Vanderbilt…And Then They Came for Me.
Martin Niemoller is a pretty cool guy. He’s dead but we aren’t really cool until our coolness outlives us – and his does. He captained a German submarine in World War I and earned the Iron Cross, first degree, Germany’s highest military honor. After the war, he became a Lutheran pastor and initially supported the young upstart, Adolf Hitler, in his rise to power. As Hitler did not take long to begin to show his true colors, Niemoller became more and more outspoken in his criticisms and, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others, helped to found the Confessing Church. He spent 1938-45 in Dachau and other concentration camps. He also wrote about why he did what he did and maybe the most penetrating thing he wrote goes like this.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out.
The ousting of many Christian groups from Vanderbilt University has rightfully made national headlines and brought national attention to something that will continue to rear its ugly head depending on how things settle at Vanderbilt. Everyone has chipped in including Christianity Today, the Wall Street Journal, National Review and USA Today (here and here). The groups, known as Vanderbilt Solidarity, include Asian American Christian Fellowship, Beta Upsilon Chi, Bridges International, Christian Legal Society, Cru (Campus Crusade), Every Nation Ministries, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Medical Christian Fellowship and the Navigators. Baptist Collegiate Ministries later joined the group.
As the USA articles point out, this charge of discrimination against Christian groups based on the idea that membership and, especially leadership, must be open to all sounds broad-minded and tolerant. But nothing is as intolerant (or as self-righteous) as the public notion of tolerance. This especially pushes the hot button with college administrators when it comes with some kind of anti homosexual wrapper on it. But this falls apart on three counts. First, for many groups, their values and beliefs form the basis of their existence. Leaders must share the beliefs of the group. One can imagine the howls if an anti-Semite pressed for leadership in Chabad (Jewish campus ministry currently in compliance with the new regulations) or if an evangelical student tried to crack the leadership pf the fledgling atheist groups popping up on campuses. Second, both membership and leadership for all sexual orientations at Vanderbilt stand obviously wide open to the faith groups currently in compliance at Vanderbilt. Unless someone is championing their own cause or agenda, there is enough elastic in Commodore karma to allow Vanderbilt to avoid becoming editors of student religious belief and practice not actually rooted in intolerance of any kind. And third, fraternities and sororities on every campus have freely excluded anyone they chose for any reason they chose including religion, sexual orientation, personal appearance, racial, ethnic and family backgrounds, bad breath and bad hair. Why do they get a pass at Vanderbilt or anywhere else? (Because they tend to have powerful alums. That’s why.) A few words to the Christians at Vandy.
This is bigger than just you and right now. The campus, even the smallest one, is a cultural incubator where both Jesus and the evil one birth and perfect strategies to be launched into the culture at large. That this happens on so many campuses and has been going on for a while should get our attention. Christian students on campus today should see themselves as being in boot camp. These things on campus today will be pressing the church at large, in various forms, more and more in the years ahead. The American church at large stands blind to much of this because we are so busy ranting at the darkness that we’re losing the ability to penetrate it. The super atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris) aren’t alone. There are many in very influential places and more coming along from your campus. They aren’t as nasty but agree in spirit with the celebrities. A rising secularism mixed with the heady froth of narcissism combined with the removal of spiritual concerns from the context of church stand ready to break over American Christianity that just wants nothing more that to be rich, comfortable and protected. A shaking out is coming – a big one. As students like us leave campus for the next step in pursuing the Kingdom of God, most of us will be in or around the church when this time comes and then we will know what this time and this tussle on campus was about. You now build callous and muscle that God will use later. Some of those helping like the Christian Legal Society, American Center for Law and Justice and Alliance Defense Fund stretch and build their muscles too.
Be Christian. As I read your stuff, know of my prayers as you are doing well. “If possible, so far as it lies with you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18, NASV) OR “Always strive so that the poop is on the other guy’s end of the stick and not your own.” (Romans 12:18, Geezer version)
Stay at it. Acts 4:23-31 is pretty cool. Peter and John had performed a healing on a man and the authorities didn’t like it. Arrests and threats happened and the message was plain. Shut up and stay out of sight. They went back to the early church and shared what went down. These threats were real. The powers that orchestrated the murder of Jesus would have no hesitation or trouble snuffing out a couple of fishermen. Look at what they said. They don’t like miracles? We got your miracles right here, baby!! They asked for God to pour out His Spirit to do more of what their enemies didn’t like. No matter how this shakes out, keep doing the Jesus stuff and keep your end of the stick clean.
What if…. What if the groups aren’t allowed to come back as recognized student groups? Then it’s time for some big Nashville churches to stop gassing about fulfilling the Great Commission and either pony up with funds to rent rooms at Vanderbilt and compensate for budget shortfalls or open their doors to the expelled groups. Having pastored for 33 years, I love the church. Having travelled to campuses in the US and Canada for 28 years all out of my own pocket, I can tell you that the American church’s support of what Jesus is doing on campuses is one of almost total neglect and that stinks. You aren’t the first to get shut out. In Acts 18:1-7, things weren’t going well for Paul in Corinth. He started ministering in the synagogue as always but it got ugly. Some Jews resisted and it got hot. Paul either left or got the boot. A guy took him in who lived right next door to the synagogue – is God good or what? If this doesn’t go your way, Jesus Christ is still Lord of the cosmos. No university can control or exclude Him. Jesus walks the quad at Vanderbilt because His people are there whether they meet officially or not – in the dorms, apartments, classrooms, coffee shops, sporting events and bookstores. Keep doing the Jesus stuff and they will follow the fragrance of Him wherever we end up whether it’s a church basement or the backroom of the Dairy Queen.
What if Vandy isn’t your campus? “Pray for those student ministries being expelled as if you were being expelled yourself.” (Another Geezer rendition of Hebrews 13:3). Remember, this isn’t just a Vandy thing, has been going on for a while and won’t be going away soon. The snowball is rolling and maybe getting bigger. The seeds of this blow in the wind and may be settling in on our campus. Bending Niemoller a little bit-
They came first to Harvard a few years ago but I was a Yalee so I didn’t speak out.
Then they came to the University of California, Hastings School of Law. But I can’t even come down on a major now let alone think about grad school so I did not speak out.
Then they came to Tufts University and I never heard of it so I didn’t speak out.
Then they came to Vanderbilt and I can’t stand the SEC so I didn’t speak out.
And then they came to exclude my group from campus and there was no one left to speak out.
Sorry I got a little long-winded on this post – but, if you’re a student, I love you guys.
Please return your seats to the upright position and hand your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com