What a University Community Needs to Learn from a Kindergarten Teacher

Earlier this spring the administration of Vanderbilt University enforced a policy long held but not articulated.  It stated that any student interested in joining a campus-affiliated group must be allowed to do so and be given a shot at leadership. The new change is that if groups don’t comply, they’ll lose the space and financial support the university gives to officially recognized groups.

The most vociferous groups in opposition have been Christian organizations concerned (frightened?) that they would be vulnerable to being led by persons whose beliefs and practices would be at odds with those on which they were founded.  Charles Haynes, a senior scholar for the Freedom Forum and a First Amendment expert. “It’s like they are saying you are welcome as long as you don’t have strong beliefs.”

No, it is not, Mr. Haynes.  With all due respect it is closer to calling you to the one of the most fundamental of Christian beliefs and practices, and one that should be held more strongly than the Individualism that seems a fundamental for you and your ilk.  One of the most basic of Jesus’ teaching and practice was that that of inclusion.  Perhaps these “strong believers” had not noticed the myriad of occasions when Jesus touched, healed, spoke with, ate with and reached out to persons who had been condemned and marginalized by the religious leaders of his day.  Perhaps they had understood in some other way Jesus injunctions to pray for enemies and persecutors, his proclamation of God’s love for “the world.”  But I doubt it.

What is needed in the university community is a kindergarten teacher.  I would recommend Vivian Gussin Paley, well-known author among educators and a teacher of small children—of which Vanderbilt seems to be populated and surrounded.  Specifically, what is needed is Vivian’s rule:  You can’t say, “You can’t play.”   The administration of the university is endeavoring to do is articulate a broad and deep level of acceptance that Vivian knows is needed even in kindergarten.

And it is ironic that an institution which had its roots in the Christian denomination of Methodism with which it separated in part to include non-Methodists on its faculty, would find itself once again allied with the inclusive Christ against the minions of his Church.

As a bumper sticker declares “Lord, save us from your follwers.”

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