Whether it’s a cross on a crest, a prayer as a part of ritual, or a sentence in a creed, traces of Christianity can be found in almost all of the 26 National Panhellenic Conference sororities. As a PNM, religion didn’t factor into my recruitment experience at all. No one introduced me to the chapter chaplain, no one talked about the sororities being “founded on Christian values,” and my recruitment counselor instructed us not to talk about the five Bs: brands, bucks, boys, booze, and beliefs. It didn’t even cross my mind that upon opening my new member handbook I would be faced with little glimmers of a religion I didn’t belong to. It didn’t bother me enough to walk away from the amazing women I was becoming friends with, but I had a funny feeling every time I sat with my study group preparing for the new member exam, as I read aloud the parts claiming I believed something I didn’t. I wanted to feel included as comfortably and thoroughly as the other girls seemed to be so badly, but my own beliefs stood in the way. Yet, I still bowed my head during the opening ritual prayer at formal chapter meetings, I listened when the chaplain gave her report, and I wore my badge with pride.
I never earned a point toward formal for attending weekly Bible study and I never posted a prayer request on our chapter’s Facebook wall, and that’s okay. The purpose of a sorority is to find other women with similar values, and “values” don’t have to mean a specific religion. Rather than feeling left out like I used to at the beginning of my sorority experience, I dug a little deeper to discover the values and meaning behind the label. You don’t need to be Christian to believe in compassion, philanthropy, peace, loyalty, commitment, integrity, and honesty. Maybe you can’t get on board with a specific religion because you were raised in a different tradition, or you’ve decided that organized religion isn’t your thing, or you just haven’t decided what you believe. That doesn’t make you any less value-oriented. You can believe in the values without subscribing to the religion that represents a group of people to others.
Don’t feel squeamish or ostracized when you read something about your chapter’s “Christian principles and aims,” or how your organization is supposed to be “exemplifying the highest ideals of Christian womanhood,” or when you fasten on your badge that displays a tiny cross. You’re not misrepresenting yourself, your sorority, or your beliefs. You’re showing solidarity with the tradition of the organization you hold dear, and the values it represents.