College to Student Group: Drop ‘Personal Commitment to Jesus’ from Your Bylaws

The Story: According to the Christian Post, a Christian student group at Vanderbilt University has been told by the school’s administration that it will lose its recognized status on campus unless the group removes its requirement that its leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”

The Background: The Christian Legal Society says that a recent email from the university’s administration stated the Christian group’s application to keep its recognition was deficient because the group’s constitution states the following:

Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability.

In order to retain recognition, the group was told it must eliminate the sentence requiring that leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Vanderbilt has previously claimed that the issue was not about religious freedom. As Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at the university, previously told told the Washington Post “This debate is about nondiscrimination, not religious freedom, and we stand behind our policy.”

Why It Matters: “By mandating the elimination of a Christian group’s standard of ‘personal commitment to Jesus Christ,’ Vanderbilt requires students to abandon their religious integrity and undermines their religious freedoms,” says the Christian Legal Society. “Leadership is crucial to the direction of any organization. Eliminating the requirement of a commitment to Jesus Christ in leaders takes away the group’s ability to effectively fulfill its purpose and continue its ministry.”

  • RN

    And of couse, the ACLU will be right there in the forefront to defend this group, right? Erm, right?

    • Heather E. Carrillo


  • Doc B

    As a college dean myself, all I can say is, the folks running Vanderbilt are lunatics.

    If this was really about discrimination, then what about the other statements in the constitution? Why weren’t they told that it was discrimination to require officers to have a commitment to the organization? And what about leadership skills? Why can they discriminate against those with no leadership skills?

    That ice is so thin, it isn’t even water. It’s sinking sand.

    • Robb

      I’m not commenting on the merits of the decision, but if you read the legal decisions related to this, the justices have ruled that university sponsored clubs can’t have rules requiring their officers to be Christian, Muslim, black, white, male, female, gay, heterosexual, etc. or else they would be discriminatory because religion, race, and sexual orientation are protected under 1st and 14th amendments. Requiring members to share a common interest is not protected. An example from the recent California Supreme Court decision is it is legal for a club about gay rights to require members to support gay rights but it is illegal to require officers to be gay. Again, not casting judgement, just clarifying the court’s reasoning. You can read it yourself:

      • Doc B


        I have read many of the landmark legal decisions, as it’s part of my job. And contrary to what you say, the courts (excepting the 9th) have not only protected religious organizations in state institutions, but they’ve specifically exempted them from these onerous requirements.

        Neither the 1st nor the 14th amendments protect sexual orientation. You are just making stuff up here.

        Freedom of association (what you call, ‘share a common interest’) is specifically protected. That’s why the Klan is still legal in this country, along with a host of other undesirable groups.

        The problem in the present application is, Vanderbilt is not a public institution. But it receives a tremendous amount of federal dollars. So the requirements of specific constitutional case law are a bit nebulous.

        • Clayton

          Doc B,

          See Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. This type of university ban was upheld at Hastings College of Law in a Supreme Court case a couple years ago.

          Also, just by receiving federal dollars does not mean you are a state actor. While I do not agree with what Vandy is doing here, I believe they are within their power to do this.

  • Seth

    This an attack on a specific group of people. It is not about protecting others from discrimination it is about making it impossible for strong Christian organizations to survive. If they can water down the leadership by forcing students who have no commitment to Christ whatsoever they know that the group will eventually disappear.

    We need to stand up for the Christian students at Vanderbilt and other universities where this is taking place. I suggest we write letters, make phone calls, send emails and faxes to the office of public affairs and let them know how wrong they are. If we bombard them with communication maybe they will get the point. We can’t just sit there and let this happen.

    Mentions the Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs is Beth Fortune we should start there.
    405 Kirkland Hall
    Nashville, TN 37240
    tel (615) 343-1790 fax (615) 322-4642

  • Matt

    While I agree that this is sad and a worrying, tendentious erosion of religious liberty, let’s remember that Christ did not guarantee us free-assembly or a government tolerant of our beliefs and that “recognized status” is not a requirement for this group’s survival. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work in you, that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. He will be glorified in all. Perhaps the students can just assemble regardless and focus their energies on caring for the poor, orphaned, & outcast and extending the love of Christ to their fellow students.

    • A reader

      Matt, I totally agree with your view on this issue.

      The thing that I am still working out in my mind is how we can have this attitude but at the same time advocate. Should we just completely not be involved in changing how we are treated because we ought to count persecution as joy, or should we count it as joy AND do something to stop it?

