I never joined a fraternity while a college student. My college offered opportunities to join “service clubs” that were a lot like fraternities/sororities, but I did not join them. Those clubs offered a lot of great volunteer work to community non profits and associations in the greater Nashville area that, even as an 18 year old, impressed me greatly. That wasn’t enough to get me to pledge, even when I was invited to do so and joining would have likely done me some good. The guys that lived on my floor seemed to function a lot like a group of brothers, and that satisfied me.
I do have many friends who were in fraternities in college. They loved it. Their best memories of that era seem to be of events and experiences they had while members of “Beta Gamma Delta Alpha Sigma Chi Theta.” While fun and chicanery is often shared in their memories, they also talk about friendship, leadership, loyalty (among other traits) as being taught and displayed in ways that might not have ever been possible for them if they had not joined the club. This week I heard that 86% of Fortune 500 executives were members of a fraternity or sorority while in college, so something is going right somewhere for those who belong and commit to frat life.
Unless you have been living under a rock this week, you know what happened at the University of Oklahoma with their Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. A video of a student leading a song with racial lyrics was released causing a firestorm on campus and across the nation regarding Greek life. While not the only one, this is the latest incident involving fraternities and sororities at some of our country’s best schools. No doubt that this kind of behavior also exists in colleges or organizations without any fraternal order or association. Racism is a human issue that has long caused debate, division and death around the world. Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Sig Ep) did not invent it. They just personified it on tape… for the world to see.
Sig Ep has a very promising mission statement that would appeal to many men. Their stated mission “is to promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship, and service for our members.” This mission/vision is based upon the ideals set forth by their founders and is specifically enunciated in their creed, “The True Gentleman.” As I understand it, this creed is central to life in Sig Ep similar to reciting the pledge of allegiance, the apostle’s creed, and/or the boy scout motto.
It reads as follows:
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
– John Walter Wayland
What strikes me as unbelievably queer is that this creed developed for a fraternal organization is really focused on a high view of individualism. All of the traits of a true gentlemen can be portrayed as a solo act. Alright, you technically need some poor people so that you don’t flaunt your wealth in front of them and make them jealous. Other than that detail, a true gentlemen only needs to think of the feelings of others. Very, very individual language for a group that is to be a band of brothers.
My fight here is not with Sig Ep or any other fraternity or sorority. I assume they might have similar creeds or statements, but I don’t know that for sure. My point here is not with fraternal life or any other sort of organization that requires membership. My beef is with the rampant religion in our country that is known as individualism. Meaning that what matters to me, what affects me, what benefits me is the most important matter in everything. Team doesn’t matter. Community doesn’t matter. National welfare or global benefit counts for very little (if at all) in an individual world.
Right now, in every school, church, company, and community, rampant individualism is destroying us from the inside out. We are devastating ourselves and our children (and likely our children’s children) because we are selfish and shameless. Given the choice of “me or thee”, we’ll choose “me” every time and twice on Sunday.
Our motto should read:
“We aren’t true gentlemen and we don’t care. We want more money, more power, more sex, more freedom, more rights, more groupies, more, more, more of everything that makes me feel or look good. Don’t give us requests or requirements for social responsibility. Give us more of what we want and less of what you want from us. It’s all about me so leave me alone and mind your own business or drop dead.”
That is who we are, and it is killing us. Racism is justified by feelings and thoughts that put people in lesser categories because of color or (social) class. Greed is fueled by individuals who steal from others so they can gain. Adultery and sexual perversion is only possible when one gives way to their personal gratification over the commitment of covenantal love. Ambition only rules in a land where people are willing to put themselves squarely on top of others and stomp them into the dirt of life. Families are blowing up because everyone wants to think “me first” and not “us always.”
In case you thought I was talking about the condition of the world, I am not. I am talking about the church. We are walking down a path attempting to be true gentlemen/gentlewomen and missing the point of faith entirely. Our calling is not to be true to ourselves or to our gender or to our color or perhaps even our country. Our calling – our only calling – is to become disciples of Christ, take up our crosses, and follow him. That is the creed for the True Christian to live by. And to ultimately die for.
To be honest I am not sure what Jesus thinks about Sig Ep. I do know that Jesus hates racism; that is for sure. And Jesus hates individualism. He denied his individual rights in order for the greater good of God to be perfected. He is our way out of pursuing anything that is true. So, let us stop chasing the dream of being a true gentlemen. No one has to live fully into themselves to be seen or noticed by God. He loves us as we are even in our sin so stop being true to sinful selves or any other grand image of humanity. Instead, let’s try on Christlikeness as our vision for the highest ideal.
For Lent 4 / March 15, 2015
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2)