The majority of North American fraternities and sororities are non-sectarian, meaning one can join an organization regardless of their religious/philosophical take on life. This should not confuse us to think that fraternities are independent of religion. In fact, it may be to the fraternity system’s benefit to learn from our peers in the “organized religion” camp.
Here are a few points that explain why we should pull from religious organizations:
Religion & Fraternity Share DNA
The United States is exceptional for this reason:
- Religion and government were, for just about every known society on Earth, entirely intertwined. Religious persecution, crusades and ostracism existed because the dominant religion had a government’s army and police forces. Not-so said our founding fathers.
In these United States, government and religion were separated from one another, in that there would be no official religion of the state. At the time they were likely more concerned with variations of Christianity than the slew of religions and non-religions we have today (science is, in a sense, a worldview with a devout base of believers). The 1st Amendment officially protected Americans from abuse by allowing them to associate with the philosophy that fit them best.
It’s fitting then that fraternities utilize the first amendment as their constitutional protection from rowdy college administrations. Still, most fraternities were founded in alignment with one or several religions, and wove religious rituals, beliefs and symbols into their own.
We have weekly meetings, ties to ancient belief systems, ceremonies for new members (baptisms), ceremonies for initiates (weddings), ceremonies for those who pass (funeral services) and ceremonies to dedicate a house (Christenings).
It is essential to understand religion and how it works to have a solid understanding for a model that can make fraternities more mainstream than they already are.
Religion is the Master of Anti-Apathy
Think of how devoted men and women are to their religion and philosophy. Think of the wonders built in the name of a god or a prophet. Think of the massive skyscrapers designed to celebrate human ingenuity. Think of the machines we sling-shot into space in the name of science and learning.
There is a reason religion, and once again I mean any belief system with a devout, though sometimes vision-tunneled, following, is so powerful in moving humans to achieve what was previously not achievable: It encourages humans to think bigger than themselves.
Consider any political party, any scientific moment of value or any pop star of the 21st Century. The key to attracting followers to accomplish legendary tasks in your name is to encourage them to value all that they can achieve and to believe that more can be achieved than previously imagined.
In other words, fraternities need to get better at believing in actual things instead of just “better.” Where we falter in this section, despite having plenty of ammunition, is our ridiculous level of secrecy surrounding who we are and deference to the idea that “we’re all basically the same.” We can fix that by instituting. . .
We totally already mentioned this here. But here’s a summary:
Sermons are not boring. They involve singing, thoughtful meditation time, life lessons and a basic run down of what’s happening each week.
Have one chapter meeting a month that operates as a business meeting or “congress” where you vote on by-law changes and what color to paint the doors, then treat the remaining chapter meetings of each month like a pastor/priest/expert lecturer/politician treats their meetings: a chance to rally your base around something they can believe in.
Concise, Applicable Messaging
Everything in most religious texts can be boiled down to one or two key messages that the religion of choice can use to differentiate itself. Similarly, the common thread among scientists is to value and love human curiosity. The common thread of most political parties is a simple statement as to how they intend to help others. The common thread of Lady Gaga fans is that they all want to be iNdiviDUalz!?**
Fraternity kind of has this. But 70 fraternities sharing the “better man” theme or some variation of “leaders!” isn’t really a message to build a movement off of. How are you better? Care to make that your key phrasing?
Social media and digital media in general offer a unique chance to connect students with these types of messages. Encourage them to look back at their ritual books by sticking to one or two common phrases or themes. Share more of your ritual without delving into each of the secrets. Christianity amplified its reach and power when the Bible was finally printed in a language that most could read.
Even if you don’t make your ritual public, make it and its unique aspects a part of your regular internal and public conversations.
United and Diverse
There are likely hundreds of forms of Christianity. There are at least two major belief systems within Islam. There are dozens of political parties that all identify as American.
We should stand together for each of those groups right to exist, to say what they believe and to share it. As we mentioned here, everyone has a fraternity, and the more fraternities support the communities and rights of those around them, the better we will be represented.
We need high quality leaders to openly exclaim that their fraternity experience or philosophy is one of their guiding philosophies. In the same way a senator may base his decisions partly off of his personal belief in a god or science or Lady Gaga, so too should we hope that they publicly share that their fraternity was a part of that.
The point of this point? The beauty of most religion is in its support of local communities. Churches often serve as soup kitchens when sermons are not in progress. Members of a religious community, corporation or political party often unite to better the community they are a part of.
Community service and citizenship show that fraternities have just as much a right and value to be around as every other group, AND that they come in a variety of forms and churn out a variety of leaders. (For the record, THAT’S why we do community service. It’s entirely PR and that’s entirely O.K.) We need to respect and support our peers, and we’ll win their trust through that regular exchange.
Let’s Stop Worrying About Alumni Engagement
If only those oldies who love religion so much would be so devoted to their fraternity!
I’ve met some phenomenal alumni of Delta Sigma Phi in my time working for that organization and I’m sure many of you reading this have met an alumnus or alumna who is a truly devoted and inspiring person. Oftentimes, an alumnus tells me that he gives to his religion, his political party, and our fraternity. What a thought, right?
There are alumni who have given their life’s fortune to start a fraternity scholarship. There are alumni who give the fruits of years of their labor to support education and training for young college men. There are alumni who spend hundreds of hours each year advising or volunteering for their fraternity or on behalf of it.
But there are millions more alumni who are not as devoted, and instead captured entirely by the messaging and long-term value of our peers in the 1st Amendment space. By treating fraternity as it should be, a life-long membership AND philosophy, we may encourage more young men and women to maintain their involvement long-term. It becomes less about the house, the specific people and their chapter and more about a mission. Not just any mission – one they swore a lifelong oath to.