A very interesting essay in Christianity Today on the author’s experience at Vanderbilt with its “all comers” policy. One feature of the piece that struck me was how such policies end up flattening out beliefs or creeds as such. Readers may remember that another policy like this was the subject of the complaint in CLS v. Martinez some years ago. The terrible problem that these policies seek to remedy seems to be that people have distinctive beliefs. The policy’s aim seems to be to compel all associations to reflect certain core commitments, which in turn destroys their own distinctive creeds, thereby demolishing what is special about them in the first place:
In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an “all comers policy,” which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration granted an exception to sororities and fraternities.)
Like most campus groups, InterVarsity welcomes anyone as a member. But it asks key student leaders—the executive council and small group leaders—to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect. Any belief—particularly those about the authority of Scripture or the church—could potentially constrain sexual activity or identity. So what began as a concern about sexuality and pluralism quickly became a conversation about whether robustly religious communities would be allowed on campus.
In effect, the new policy privileged certain belief groups and forbade all others. Religious organizations were welcome as long as they were malleable: as long as their leaders didn’t need to profess anything in particular; as long as they could be governed by sheer democracy and adjust to popular mores or trends; as long as they didn’t prioritize theological stability. Creedal statements were allowed, but as an accessory, a historic document, or a suggested guideline. They could not have binding authority to shape or govern the teaching and practices of a campus religious community.
Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:
In October, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance” by Elisheva Baumgarten (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:
In the urban communities of medieval Germany and northern France, the beliefs, observances, and practices of Jews allowed them to create and define their communities on their own terms as well as in relation to the surrounding Christian society. Although medieval Jewish texts were written by a learned elite, the laity also observed many religious rituals as part of their everyday life. In Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz, Elisheva Baumgarten asks how Jews, especially those who were not learned, expressed their belonging to a minority community and how their convictions and deeds were made apparent to both their Jewish peers and the Christian majority.
Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz provides a social history of religious practice in context, particularly with regard to the ways Jews and Christians, separately and jointly, treated their male and female members. Medieval Jews often shared practices and beliefs with their Christian neighbors, and numerous notions and norms were appropriated by one community from the other. By depicting a dynamic interfaith landscape and a diverse representation of believers, Baumgarten offers a fresh assessment of Jewish practice and the shared elements that composed the piety of Jews in relation to their Christian neighbors.
This month, Rowman & Littlefield releases “Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond: Advisement and Leader Engagement in Highly Religious Environments” edited by Eric Patterson (Regent University). The publisher’s description follows:
The role of military chaplains has changed over the past decade as Western militaries have deployed to highly religious environments such as East Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. U.S. military chaplains, who are by definition non-combatants, have been called upon by their war-fighting commanders to take on new roles beyond providing religious services to the troops. Chaplains are now also required to engage the local citizenry and provide their commanders with assessments of the religious and cultural landscape outside the base and reach out to local civilian clerics in hostile territory in pursuit of peace and understanding.
In this edited volume, practitioners and scholars chronicle the changes that have happened in the field in the twenty-first century. Using concrete examples, this volume takes a critical look at the rapidly changing role of the military chaplain, and raises issues critical to U.S. foreign and national security policy and diplomacy.
This month, Baylor University Press releases “Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father” by Linford D. Fisher (Brown University), J. Stanley Lemons (Emeritus Professor at Rhode Island College) and Lucas Mason-Brown (Graduate Student at Trinity College, Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:
Near the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable…
…until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism.
History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.
This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Just War and the Ethics of Espionage” by Darrell Cole (Drew University). The publisher’s description follows:
The War on Terror has raised many new, thorny issues of how we can determine acceptable action in defense of our liberties. Western leaders have increasingly used spies to execute missions unsuitable to the military. These operations, which often result in the contravening of international law and previously held norms of acceptable moral behavior, raise critical ethical questions—is spying limited by moral considerations? If so, what are they and how are they determined? Cole argues that spying is an act of force that may be a justifiable means to secure order and justice among political communities. He explores how the just war moral tradition, with its roots in Christian moral theology and Western moral philosophy, history, custom and law might help us come to grips with the moral problems of spying. This book will appeal to anyone interested in applied religious ethics, moral theology and philosophy, political philosophy, international law, international relations, military intellectual history, the War on Terror, and Christian theological politics.
