiring certain religious beliefs of their leaders. The issue at hand here is that the University helps fund these groups, so despite the beliefs they represent, such groups are still subject to institutional rules.” Jordan Clark

    That is, cozying up to the institutions of the world invites problems. Recall that Jesus called Satan the “god of this world.” If you take the devil’s money, don’t be surprised when the institutions exert their power over you. Don’t get me wrong–I might take the money till they stop handing it out, but I wouldn’t be surprised when they use that to oppress my group.

    Why not go underground? (Here is where I break with IVCF thinking.) You can’t kill Christianity in China, because the 100+ million Christians are living out their illegal faith in house churches. To whatever extent possible, Christian groups on campus may want to continue meeting and functioning even when institutional recognition is lost. It’s very hard to stop people from freely assembling to practice their faith however they want.

    Joe Whitchurch commented on February 5, 2012 Reply

    To J.H. I’m inclined to follow all you say above. I’m not aware of divergence from IVCF herein. The issue with ‘very hard to stop people from freely assembling to practice their faith however they want’ is that good indigenous works ‘want’ to do so in their context/world e.g. on campus. I heard a prof at Purdue present a paper on losing faith in the market but finding it at McDonald’s concerning the PRC. This may link to it.

    Use of rooms for student cost (e.g. free) versus confiscatory weekly rentals, use of AV equipment without more fees weekly for full time students, no access to rooms large enough for worship teams or groups larger than 12 in a conference room. Sure, it CAN be done, but ‘hard to stop’ and ‘however they (reasonably and fairly as with other student groups) want’ is another question.

    They might as per my linked article get better size, treatment, wireless, etc at McDonalds. Just like in the PRC. They just have to prepare to be mobile and not put down tent pegs very deep as they tabernacle. Is this what it is coming? I have had to do campus ministry under such conditions. Hard to advertise. Hard to feel legit. Easy to assume the worst of impressions and perpetually answering ‘Why were you refused?” Very tricky stuff, not having religious liberty.

    Thanks for the post and great links, Tom.

    Joel Hughes commented on February 6, 2012 Reply

    to JW: I just want to be very respectful. IVCF’s vision at says “We are called to be a redeeming influence among its people, ideas and structures” and goes on to elaborate using the metaphors of Christ against the university, Christ in the university, and Christ transforming the university. Whereas IVCF endorses the third approach, I fall more in the “Christ against the university” camp, and want to be clear that one implication of my “go underground” advice is that redeeming the structures of the university become much more difficult when you are not an official part of the structures. But, we’re all on the same team. Thanks for the article link!

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