After a year-long battle, campus ministry no longer official group at a Tennessee university

By June 8, 2012

USA (MNN) — After 12 months of conversations with school administrators, many campus ministries will be leaving Tennessee's Vanderbilt University as official campus groups this fall.

In late 2010, Vanderbilt created an anti-discrimination policy to be followed by its recognized on-campus groups. The essential points of the policy are that every group must be willing to welcome any student into the group as a member and must also allow any student who so desires a shot at leadership within the group.

But many Christian groups on campus had a problem with this. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of them.

Greg Jao, National Field Director for the Northeast, explains the dilemma: "We always welcome everybody to be members; in fact, our mission pushes us in that direction. However, at the level of leadership, we think leadership needs to be reserved for people who share the mission, the values and the doctrinal beliefs of our group."

Essentially, says Jao, "We believe Christian students need to lead the Christian ministry."

But the university called that discriminatory. Despite months of conversations with Christians and even some with the secular community, the university held their ground.

The controversial issue recently went to the state.

"The Tennessee state legislature actually passed legislation that would have penalized Vanderbilt for this position," says Jao.

But the turnout was not what InterVarsity might have hoped: "The governors vetoed that. So our response at this point is we do not believe we'll be recognized on campus in the fall."

No one is quite certain yet what a lack of recognition will mean. Jao says the Christian groups who have chosen not to adopt the school's policy will no longer be welcome at activities fairs. They could potentially rent rooms at the school still as any other outside group would do, but nothing is clear.

InterVarsity has said frequently throughout this ordeal that if forced to leave campus officially, the group will still have a presence on campus. They sill plan to, so the staff is spending the summer figuring out how doing ministry from the outside will work.

The controversy has been a significant blow for InterVarsity, but it has opened doors for Christian voices to speak. Students have had opportunities to share their faith. Administrators have voiced their increased respect for dialogue with Christians after working with the InterVarsity staff.

In short, the Gospel is still moving forward.

God's work may have only just begun on Vanderbilt's campus. Jao says just like the first church in Acts had to change tactics in ministry when persecution heated up, InterVarsity will need to readjust. But as people pray, the Good News will go forward despite obstacles.

Now the question remains: is the policy at Vanderbilt setting a precedent?

"In the past two years, InterVarsity's presence on campus has been challenged in 41 colleges and universities. We think the pace of challenge will increase over time."

Click here to view previous updates and student videos on the Vanderbilt saga.

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