I sat opposite from the student life director and listened to her concerns about our governing documents. The student ministry of our church had filed for status as a student organization at Florida State, and they were making sure everything was in order. The process required that we put in a statement that all students were welcomed to be a part of the group regardless of their race, nationality, gender, religion, etc. We complied because we wanted to reach everyone with the Gospel.
We did, however, insert a section about officers being a member of the church since this would ensure that the group stayed closely tied to the church. The influence of the church and the necessarily tight constraints on who could be in leadership had raised some flags. Our conversation was cordial, and we moved through the process without any further hindrances. For others, this has not been the case.
At Vanderbilt University, Christian student groups lost recognized status because they have required members to be Christian and sign a statement of faith. For some with a secular worldview, such an exclusionary policy could not stand. The saga highlighted one of the strongest impulses for those working from this worldview: inclusion.
Inclusion, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. We want to protect the rights of those who are weak so that they are not excluded illegitimately. We want to make sure that no person is excluded from service at a restaurant or educational benefits because of their race. It is right to feel revulsion at such unjust exclusion. But, there are limits.
When we begin talking about groups, organizations, or societies, i.e. private fellowships, we are necessarily talking about something that is exclusionary. A group, by definition, is a closed set defining itself by who is in against who is out. Boundaries define the group and therefore limit membership. Moreover, there can be only one infinite set of humanity, namely the entire human race. But even that set is closed to non-humans.
The reality we face is that in forming a group, we define that group by the shared characteristics of its members. For a Christian group this would presumably be their shared Christian faith; for a Star Wars fan group, it is their shared fandom of Star Wars. If the latter group is not unjustly exclusionary, then it is hard to see how the first group is.
If we follow the logic of inclusion to its logical end, it will mean the dissolution of any meaningful group association. A Jewish student would have to be admitted as a member of the Islamic student group. A member of the KKK would have to be allowed as a member of the Black Student Union and even allowed to run to be their president. But, of course, that’s insanity, just like forcing Christian organization to accept atheists into their membership.
Christian groups on college campuses face an uphill battle if they hold to historic Christian doctrines because they are seen as exclusionary. To be fair, doctrine is exclusionary. As a set of beliefs concerning truth claims, doctrine necessarily excludes all claims and statements that are contrary to it. Therefore, it appears best to take the words of the old adage to heart, “It is better to be divided by truth that to be united in error.” To this, we may add, “even if it costs us greatly.”