Ongoing tension at Vanderbilt University between the administration and religious organizations over the enforcement of the nondiscrimination policy led to a town hall meeting on Tuesday, though some remained unsettled as to whether or not it resolved any issues.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus ministry with over 700 chapters throughout the nation, was one organization that expressed displeasure in the meeting, which drew more than 200 people, causing staff to turn people away, according to Inside Vandy.
"[We are] disappointed that Vanderbilt's administration has not been responsive to the concerns expressed by its students," the ministry said in a statement. "We remain hopeful that a position change is still possible that will allow InterVarsity's Graduate Christian Fellowship and other Christian organizations to require their leaders to be practicing Christians."
"Any organization must have leadership that believes in its goals and purposes in order to remain active and relevant. We believe authentic expressions of Christian faith should be a part of the forum of ideas on the campus of Vanderbilt or any other university."
Controversy ensued when the university asked nearly a dozen organizations to comply with their "all-comers" policy banning discrimination based on "race, sex, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, military service, or genetic information" after a gay student was allegedly forced to resign from a Christian fraternity last year.
Five Christian groups including InterVarsity's Graduate Christian Fellowship and the Christian Legal Society were put on "provisional status" for selecting their leaders based on their religious beliefs and values, a qualification the university said violated their policy.
While the groups argued that the university's nondiscrimination policy infringed on their religious rights and undermined groups built on common interest, the university continued to stand by their policy at the meeting on Tuesday.
"We feel very strong about all-comers," Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics David Williams told the crowd, the Nashville City Paper reported. To him and the other administrators, membership and leadership were "one in the same."
Though many of the Christian groups "welcomed all" members, they chose their leaders based on biblical principles. Opponents of the policy also believed that leadership decisions should be left to each respective organization.
During the three-hour forum, emotions ran high especially after Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers took the floor, speaking on behalf of the Fellowship of Christian athletes.
Rodgers affirmed that the purpose of his organization and many other religious groups like his was to teach faith, making the point that if someone were to lead the group who didn't share the same faith, it undermined the mission of their organization.
Williams and Richard McCarty, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, both responded that it was important to allow any student in good standing to be eligible for leadership and membership positions.
"Simply put, it's a situation where we say, if we're going to offer you admission at this university, we shouldn't be about closing any doors to you," Williams said, according to Inside Vandy. "You should be able to join any organization you want."
McCarty also added that though members could choose not to elect a non-Christian as a leader, all students should still have the opportunity to run for office, which Rodgers, and many others, did not see the point of.
The quarterback and nearly 20 other students in the audience walked out during the meeting when Rodgers was told to give other people an opportunity to speak at the forum.
Many in the audience wore white to express their unity, love for Vanderbilt, and opposition to the policy, contending that religious students should be allowed to make decisions in their respective organizations based on their religious beliefs.
Other misconceptions about the policy were also addressed by the two administrators who hoped to resolve the issues surrounding their decision and "find a way forward" so that all of their registered groups on campus – approximately 380 organizations in total – would be able to comply with the "all-comers" policy and "yet still flourish as groups."
The two vice chancellors also apologized on behalf of the university for all of the miscommunication that resulted.
A deadline has been set for the noncompliant groups, who must sign a statement by April – when campus groups reapply for registered student organization status – affirming their compliance with the school's nondiscrimination policy.
Groups like Restore Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt, backed by Americans United for Freedom, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have expressed their disappointment and opposition to the policy through open letters to the chancellor and radio ads accusing the university of "bullying" established religious groups and "wasting" alumni donations.
InterVarsity is currently asking for prayer that Vanderbilt "will change its position and allow religious organizations to choose leaders who believe in the principles and beliefs of those organizations."