Yesterday, during Reformed University Ministries’(RUF) informational report, RUF coordinator Rod Mays defended the ministry’s position with respect to the recent controversy at Vanderbilt University. According to Mays, the mounting dissension between Vanderbilt University and her partnering campus ministries, “has prompted us to attempt to make clear the posture Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) has taken toward these events. Our desire to remain removed from the political fray that often accompanies these discussions continues; however, given the uniqueness of our position with the University, we feel compelled to give a response to those who wish to understand.”
We are men under authority
Essential to RUF’s identity is the insistence that every campus minister serving with us be an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The Rev. Stacey Croft serves under the authority of the Nashville Presbytery of the PCA through its local RUF Committee, which holds an affiliation agreement with RUF’s Permanent General Assembly committee of the denomination.
The upshot of this alphabet soup is to say that Rev. Croft has had the full weight, consultation, and authority of this portion of the visible church behind him throughout these events. Croft consulted with every level of his judicatory structure (often spending hours a week) before he took any stance regarding the policy issue at Vanderbilt.
We are committed first and foremost to gospel proclamation
Unswervingly biblical, unashamedly Reformed, and unapologetically subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, RUF is committed first and foremost to the proclamation of the gospel to all college students without exception. We have, as our Book of Church Order states it, a “ministerial and declarative” purpose on campus that trumps any and all political strategies with which our culture might be presently preoccupied.
In layman’s terms, we are about the Bible. Scripture alone is our rule of faith and practice, and the week-in, week-out faithful proclamation of that Word in large-group, small-group, and one-to-one Bible studies exhausts RUF’s purpose on campus. RUF will go to any university that allows us to preach the gospel. At present, RUF serves on campuses of a variety of sectarian, private, and public universities that have afforded us this extraordinary privilege.
We are committed to a front-door policy with our universities
As a registered student organization (RSO) at Vanderbilt, RUF is a student-initiated ministry. Campus ministers are consistently taught, “RUF is a ministry to students, through students.” RUF’s campus constitutions reflect this commitment by insisting that we are guests of the university, partnering to serve the spiritual needs of students there. We do not take lightly the relationship maintained between RUF and Vanderbilt over the last 23 years.
Historically, this high respect for the administrations of our universities has been instrumental in opening doors to share the gospel through cooperation with the university’s mission.
We are concerned by the potential harm implicit in Vanderbilt’s reasoning in the policy
To be clear, to the degree that Vanderbilt applies this nondiscrimination policy in a way that prevents religious or “expressive” associations from requiring orthodoxy of its leaders, we are convinced that a less robust campus environment would result. The irony is that in the name of tolerance, a university can create a less tolerant student life that hinders free expression rather than promotes it. The American university functions best when it acts as an open marketplace of ideas, allowing a diversity of viewpoints.
If by this policy Vanderbilt intends to force a group to accept as a leader a student who does not personally believe or practice the tenets of that religion, then it has erred. Belief in the fundamentals of one’s religion is not tangential but core to religious identity. Should Vanderbilt adopt a wooden application of the policy, it is tantamount to saying that a student can hold to the ideals of his or her organization … as long as these convictions are held loosely. Christianity allows no such equivocation.
We are not convinced that Vanderbilt will apply its policy in such a way as to prohibit usfrom proclaiming the gospel
To date, RUF is not convinced that Vanderbilt intends to do any such thing, and we have been assured that it will not. Should this assurance prove empty, we will take appropriate measures. Until then, we have taken Vanderbilt at its word.
Associate Provost and Dean of Students Mark Bandas has said publicly, “Our policy requires that all students are presumed to be eligible for membership in registered student organizations and that all organization members in good standing are eligible to compete for leadership positions, though it is up to each organization to select its own leaders.” We take the language of “eligible to compete” as a statement regarding Vanderbilt’s intention to provide access to leadership for all students. Further, we take the language of “select its own leaders” as a statement of the University’s intention to allow religious groups to protect their essential identity.
To date, RUF continues to meet and proclaim the gospel without any University interference. The privilege to do so is not something that we put at risk lightly. If the charge of naiveté is laid at our feet, we reply that our aim is to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
We are resolved that if Vanderbilt applies its policy in a way that restricts us from preaching the gospel, we will not submit to the policy. Again, RUF sees its mission on campus to declare the good news of repentance of sins and faith in Jesus Christ. We likewise declare the full range of orders given to us by King Jesus for how we should live until he returns. Though we decry what we see as a lack of wisdom in Vanderbilt’s policy, our consciences are clear that we have not shirked our responsibilities by remaining on campus at Vanderbilt. Why? Because to date it has not enforced this policy in such a way that binds our consciences, impelling us to leave.
We respect other ministries’ consciences that choose not to sign
RUF believes that declarations coming from church leaders must be carefully guarded so as not to tie the promises of the gospel to a particular partisan ideology. We recognize the danger, on the one hand, of adding to the “faith alone” nature of the Christian message. However, we are equally convinced that the church is responsible to make proclamations to the state when she oversteps her God-given authority. The manner of how we balance those two convictions must remain in the realm of Christian freedom.
Dear brothers and sisters serving in other ministries at Vanderbilt have differed in their approach to dealing with this policy. RUF chose to respond by remaining at our post and proclaiming the gospel to “all comers.” If others choose differently, we honor their right to do so without antagonism.
We call upon the Christian community to respect our decision and pray
Likewise, we hope that we are extended the same grace from other Christian organizations on campus. Rest assured that we have not signed the nondiscrimination policy for reasons of “self-interest” or “capitulation.” Rather, we exhort our brothers in ministry, our church partners across the country, and our own leadership from within the Presbyterian Church in America to pray for our ministry, for the success of the gospel, and for a God-honoring solution to come from this present crisis.