It's Time for Sororities to Become Secular

December 18, 2017
A photo of hands clasped in prayer.

I am areligious. I’m also a member of a sorority founded on Christian values. And I’ve recently taken issue with the non-secular nature of my Greek organization.

I attended an Episcopal school from kindergarten through eighth grade, where religious education, going to the chapel, and biweekly prayer were just as routine and normalized as playing tag at recess, book reports, and eating a PB&J for lunch. My parents didn’t choose the school for its religious affiliation, but being “slightly religious” themselves—meaning we went to Church (Universalist Unitarian) only on Christmas—the school’s religious nature certainly wasn’t in conflict with their values. And so I grew up believing in God and Jesus simply because I was taught no alternative.

But as I later transitioned into a public high school, religion’s presence in my life fell behind. When I began travelling after my senior year, then started college, I began questioning my own religious education and confronting alternatives: not just other religions, but agnosticism and atheism as well. I decided I was not simply a non-practicing Christian, but areligious (I deliberately choose the word “areligious” for being more ambiguous than either “agnostic” or “atheist”.)

When I joined a sorority in the spring of my first-year, I was struck by the Christian references that pervaded our rituals. I am not allowed to describe our rituals (and I’m deliberately refraining from mentioning what sorority I belong to, even what council my sorority is a part of), but I can say that my  sorority was founded on Christian principles and values, and Christianity is absolutely present in the rituals we use today.

Not only do I feel personally uncomfortable uttering religiously-loaded language as an areligious person, but I constantly wonder and worry about members of our sorority—current or future—who identify with a religion other than Christianity. What does it feel like to be expected to say “God” or “Lord,” knowing that that god is not your god?

Let’s be clear about the purpose and value of the presence of religiously-loaded language in our rituals in the first place—Greek organizations are rooted in tradition. The essence of fraternities and sororities is arguably to preserve the vision of the founding members, creating a linkage between all generations of members. Using the same rituals, saying the same words, experiencing the same initiation ceremony is a way for the original values to be upheld, and for current members to feel a direct connection to their fraternal/sororal lineage.

I see this side. I understand this argument. But I also firmly believe in inclusion and respect for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, and—perhaps most importantly in this scenario—religious identity. And I believe that preserving the Christian-influenced traditional rhetoric acts as a means of outcasting, if not completely excluding, women who are in our sorority, or who think they might want to be.

I am advocating for the removal of Christian language from all sororities’ rituals, with the caveat that it will be preserved perhaps in an archive book or in a frame on the wall. I believe it’s important for sorority women to see the history of their Greek organization and appreciate the lives and values of the founding members. But as time changes, so do our values. And I think it’s of utmost importance to value inclusion and diversity of opinions over all else.

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