NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Although some religious organizations have said they will not register as campus organizations at Vanderbilt University, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry has applied to remain a registered campus organization.
In January officials of Vanderbilt met with students to explain that the university will enforce its non-discrimination policy and a new “all-comers” policy. The all-comers policy means that any student at Vanderbilt is entitled to become a member and to seek a leadership position in any registered student organization on campus.
Several faith-based organizations on campus have voiced opposition to the policy, saying that the school is violating their religious freedom.
Thom Thornton, Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) director at Vanderbilt, is confident the BCM can operate within the Vanderbilt guidelines.
“We have been assured by the university that we can select leaders committed to the organization’s mission.”
Bill Choate, collegiate ministries coordinator for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, is hopeful the BCM can remain a campus organization without compromising its beliefs.
“We have been on campus at Vanderbilt since the early 1920s. The university is aware of our mission on campus — that we intend to share Jesus Christ and grow His disciples,” Choate said. “We intend to do what we have always done on campus until the university denies us that privilege.”
The BCM’s mission statement is clear: “The focus of the Vanderbilt BCM is evangelism, discipleship and connection to the local church. The purpose of this organization shall be to know Christ through Bible study, prayer and discipleship and to make Christ known through outreach, community service and missions.”
Choate noted that the strategy of BCM “on every campus in Tennessee includes being citizens of the university, while never compromising our mission of being a clear witness for Jesus Christ.
“If we are denied ‘recognized student organization’ status on any campus, then we will continue to do our very best to reach that university population from the margins of campus.”
Even if the university denies recognized status, the BCM will continue to have a presence on campus, Choate said.
“The [Tennessee Baptist Convention] owns a BCM facility in the middle of the Vanderbilt campus from which we base our ministry,” Choate said. “Baptist Collegiate Ministry is not going away. However, our hope is to be truly present on campus, even at Vanderbilt, as we have been for all these years,” he said.
Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy C. Davis agreed with the BCM leaders.
“We will continue to minister at every college and university campus where we can with the mission of evangelism, discipleship and church connection,” Davis said. “We will do so without compromising our convictions or watering down the Gospel message.”
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector www.tnbaptist.org
newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.