By Josh Lodish ’22
Throughout the college search process, I would always read the websites of the schools I considered. Many of the websites vaguely referenced God or the school’s religious origin — I never thought much of it.
At Davidson, however, I have realized the immense role religion plays in setting the ethos, as well as the policies, of our school. Furthermore, I realized that Davidson’s bylaws actively discriminate against people based on their religion, something I believe must immediately change.
Upon arrival at Davidson, I was surprised at how many people told me I was the first Jew they had ever met. Within my first semester, I experienced a deep sense of isolation and fear from anti-semitic graffiti in one of my classrooms (‘Hitler did nothing wrong’ written on the whiteboard), the Pittsburg Tree of Life Shooting, and the doxing of neo-Nazi students on campus. My sense of isolation and sadness was furthered when I discovered Davidson’s rules on who can (and cannot) be the president of our college, as well as the religious requirements for the Board of Trustees.
According to Article 4, section 1 of the Davidson Bylaws, the president must be “a loyal and active church member, whose life provides evidence of strong Christian faith and commitment. Such faith and commitment will be appropriately expressed by affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and active participation in the life of Davidson College Presbyterian Church [DCPC].”
According to Article 1, section 5, of the school’s Bylaws, “The Governance and Nominating Committee shall insure that at least 80% of all elected Trustees are active members of a Christian church.”
Why Religious Affiliation Matters
Davidson tells us to go out and change the world, to not allow ourselves to be held back by anything: reach for great heights. But, if you’re Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, or anything except Christian, you do have limitations, and those limitations are in place because our community wrote them into our bylaws. It is already an isolating experience to be a non-Christian at this school. That isolation is quite literally set in stone with these policies.
Regardless of qualifications, individuals who are not members of Davidson College Presbyterian Church can never serve as president of the college. Non-Christians can never be president of our school, not because of their ability, but only because of the religion they were born into or chose to practice. Similarly, non-Christians are significantly less likely to join the Board of Trustees simply because of their religion. These policies are explicitly exclusionary, and exclusion based on any characteristic besides potential to succeed is completely antithetical to the values of Davidson College. I do not mean to say we should erase our Presbyterian heritage; however, we must ask whether religious exclusion is necessary to maintain our historic connection to the Presbyterian Church and if our current policies are reflective of the school’s mission.
The Reformed Tradition Working Group for Davidson College explored the impacts of our Presbyterian history on Davidson. The group’s final report indicates that they found that our Presbyterian history has created “an ethos in which the dignity and worth of each person is clearly affirmed” and an “openness to and respect for diversity and differences of religion, worldview, and opinion.” Let it be so. Let us rely on our Presbyterian heritage to encourage us to respect and value all people, to not exclude or prohibit members of our community from positions due to their religion. Let us change our exclusionary religious policies.
According to the Pew Center for Research, PCUSA, the branch of Presbyterianism that includes DCPC, is 88 percent white. The decision to mandate our president to hold this religious affiliation results not only in religious discrimination, but due to the overwhelmingly white composition of PCUSA, also acts as indirect racial discrimination. Furthermore, according to Pew, only 1.4 percent of Americans belong to any branch of the Presbyterian church. Why shrink the pool of applicants so significantly? What do we gain? And of equal importance, what do we lose?
“In a president you would like someone who understands the religious affiliation of the school and how it contributes to a liberal education, and who can represent that,” said Douglas F. Ottati, a Presbyterian theologian and Church Elder who is the Craig Family Distinguished Professor of Reformed Theology and Justice at Davidson.“That’s more important than where a president goes to church.” Davidson’s historic connection is important, and it can be maintained without exclusionary policies.
Who can change these rules?
The power to change our exclusionary religious policies is vested entirely in the Board of Trustees. Thus, the purpose of this article is to ask the student body to put pressure on the Board; the general Davidson community should critically reflect on these policies and encourage those in power to change them.
Davidson claims to be a place that values inclusivity and upholds the dignity of all people. In order to live up to that commitment, we need to change our bylaws. Religious discrimination and the resulting racial discrimination have no place at our college.
Josh Lodish ’22 is a Sociology major. Contact Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org