The introduction of new regulations on Bid Night and pledging have come with no small controversy and while the new rules are minor, this issue begs closer examination. Why are these changes necessary? And why has the reaction been so strong?
I think both of these questions can be answered at the same time. These changes are necessary, and the backlash is severe, because of the fundamental structure for social clubs on ACU’s campus, one that is often unhealthy (spiritually, physically, and mentally) and can inhibit real Christian community.
Before I go on, please note that my statements should not be construed as being against social clubs. Although I have personal problems with the system, my fundamental desire in this letter is to promote a university environment in which authentic Christian fellowship is the superlative goal. I have many friends who have had positive, wholesome experiences in their social clubs and I am not discounting those experiences, but we must not let our positive experiences cause us to overlook the real and pressing need for change.
In Christian community, confession and vulnerability are central to real relationship; in our current social club model, seeking approval is often what defines your relationship with other men or women. Through the process of rushing and pledging, potential members are encouraged to pursue the approval of others, conform to a standard and undergo physical and mental discomfort. You compete against others in order to portray yourself as the best possible candidate for a club, and then await the value judgment of another person to determine whether you are “worthy” of a bid. I have to wonder, if God is unscrupulous in his invitation to community, why do we discriminate? Why do we get to determine who is worthy to be part of a Christian brotherhood or sisterhood — if that is indeed what a social club is supposed to be? Yet social clubs stratify our campus. What’s worse, pledges too often endure emotional and physical abuse—hazing or not—in order to be part of a “family,” a fundamentally flawed beginning to what is supposed to be a meaningful community.
Real community should start with real issues, not manufactured ones. You may get to know another person well through artificial shared suffering (as problematic as that tactic is), but it’s a far cry from Christian fellowship. The starting point for pledges ought to be a vulnerable, substantive relationship, where we lay down our burdens for one another and take refuge in the promise that Christ has overcome the world. As cited by a recent petition, Jesus said that we will have trouble in this world — and what better way to trust in his promise than to address real troubles that we already struggle with? Authentic Christian community promises something more, something substantial, and the capability for this kind of community is limited under our current club model.
Our social club system is too often founded upon chasing the approval of others. It tells us to put away authenticity in favor of conformity. It is characterized by the belief that, by artificially creating trials, you can artificially create fellowship. In sum, thanks to our fundamental approach to induction and initiation, social clubs at ACU often fall short of what Christian community should really look like. If social clubs are going to continue to operate at ACU, they should scrutinize themselves and fix what’s wrong. The change has to start small, and adjusting Bid Night and pledging practices is an appropriate step forward. But as it stands, the social club culture at ACU is responsible for the emotional turbulence and physical strain it has inflicted upon some new members, and too frequently it runs contrary to many of the ideals that we strive for as believers in Christ. These new rules are just an outward sign — it’s long past time for change.