This month, NYU Press releases “Immigrant Faith: Patterns of Immigrant Religion in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe” by Phillip Connor (Pew Research Center). The publisher’s description follows:
examines trends and patterns relating to religion in the lives of immigrants. The volume moves
beyond specific studies of particular faiths in particular immigrant destinations to present the religious lives of immigrants in the United States, Canada, and Europe on a broad scale.
Religion is not merely one aspect among many in immigrant lives. Immigrant faith affects daily interactions, shapes the future of immigrants in their destination society, and influences society beyond the immigrants themselves. In other words, to understand immigrants, one must understand their faith.
Drawing on census data and other surveys, including data sources from several countries and statistical data from thousands of immigrant interviews, the volume provides a concise overview of immigrant religion. It sheds light on whether religion shapes the choice of destination for migrants, if immigrants are more or less religious after migrating, if religious immigrants have an easier adjustment, or if religious migrants tend to fare better or worse economically than non-religious migrants.
Immigrant Faith covers demographic trends from initial migration to settlement to the transmission of faith to the second generation. It offers the perfect introduction to big picture patterns of immigrant religion for scholars and students, as well as religious leaders and policy makers.
In July, Stanford University Press released “Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue” by David Decosimo (Loyola University Maryland). The publisher’s description follows:
Most of us wonder how to make sense of the apparent moral excellences or virtues of those who have different visions of the good life or different religious commitments than our own. Rather than flattening or ignoring the deep difference between various visions of the good life, as is so often done, this book turns to the medieval Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas to find a better way. Thomas, it argues, shows us how to welcome the outsider and her virtue as an expression rather than a betrayal of one’s own distinctive vision. It shows how Thomas, driven by a Christian commitment to charity and especially informed by Augustine, synthesized Augustinian and Aristotelian elements to construct an ethics that does justice—in love—to insiders and outsiders alike. Decosimo offers the first analysis of Thomas on pagan virtue and a reinterpretation of Thomas’s ethics while providing a model for our own efforts to articulate a truthful hospitality and do ethics in our pluralist, globalized world.
Next month, Stanford University Press will release “Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire” by Bedross Der Matossian (University of Nebraska-Lincoln). The publisher’s description follows:
The Ottoman revolution of 1908 is a study in contradictions—a positive manifestation of modernity intended to reinstate constitutional rule, yet ultimately a negative event that shook the fundamental structures of the empire, opening up ethnic, religious, and political conflicts. Shattered Dreams of Revolution considers this revolutionary event to tell the stories of three important groups: Arabs, Armenians, and Jews. The revolution raised these groups’ expectations for new opportunities of inclusion and citizenship. But as post-revolutionary festivities ended, these euphoric feelings soon turned to pessimism and a dramatic rise in ethnic tensions.
The undoing of the revolutionary dreams could be found in the very foundations of the revolution itself. Inherent ambiguities and contradictions in the revolution’s goals and the reluctance of both the authors of the revolution and the empire’s ethnic groups to come to a compromise regarding the new political framework of the empire ultimately proved untenable. The revolutionaries had never been wholeheartedly committed to constitutionalism, thus constitutionalism failed to create a new understanding of Ottoman citizenship, grant equal rights to all citizens, and bring them under one roof in a legislative assembly. Today as the Middle East experiences another set of revolutions, these early lessons of the Ottoman Empire, of unfulfilled expectations and ensuing discontent, still provide important insights into the contradictions of hope and disillusion seemingly inherent in revolution.