College can be a challenging space for faith and Greek Life. One of the most difficult problems many Christians in fraternities and sororities encounter is how to address hazing within their chapters.
Sometimes hazing can be difficult to identify.
Other times hazing is easy to identify but social pressure, fear of backlash, or a lack of know-how make it feel all but impossible to stop.
However, God provides helpful guidance we can turn to in making sense of our calling in the Greek system and in understanding how we can be agents of change from within our chapters. The following are three steps you should consider when working to improve your chapter’s new membership program and creating an experience that builds up your new members, your fraternity and sorority, and honors God.
1. Spend Time in Reflection
“To serve in the light of truth; to open wide, Life’s windows to the revelations of heaven and earth. Avoiding the Phariseeism that belittles the soul and scorning the bigotry that blights the mind, to respect every altar of faith built in God’s name, by every sincere worshiper to whom, if we cannot give our sympathy, we shall not deny the kindness of our manly silence; and, whatever our creed, to reverence the Christ as the Divine Compassion for struggling humanity – a compassion that, giving the world its gospel of human service, saves men to the end that they may serve their fellowmen.”
– The Preamble to the Creed of Sigma Nu Fraternity
One of my biggest pet peeves in conversations about hazing is society’s need to try and reduce the complex problem into a simple binary: people who haze = bad; people who do not haze = good.
The problem with this binary is that it often strips the humanity from those who perpetuate hazing behaviors and attitudes.
It’s assumed that those who haze are guided by evil motivations. However, this is a harmful reduction. As has been mentioned before, hazing is a complex problem and as such, hazing’s existence in chapters can come about and be perpetuated by a number of different factors: tradition, community influence, and even a misunderstanding of how to achieve legitimate and desirable outcomes such as close relationships among members.
Regardless, fraternity and sorority members must understand that hazing is the absolutely opposite of what it means to build authentic brotherhood and sisterhood.
Consider this parallel. When Jesus appeared before the Pharisees and Sadducees, they accused him of violating holy law. However, what Jesus really did was reveal the contradiction of the laws established by the Pharisees and Sadducees. He revealed that they were using the laws, not to glorify God, but to glorify themselves. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not desiring an authentic relationship with the Father but were instead positioning themselves to be worshiped and revered.
In a similar vein, I believe fraternity and sorority members need to be careful about becoming the Pharisees and Sadducees of their own chapters. Our founders have laid out a clear framework of what the mission and purpose of our organizations are to be.
Without careful reflection about how our new member experiences fulfill the mission of our organizations and edify our new members we run the risk of creating a self-serving culture of hazing.
2. Extend Grace to Yourself and Others
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms.”
– 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
One of the most common excuses for hazing is, “I had to do it.” Within this hazing excuse is a fundamental lack of grace. For many fraternity and sorority members, hazing new members is a way to pass on the experience they went through themselves. Hazing wasn’t an enjoyable experience and so it’s passed on as a form of catharsis.
However, as Christians we are called to extend grace those who have done us wrong and upend the cycle of harm. This can be incredibly tough but ultimately, we must recognize the inherent sin of hazing and turn away from behaviors that fall short of glorifying God and his creation.
3. Take Action
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
– James 2: 14-26 (NIV)
One consistent message that rings throughout the Bible is the call to action. God has not called Christians to keep their faith personal, but to be good stewards, do good works, and worship him through our service to others.
As Christians we are called to take action from within our chapters to combat hazing when we discover it. It is not enough to acknowledge that the behaviors and activities are wrong. We must be better advocates for creating necessary change. Fortunately, you and your chapter are not alone in the change process. Fraternity and sorority members should consider taking advantage for the following when working to eliminate hazing from their chapters.
- Allies – Be vocal about your concerns. Hazing research shows that opposition to hazing usually exists as a silent majority within chapters. Most members are against perpetuating harmful activities but fear the social backlash. Identifying allies and being vocal about your concerns can help to reveal the chapter’s true attitude toward creating real change.
- (Inter)National Headquarters – Though they can be intimidating at times, fraternity/sorority staff exist to provide support to their chapters and members. Seek help if you are unsure whether or not an activity could be hazing or would like to make a change to a current new member program. The fraternity/sorority staff can provide best practices and helpful tips for creating meaningful experiences that achieve the chapter’s desired outcomes.
- Your Campus Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life – Like fraternity/sorority staffs, your campus’ Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life is here to make your chapter better. Seek their guidance in reviewing your current activities and finding ways to make improvements.
Often, we fear speaking out because we worry about the consequences. Will the chapter get shut down? Will my friends hate me? But in the bigger picture, these consequences are far more prefarable than the physical and emotional abuse or even death that hazing causes. I challenge you to really think through your chapter's practices.
Are there practices that do not honor God and your brothers/sisters? How is God calling you to act?
Christopher Brenton is a Sigma Nu alumnus from North Carolina State University. He works at Sigma Nu Headquarters as the Director of Chapter Services.
This is part 2 of a 2-part series on hazing. Visit hazingprevention.org for more information.