Being Greek and Christian: Is it Possible?

Can you stay true to the principles of life God has set for you while participating in an NPHC organization? Do the two walk in agreement?
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?Amos 3:3 KJV

Introduction

Greek life doesn't have the best reputation in any circle, Christian or otherwise. Yet, many Greek organizations claim roots in Christianity. If I'm not mistaken, all of the National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) organizations claim to be built on Christian principles. Of course, when you think about it, not only do these same organizations have reputations that are contrary to godly behavior, the nickname for NPHC is the Divine 9—in retrospect, that seems a little blasphemous...

There's a lot to be explored on this topic, because there are so many types of Greek Letter Organizations. The general public tends to conflate the College Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council (the predominately white sororities and fraternities), with all the other councils. However there are honor Greek organizations, multicultural Greek organizations, service Greek organizations, and even Christian Greek organizations... Each council has a different culture, but often suffers the same stigmas as the others because most people don't know what the letters stand for. In this post, I'm going to focus on NPHC, other wise referred to as Black Greek Letter Organizations or BGLOs, because that is the council I'm most familiar with.
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My Experience

Photocredit: Kerry Johnson
I joined an NPHC sorority my sophomore year in college. At the time I joined, our chapter was in the process of rebuilding so there were only two of us: me and my prophyte (she's my friend too, but for clarity in the post I'll just refer to her as my prophyte). Part of the reason I joined the sorority I did was the focus on community service, of which I think God and Jesus would approve. The other part that convinced me to join was the fact that my prophyte and a cousin I respected had joined the organization. I trusted that neither of them would do anything ungodly, so I assumed the process would not require me to do anything I was against. For my chapter, this was true; but as it is with each organization, each chapter is different. The people make the organization, so if you have God-fearing people in the chapter, you will have a process befitting a God-fearing person, otherwise, who knows what will happen.

My prophyte and I were pretty much on the same page when it came to God, so in that regard everything seemed fine. However, when you join an NPHC organization, you also join NPHC. One of the things about joining NPHC, especially at a predominately white institution, is that the success of your events depends on the support of your fellow Greeks. This means it's only polite to support their events as well. Most organizations had events that I don't think Jesus would have a problem with and were quite good for the community: forums about important topics, awareness programs for difference diseases and disasters, fundraisers for charities, etc. However, the biggest fundraising source was always a party; people will pay $10 to party, but they won't give you $1 for a charitable cause. I'm not sure Jesus would have been so down with the parties...

Parties in general can be a wonderful and festive occasion. Jesus went to a wedding reception, which by definition is a party.[2] He even provided the wine (though people argue whether the word wine really means the alcoholic beverage, or if it means grape juice). The difference is the atmosphere. For one, the music played at college parties is quite raunchy. At the time I was in school songs like "Becky" by Plies, "Nasty Song" by Lil Ru, "All the Way Turnt Up" by Travis Porter, and "O Let's Do It" by Wocka Flocka were all the rage. The lyrics of these songs are far from godly and most of these songs I probably never would have heard had I not been at those parties. Combine the vulgar lyrics with vulgar dancing and tons of alcohol, and I'm pretty sure Jesus would have said that wasn't the environment for His followers.

People often try to excuse this type of behavior by saying Jesus hung out with the worst of them. They will lavish in the fact that they weren't drunk and they didn't dance like that, so it was fine. Well, I didn't get drunk and I wasn't on the dance floor either, but I know the lyrics to those songs because I heard them so much and my presence alone suggested I condoned the actions. I certainly wasn't making it easier for those who felt awkward or alone in choosing not to participate in that environment. For all they knew I got drunk at the parties, too. Furthermore, while Jesus may have healed a prostitute, the prostitute came to Him. Nowhere in the Bible does it say He went to sin filled places (like a strip club or prostitute alley). His actions merely showed that even if you were involved in that lifestyle, you would not be turned away when you decided to seek Him out. He still tells the prostitute to go and sin no more, meaning don't go back to your old habits!
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The Weird Stuff

Aside from the parties, it didn't really seem like there's anything so wrong with Greek life. Had my prophyte and I been in the place we are now back then, we probably would have just donated money and not attended the parties. All better... Except there are still some interesting things to think about. Amos 3:3 reminds us that two can only walk together if they are agreed. Which means Christianity and Greek Life can only be united if they agree with each other.

