Religion as a Conflict of Interest?

This morning, an interesting article from the UC student newspaper caught my eye.  Here’s the lede:

The University of Cincinnati’s Student Government Association and Faculty Senate recently voted to support including “gender identity and expression” in the university’s non-discrimination statement. 

I don’t think that is too surprising: the city of Cincinnati passed a similar law in 2006 and, as the article notes, UC was just following the leads of Ohio U. and Ohio State. 

However, near the end of the article, a comment caught my eye:

[Student Government President Ryan] Rosensweig added that some students abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest with their religious beliefs.

Say what? I’ve never heard of a religious belief constituting a “conflict of interest,” and a quick review of the UC Student Government constitution, by-laws, and rules & procedures do not even mention conflicts of interest. If students abstained from every vote that touched on their religious beliefs – or, for that matter, other closely held personal beliefs – then how would important votes ever take place? 

I don’t anyone in UC’s Student Government.  However, our society has a very difficult time understanding the role of religious belief in the “public square.”  I’m sure that these students knew that it wasn’t appropriate to apply their personal religious standards to a diverse, secular community that didn’t share their religious commitments.  But I’m also sure that they didn’t have a “public theology” that enabled them to make a case for their beliefs in a secular context. 

If Christian students and faculty are to have a redemptive influence in higher education, it’s vital that they consider these controversial issues, and develop a strong theological position for how they will live, speak, and even vote on these matters. A great place to start is through regular Bible study and prayer with a fellowship of Christian students and faculty, building up your understanding of God and Christianity through reading good theological books (if you’re just starting your theological reading, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian are both good), and joining ESN.  Attending Following Christ 2008 would also be a smart move. 

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