      I guess where is the balance?

      • Matt

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree there is a balance to be struck. But I think the Christian community too quickly adopts a siege mentality and moves to advocation and pronouncements of “war on religion.” I think the message of Christ might be better served by “turning the other cheek” or “offering our tunic also” first. Should we still advocate for what we believe is right? Absolutely. But I wonder if advancing His Kingdom requires we prioritize issues for the benefit of others, esp the powerless and unbelievers, over righting perceived wrongs against us from authorities. If we spent our zeal this way, perhaps our culture would begin to see us less as battle-hungry culture warriors and more as selfless advocates for the compelling grace, peace, and justice of Christ.

        • Anar

          “I think the message of Christ might be better served by ‘turning the other cheek'”

          If Intervarsity turns the other cheek they can be portrayed as weak; if they stand their group they can be portrayed as hateful. The issue can be spun either way. I think a possible solution is to make better universities, and let places like Vanderbilt fail in this way. This approach harms their image, their fundraising, and their effectiveness as a learning institution. Sure, it make take some generations, but that’s how they could have a downfall.

          • Lori

            The bible does talk about “turning the other cheek” but you have to put all bible verses in context. Also, Jesus got mad during His time on earth. Paul also took a stand when he had to defend his faith, as did Peter. I believe “trying to be nice” is why Christianity is so watered down at this point and why Christians in this country are ashamed of standing up for their faith. In the book of Revelation it talks about the lukewarm church that is spit out. You have to be respectable in what you do and say. Always remember to honor Christ. But taking a stand for Christ is what we are called to do.

  • Jon Price

    While I am grieved by this news and pray that this organization will be able to continue with strong Christian leadership as outlined in their constitution, as Christians we need to be cautious here.

    Vanderbilt is a private university, and can therefore make policies that fit with their core values. I pray they’ll change their mind. But, by saying Christians should do whatever possible to make sure this doesn’t happen is over stating it. Can we graciously call Vanderbilt to change their mind, yes, but going beyond that could make Christians institutions of higher education an easy target. We don’t want people telling private Christian institutions that they have to be inclusive in their hiring habits, or what groups they allow on campus.

    Also, there seems to be some parallel here with the required contraception issue in healthcare reform. Can we as Christians call for private Christian run/owned institutions to be able to make their own decisions according to our beliefs, but then say that a private secular institution that wants to make their own decisions according to their beliefs is being discriminatory?

  • Anar

    Something similar to this has been happening at many universities since CLS v. Martinez, and since them I’ve been thinking that Christians could take leadership roles in any typically non-Christian organization, e.g. Secular, Muslim, pro-abortion, pro same-sex marriage student organizations. Under their leadership being influenced by their Christian perspective, they have a lot to offer in challenge to these types of groups. Typically this kind of leadership would be good for these groups. Should we advocate for this way of “being in the world.”

  • Seth

    Robb, thank you for that helpful clarification.

    Please allow me to clarify, I am not advocating for government interaction or hostile unruly protests or boycotts, because I do understand that Vanderbilt is a private institution. I also do not think an all out “war on religion” needs to be declared. However, with grace and persistence (The woman and the unjust judge) I think it is appropriate for believers to stand up against injustice.

    I think there is a balance to be found and I think it is found in prayer and gracious persistent correspondence asking the university to reconsider. We need to be praying for the believers at Vanderbilt, that the Lord would be gracious to them and bless them in their perseverance. That He would give them strength and hope as they are faced with a seemingly blatant attack from their authorities. We need to be praying for the administration of the university that they would see the truth, and act on it. At the same time I believe it is appropriate for believers to graciously advocate for the believing students at Vanderbilt by letter writing and phone calls on their behalf.

    The Lord may harden the hearts of the the administration even more, but He will do so in his great sovereignty. That does not mean we cannot ask the administration to reconsider their decision. The more people that make that request the more apt they will be to reconsider.

    The myth of equality is that, while we (humans) are all created equal we are not all the same. Think about it, this decision in a lot of ways is just like telling a sorority that they cannot prohibit a guy from pledging. That doesn’t make any sense. The administration says that this bylaw promotes inequality but they are wrong. The bylaw promotes unity within an organization of students with like minds, hearts, and souls. That unity promotes the betterment of those students and hopefully because it is a group of Christians it will end up being for the betterment of the whole student body as well.