Lying

We are commanded not to bear false witness or to lie. Despite the fact the many people have decided that "little white lies" are harmless, the word is quite clear that a lie is a lie and we aren't supposed to do it. Abraham even gets in trouble when he tells half-truths. That's the Biblical stance, but what about Greek life? For starters, when you join an NPHC organization, it's supposed to be a secret. That means if you have to go to a session and someone asks where you're going or why you have to leave, you can't tell them the truth. Granted there are many ways to avoid an outright lie, if the person is a pryer, eventually you'll have to make something up. The night of my show people wanted to walk to the show together. I said I would be late (which was sort of true when you're talking about actual time, except since I was the show I couldn't possibly be late since the show wouldn't start before I got there). They pried to find out why I'd be late. Well, I couldn't say why, so I said I had to finish up some homework. I can't remember if I actually had homework or not, but that wasn't why I couldn't walk with them to the show. Harmless or not, this is an aspect of Greek life that does not align with God.
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Symbols and Idolatry

Each organization has symbols and mascots. These images tend to take over both our wardrobes and decor. From banana necklaces and Egyptian symbols to pearls and all things pink, from canes to brands, from elephants to doves to poodles, or specific colors, each organization clings to these symbols. Usually there are rules about who can touch these objects and whether it's frowned upon or not, many Greeks will tattoo these symbols or the letters themselves on their bodies.

In the Old Testament, only certain people were allowed to touch the holy objects in the Tabernacle. There are specific instructions for how these pieces were to be carried and who was worthy enough to touch them, because they were God's objects—they were holy. What are we implying when we imbue regular objects with such importance that only certain people are allowed to touch them? Is this a form of idolatry?

Moreover, the Bible commands us not to put marks upon ourselves. Most Greek organizations condemn the practice of tattooing the letters on the body (at least mine did), but people still do it. While you can't say Greek life promotes tattooing, the act of joining a Greek organization gives those tempted to tattoo themselves a plethora of symbols and sayings to choose from.
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Greek Birthdays

Ask any Greek when they were initiated into the organization and surely they will tell you. If you have Greek friends you probably see celebrations of their "anniversary" (or cleverly changed version of the word) or "birthday" on social media. We can tell you our Greek age, the date we crossed, and probably the date of our show. How many of us can recite the same information about when we were saved? Some may be able to, I certainly can't (partially because I grew up in the church so it was a gradual process and not an instantaneous event, but still...). When I realized this, I felt pretty low.
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Oaths & Pledges

Upon joining a Greek organization, you have to take an oath. Oaths are serious business, though most of us didn't really think about the oath we took to join our organization. You pledge a life long commitment to your organization which is not to be taken lightly! Matthew 5:33-37 suggests we not take oaths at all. In these passages, Jesus reminds us that swearing by anything God has created is still swearing by God, thus making it a sin to break the oath.[1] Which begs the question, what's the difference between a pledge and an oath? Nothing really... So, at each official meeting you take another oath.

Some pledges, like the pledge of allegiance in the US have wording that gives you an out. What I mean is that when you pledge allegiance to the flag of the US (which is still weird and a bit on the idolatrous side, but I digress), you pledge to a nation "under God" that is upholding "liberty and justice for all." If the US is no longer a nation under God, you could argue that you are not longer obligated to be allied with it. There are no such caveats in the pledge for my sorority. My prophyte and I talked about the pledge after we graduated, when she had a conviction about the wording of the pledge. It could be argued many ways, but at the end of the day, the true question is what would God say about it. Based on Matthew 5:33-37, I think He would say leave oaths and pledges alone.

