When the Yale Humanist Community formed last year, they were hoping to eventually become one of Yale’s Religious Ministries — given the same sort of credibility and weight, so to speak, as the Roman Catholic, Quaker, Sikh, Hindu, Baptist, etc. communities. Yes, they were non-religious, but they offered many of the same benefits to students as the other groups did, provided a solid foundation and identity for non-religious students on campus, and sought to become a part of the larger dialogue about faith on campus.
Unfortunately, they recently received word that their application was rejected:
“We had a good discussion at that time, and individuals expressed thoughtful concerns, positive feedback and diverse wise counsel to me,” said University Chaplain Sharon Kugler in an email to the News. “[But] after much discernment, I decided that the nonreligious nature of the YHC did not fit with membership in a group with explicitly religious self-definition.”
… some members of the humanist community felt that YRM’s lack of recognition deprives the YHC of a valuable platform. Before Kugler’s decision was announced, [YHC director of operations Paul] Chiariello expressed hope that official University recognition could help dispel some general misconceptions about humanism.
It’s a disappointment, even if you believe atheists shouldn’t be involved in anything “interfaith.” Not because the atheists won’t be there for the students but because their office won’t carry the official title, whatever that might mean.
(Incidentally, the Harvard Chaplains include the Humanists without a problem.)
Chris Stedman, the YHC’s Coordinator of Humanist Life, issued this response on the group’s website:
Unfortunately, we were not granted membership to the YRM because we explicitly identify as a nonreligious organization. But this decision in no way changes any of the above statements. We will continue in our work to build a community for the nonreligious at Yale and beyond, and we will continue to seek out opportunities for collaboration with religious communities at Yale and beyond.
Though this is not the outcome we had hoped for, it does not dampen our enthusiasm for Humanist community at Yale, nor does it alter our aspirations. We remain dedicated to building a relationship of goodwill with the Yale Chaplain’s Office, and to collaborating with them as much as possible. There is much more work to be done, and we are just getting started. From the very beginning of the YRM membership application process I saw our application as the start of a new and exciting conversation — regardless of the outcome. Today, I remain eager to advance that conversation about community, support, and resources for the nonreligious at Yale.
When even Chris Stedman gets rejected from something that’s supposed to be “interfaith,” you know atheists have an uphill battle. It’s the same sort of backwards thinking we’ve seen in the military, where atheist soldiers have needs that religious chaplains just can’t properly address. Instead of opening the door a little wider to make things better for everyone, they’re sticking by their definition of what a chaplaincy ought to be and believing in God is a prerequisite.
I just don’t understand what Yale Religious Ministries stands to lose by accepting the YHC into its fold.
I asked Chris what the YHC plans to do in the future — will they apply again in the future? — and he said this via email:
While we certainly aren’t ruling out the possibility of reapplying at some point down the road, that’s a conversation that’s internal to the Yale Humanist Community Board right now. Currently, our primary focus is on continuing our work with the community of atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at and around Yale — on demonstrating through this work that we are in fact a valuable resource and an integral aspect of diversity at Yale — and on expanding our relationship with the Yale Chaplain’s Office.
We will work with [the Yale Chaplain's Office] to ensure that all students are served, and represented, in responses to crisis or tragedy on campus. We will also co-sponsor interfaith dialogue and community service events.
By the way, Chris will be inducted as a Davenport College Fellow this week, which represents a formal affiliation with Yale on an individual level, which is at least a step in the right direction.