Principles Guiding Religious Life at Williams College
One important component of the mission of the Williams College Chaplains’ Office is
“to promote courageous, candid and transformative dialogue among religious communities, and between theologies and other disciplines of intellectual life.”
The relationships between communities of faith representing the great religious and spiritual traditions of the world are among the most rewarding aspects of life and learning in a setting as diverse and as stimulating as Williams College.
The relationships between communities of faith have also been a source of some of the most dangerous and damaging strife that the human community has experienced. Our campus community, like the society around us, continues to wrestle with complex questions at the intersection of religious precepts and changing social values. In particular, we continue to discern ways to honor commitments in the College’s non-discrimination policy to provide sanctuary on this campus from discrimination based on a variety of identities, including those of religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. We affirm the important responsibility of the College administration to intervene in any instances of discrimination in our community – including those involving religious groups.
Meanwhile, as in society at large, the dissonance that sometimes arises among these commitments is not easily resolved – and so we honor also the continuing process of dialogue that is so distinctive of this remarkably diverse learning community. Rather than shrink from this tension in our common life, the Chaplains’ Office embraces a responsibility to engage it more deeply in the conviction that, in the absence of perfect clarity and consensus, the way forward is relational. We understand it to be our particular responsibility to foment, to sponsor, to encourage respectful and spirited dialogue about justice, compassion and faithfulness among all campus constituencies, including communities of faith – and we pledge to seek both the wisdom of the ages and the inspiration of the moment in these ongoing conversations.
Though the standard of cordial respect that pervades the life of the College has been a hallmark of relationships within its families of faith, it may be helpful to rearticulate certain essential principles to which all campus religious groups (whether officially registered student organizations or informal affinity groups) adhere in their ministry to or programming for Williams College students:
- Respect for student boundaries – Students, as individuals and in groups, have the right to expect that when they respectfully decline invitations to certain religious activities, or express the desire not to be contacted by their sponsors, these expressions will be respected. So when students decline invitations to meetings, conversations, programs, services or other activities, they can be sure that they will not experience pressure, judgment or harassment in response.
- Respect for religious and spiritual diversity – Students, as individuals and in groups, have the right to expect that their personal religious or spiritual commitments (or lack of them) will be honored by others. So when students express a commitment to a particular community or set of beliefs, they can be confident that they will not be on the receiving end of expressions of negative judgments by those holding other beliefs, in public or in private.
- Respect for the integrity of organizations – Members of the Williams community can expect that all groups not affiliated with the College who aspire to include students into their life and work will make this interest known to the Chaplains’ Office, which is the College’s clearing house for religious and spiritual life. Only groups which agree to respect these covenants of conduct may use campus facilities.
- Respect for honesty and candor – Students and all members of the Williams community have the right to expect that events sponsored by particular religious groups, or events that will espouse points of view that are associated with a particular faith, will be clearly identified as such. Posters, fliers, email messages, etc. will carry the name of the sponsoring group; students who choose to attend events and gatherings can be sure that the sponsor will be entirely candid about their perspective and purpose.
- Respect for the place of religious and spiritual life – All members of the Williams community can expect that the activities and programs of its constituent communities of faith will make positive contributions to the role of religious and spiritual commitments in the life of this College. These contributions will include occasions of dialogue that may involve expressions of deep differences of opinion, experience, interpretation or conviction.