Of course, now that I've already taken the oath, the question would be am I still required to uphold it? Surely God would not want us to uphold an oath to commit a sin, but is being a member of the organization a sin? If not, I have a binding obligation to maintain my membership in the organization for life.

My prophyte distanced herself from the organization because she didn't feel comfortable saying the pledge. I still attended meetings and was actively involved in the community service, because I said I would be, but I didn't recite the pledge.
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Meetings

This seems like the most harmless topic I could bring up, right? Well this is the topic that actually made me stop to think about my sorority membership. The chapter I would join in my area meets midday Saturday, which is in the middle of the Sabbath. I have also seen chapters that meet on Sunday afternoons. Now, many people who are in the sorority are in fact Christian, who consider Sunday the day of worship, however, as a Sabbath keeper a Saturday meeting is problematic. To attend would mean breaking the Sabbath. Similarly for those who hold meetings on Sundays, those who believe in Sunday worship would be breaking their sabbath. While Jesus says that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, I don't think that includes discussing finances or upcoming events. In undergrad, we had meetings on Mondays, but that was conducive to our schedules. Grad chapters don't have that luxury. Members have families and jobs that hinder them from establishing meeting times during the week. Furthermore, for my particular sorority, which is small in number, many chapters include members that come from different cities to maximize membership. The chapter I would join is probably a 45 minute drive from my apartment, so scheduling a meeting on a weekday would be a nightmare. While I personally wouldn't have a problem with it, the meeting would have to be set later than 7 since most people get off at 5 and traffic is horrible at 5. Most people would hate that drive and those of us commuting wouldn't get home until 9 at night. Plus, for most chapters, the time after the meeting is spent socializing. The first graduate chapter I joined went out to dinner after meetings—another issue for having a meeting on the Sabbath in which we shouldn't be buying or selling, or requiring others to work... For those who keep Sunday, a Saturday meeting seems like the perfect answer. For those of us who keep the Sabbath, a Sunday meeting or a late (after sunset) Saturday meeting would be ideal. This rift stems from the fact that while we may all be Christian, we, unfortunately, are not in agreement.
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Conclusion

So, what am I saying? Am I saying joining a sorority or fraternity is bad? Well, it's complicated. I met some of the most wonderful people through my sorority. Most of these women really are life long friends and many of them are also on spiritual journeys with Christ that I have been able to learn from. I do not regret for an instant welcoming these ladies into my life. From leadership experience to community service, to familiar faces when I moved to a new place, the sorority has been instrumental in my life. I don't think I would have made it through my Masters program without the support of the sorors in that area.

Of course, I can't overlook all that I've mentioned above. I would be telling a bald-faced tale if I said there weren't members of my organization that would lead me down an ungodly path or if I said everything the sorority does is perfect.

I believe that in taking an oath to lifetime membership, I am obliged to keep that oath for all things that do walk in agreement with God. Helping with community service, organizing philanthropic events (though not on the Sabbath), being sisterly to my sorors, and the like are all things I think God would expect me to do. Going to wild parties, saying pledges, meeting during God's time, etc., are things I think God would not expect me to do.

Greek life can be a great experience, but it can also lead you in to temptation and away from God. If you are a young Christian debating this issue, I would advise really thinking about how joining the organization will impact your walk with God. Are the members of the organization you want to join God-fearing people? Talk to them about concerns you have to see if these are things that are set in stone (like meetings on the Sabbath day) or things that can be changed. Ask if you have to take an oath or can you just say yes you accept membership, as Jesus suggested in Matthew 5:33-37. I'm not going to delude you into thinking that most chapters will be accommodating; some will probably think you're off your rocker and decide not to let you in, but that's probably in your best interest. However, in some cases you may be talking to a fellow believer in Christ and they may agree with you.

If you're a Christian in a Greek organization comment below on how you handle the ungodly elements of Greek life. Are you still active in your organization and what are your thoughts?
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References

  1. Sproul, R.C. "Jesus’ Teaching on Oaths". Ligonier Ministries. 2016
  2. John 2

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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