    Yes Vanderbilt has the right to make whatever decision they want, but we have the right and an obligation to ask Vanderbilt to reconsider.

    That is how I feel.

  • just some guy

    I’m with Doc B on this one. This is completely illogical from a secular perspective and deeply troubling from a Christian one.

    So logically, a man could sue the school for being denied entrance into a sorority? As a school known for its academics, could someone sue Vanderbilt for being denied admission because they didn’t get high enough grades and SAT scores? How dare they discriminate against those who are not as intelligent.

  • Pastor Kevin

    And yet, there are strong Christian religious groups who have come to the conclusion that this no discrimination policy does not in fact interfere with their mission to seve Christ and others. The Methodist/episcopalian group being one of them. Instead of raising alarm about som war on christianity, invite you to read this response from Christians on campus to this policy and why they will comply.

    • Doc B


      That all sounds wonderful on paper, but there are consequences to ideas. In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. This group of young folks sounds very impressive to me. But how will they respond if they are sanctioned by the university when they don’t elect someone who runs for office who espouses anti-Christian views?

      How well will their group continue to witness on campus if they do elect an atheist (for example) to a leadership position? (Well, I suppose you could argue that atheists also have a faith to share, but I would hope you would agree that the content of one’s faith is meaningful.)

      Time will tell. In a few years, we can take a look at the remaining groups and see what they look like.

    • Jeff Gissing

      My understanding is that Reformed University Fellowship is one of the ministries that will remain on campus under the new policy, but InterVarsity Christian Fellowship will not. See

  • vandy alum

    i am a vanderbilt alum, and i am pretty disgusted by the university’s decision. however, i am hopeful at the same time. i can testify that Christianity has grown on that campus in the last ten years. the Christian groups are fruitful and life-giving to the individual students and to the university community. college kids are humbly coming to Christ through the many Christian groups, and it is really encouraging. groups that weren’t on the radar in 2005 now have hundreds of students attending weekly gatherings. the way that the gospel has been moving at vandy, i am not surprised to hear about this kind of resistance.

    • Seth

      Thanks for sharing that encouraging news. I think it gives us all the more reason to write and call the administration and ask them to reconsider their decision.

      Having Christian groups on campus is a good thing for any campus.

  • ZZ

    Oh please, all these cries of “injustice.” All Vanderbilt is doing is asking these groups to follow the same rules as every other student organization. Perhaps a review of the meaning of the word “injustice” is in order. If you want to be a student organization and receive the privileges of a student organization then you cannot have rules excluding groups of people from leadership roles. The triathlon club does not require that the officers have won a triathlon. The African American Accountants organization can require that officers be accounting majors, but not that they be African American. The Italian Bakers Club can require that officers be interested in baking, but not that they be Italian. The Wiccan Student Club cannot require that the officers be Wiccan. Besides, how pathetic would a Christian student group have to be if the members need to be told whom to vote for?

  • Seth

    ZZ I am sorry but I think you are missing the point. Its about the fact that VU has declared the values of a Christian organization discriminatory when they are in no way discriminatory. to require that the leadership of a Christian organization have a personal commitment to Christ is not discrimination it is common sense. It doesn’t matter whether an atheist would actually be voted into office in a christian organization or not.

    It is not discriminatory to require that any applicant applying for the position of President of Vanderbilt University have at least a bachelor’s degree. Its not discrimination to require them to have at least a masters either, and its not even discrimination to require them to have a PHd. It is simply common sense and it is common sense to require that any applicant or nominee for a leadership position in a Christian student organization be a committed Christian.

    These groups and the students in these groups are being accused of discrimination and fighting for discrimination when all they want is to be able to keep their bylaws the way they are. By the university’s own description of discrimination sororities and fraternities are guilty of discrimination as well but they get a exempted from this new policy. if that is not discrimination directed at the Christian students by Vanderbilt’s administration than requiring Christian faith to lead a Christian organization is not discrimination either.

  • ZZ

    The point is that every student group has to play by the same rules. My church has requirements regarding who may be a leader. My church also provides some support to a campus ministry. That campus group can choose to not be a recognized student organization, but if they want to be a recognized organization then they must be open to anyone who is interested, just like the muslim student group or the gay student union or any of the others. The university is gracious enough to grant status to an organization that is in some ways like a church, but if it wants to be a recognized student organization then it cannot be a church in the usual sense. You make your choice.

    The other point seems to be that many people want to manufacture some phoney controversy about us poor mistreated Christians, when really what they are asking for is special privileges.