Vanderbilt Baptist Group Changes Course, Refuses Recognition

A Baptist student group that initially filed for registration at Vanderbilt University for the upcoming semester has changed course and has opted instead to refuse recognition due to Vanderbilt's "all-comers" policy.

Baptist Collegiate Ministries of Vanderbilt was originally set to remain a recognized religious student organization. Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, told The Christian Post that the reason for the course reversal was a better understanding of what BCM was agreeing to in working under a policy that requires groups to extend membership and leadership positions to all, including those who do not share the group's beliefs, goals and values.

"Now if it was just we understand the policies of, that would be one thing, but to abide by it means to adopt as your own," said Davis.

"I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't sign it and I felt like the student representation and the faculty adviser that signed it on our behalf probably looked at it as normal standard operating procedure."

Back in April, BCM of Vanderbilt had announced that it would file the paperwork necessary to be a recognized religious student organization on campus. The university had stated that it would enforce a controversial all-comers policy which would require leadership positions to be open to all students, even if the students did not subscribe to the spiritual views of the organization.

Thom Thornton, director of Vanderbilt BCM, explained to Baptist Press that his group had "been assured by the university that we can select leaders committed to the organization's mission."

"I think the expectations from the school are not expectations that we can abide by long-term," said Davis, adding that "it was my coming to a clearer understanding on what this all meant" that made him consider the previous agreement "bothersome."

The overall all-comers policy change has received different responses from the various religious groups at Vanderbilt, with many agreeing to the new terms and others demanding they be overturned. In March, Vanderbilt Catholic, the largest student organization for Roman Catholics, decided to not renew its recognition status with the university.

The controversy eventually reached the state level, as members of the Tennessee legislature introduced a bill that would force Vanderbilt to either exempt religious groups from the all-comers policy, or to expand the policy to include the university's fraternities and sororities, which remain exempted under the policy.

While the bill, HB 2576, passed both Houses of the Tenn. General Assembly, Governor Bill Haslam recently announced that he would veto the bill.

"Although I disagree with Vanderbilt's policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution," said Haslam in a statement.

As to what will happen to BCM without its recognition, Davis told CP that by not being recognized by the university BCM will lose things like "being published in the catalogue as a recognized student organization."

BCM itself has a building on campus, which is owned by the TBC, and even as an unrecognized organization they "can still meet on campus," according to the university.

"We'll just have to make up the difference at having the status," said Davis, noting that more "word of mouth" will have to be used.

"In international missions they call it 'creative access.' We'll have to just get more creative at how we communicate with the student population."

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