Last week “the Tufts Community Union Judiciary, which is the judicial branch of student government, voted last week to de-recognize” Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The Boston Globe explains the implications: “If the decision were upheld, the TCF would lose its funding from the student government and permission to use the Tufts name, according to members of the student judiciary. They will still be allowed to meet on campus and can still be affiliated with the Chaplaincy.”
Why did the student government take this action? Did TCF publish a magazine with racist material? Perhaps a Christmas carol parody entitled, “O Come, All Ye Black Folk”? That included the line, “O Sing, gospel choirs, We will accept your children, No matter what your grades are, F’s, D’s or G’s”?
No, TCF didn’t do that.
So what did they do? Simply this: they require their leaders to be Christians. As “Greg Bodwin, Vice-Chair of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary” explained, “TCF’s leadership requirement violates the discriminatory clause of the Tufts student constitution and that they are the only group to have such a requirement..Adam Sax, Chair of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary, agreed.” The Tufts Chaplaincy explains that an appeal process may change the outcome for Tufts Christian Fellowship.
Before getting into analysis, let’s make sure we understand the Tufts commitment to diversity properly. From their page on diversity:
Diversity and inclusion are central to the educational mission of Tufts University. We foster excellence in our research, teaching and scholarship and encourage and support engaged and active citizenship that underscores a desire to make the world a better place. To do this we value a learning community—of women and men of different races, ethnicities, religions, geographic origins, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identity and expression, ages, personal characteristics and interests—where differences are understood and respected.
We are committed to ensuring that all members of our community-students, faculty, and staff-are able to make their full contribution to an increasingly diverse United States and an increasingly interconnected world. It is essential that we build a diverse community at Tufts so that we all have the opportunity to learn from each other. To this end, we cultivate an environment where understanding of the citizens and cultures of the world is paramount and at the center of our ongoing commitment to academic excellence, diversity and global awareness.
To summarize the facts:
- Tufts Christian Fellowship requires its leaders to be Christians.
- The Tufts Judiciary Committee found this to be “discriminatory.”
- Tufts considers diversity to be “central” and “essential” to its mission. They want to be sure that “differences are understood and respected.”
- An appeals process is ongoing.
As it stands, this bizarre situation is a perfect example of secular blindness to religious identity and values.To give two concrete examples:
- Greg Bodwin was a founding member of Tufts Delta Tau Delta, a men-only fraternity that does not allow women to be members.
- Adam Sax explained his support for National Coming Out Day in a genuinely nice way: “We don’t all have the same experience, and that’s what makes this community diverse and wonderful.”
That is, both Greg and Adam, respectively, have contributed to the diversity of Tufts through the founding of a fraternity and the support for National Coming Out Day. And as leaders of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary, they are surely very intentionally concerned with encouraging diversity at Tufts. But when it comes to Christianity, it appears that they are… well, it is hard to know how to explain such a misguided decision.
Somehow, they just don’t understand that a commitment to diversity includes a commitment to religious diversity, and that religious diversity involves taking the time and effort to understand and respect how religious adherents understand their unique identity and practice. In other words, “we don’t all have the same experience, and that’s what makes this community diverse and wonderful.”
In what is clearly a hostile environment for Christians, is it any wonder that Tufts Christian Fellowship wants to clarify the beliefs that make it a distinctive group?
This is all the more important to the student leaders of TCF because Christianity is a religious tradition in which belief is central.
As Wikipedia explains: “The central tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ).” As it is belief in (or faith in) Christ that brings salvation, Christians rightly prioritize the importance of coming to know the truth about Jesus.
For instance, the boundary markers of the Christian faith have often been creeds – statements of belief. In Christianity, God is said to speak and – Creation occurs, revelation is given. The Bible itself is a collection of revealed statements from God which Christians believe to be true.
Christian worship often centers around liturgy – reciting core beliefs together, a sermon – a verbal explanation about what Christians believe and how they should live, and musical worship – which involves using lyrics (shared beliefs) to encounter and honor God.
Are there other core practices in Christianity? Certainly. Do some Christian denominations downplay belief in favor of practice? Yes. But this diversity in no way detracts from the fact that for many if not most Christians, belief is central and constitutive of their religious identity and values. To not allow Christians their beliefs is to deny the validity of their religious identity.
Furthermore, Tufts hasn’t cracked down on two other groups for their ‘discriminatory practices’: the Tufts Muslim Student Association and Tufts Chabad House.
For instance, the Muslim Student Association’s Constitution explains that the imam, “Shall be the religious authority of all matters of dispute.” Chabad House allows for its officers to be impeached if they “display conduct that is clearly detrimental to the organization or its purpose.” And its purpose clause states that “Chabad will function entirely within the framework of authentic Halacha (Jewish code of law).”
In other words, both of these groups have powerful mechanisms for ensuring that student leaders conform to their distinctive religious practices. Whether it is the imam setting the rules or threatening impeachment for officers who step out of line, these religious groups have set distinctive boundary markers to ensure their integrity and vitality within the Tufts community. Their boundary markers certainly make sense.
The bottom line: Tufts claims to love diversity. But their student leaders seem to have a narrow, myopic understanding of religion. In particular, they don’t seem to understand Christianity very well.
So my hope is that TCF will be reinstated at Tufts. This will help Tufts students understand that a commitment to true diversity absolutely – absolutely – requires strong support for groups with distinctive identities and values.
And in the case of Christianity, it means acknowledging and accepting that certain beliefs are rightly central to the religious identity of Tufts Christian Fellowship.
It is clear that Tufts University has a lot of work to do if its students are to graduate with even a basic understanding of the Christian worldview. According to the Pew Forum, that’s about two billion people, or a third of the world’s population, that they don’t understand very well. My hope is that Greg and Alex, in addition to the Tufts administration, will figure this problem out and start to educate their peers about true diversity at Tufts.
Update December 7, 2012: Tufts comes to a common-sense resolution by… allowing religious groups to have religious qualifications for their leaders. The Boston Globe has the article.