InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Policy Change Sparks Student Backlash

“Honestly, I think what I’ve been feeling over the past week and a half has been … mostly grief and heartbreak. As a millennial who’s a Christian, I know that there is a lot of diversity of opinion around certain topics in the church, and that includes same-sex relationships,” said Rachel Geller SC ‘18 about her response to a new InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA policy that will purge the organization of staff members who openly support queer relationships.

InterVarsity is a national, multi-denominational Christian fellowship organization with chapters on more than 600 college campuses, including a Pomona-Pitzer chapter and a Scripps-Harvey Mudd-Claremont McKenna (3C) chapter at the 5Cs. InterVarsity student members nationwide participate in Bible study, prayer meetings, and other spiritual activities. At each participating campus, InterVarsity staff members coordinate group agendas and facilitate communication between student members and the national administration.

For the past two weeks, 5C InterVarsity members like Geller have been wrestling with the announcement of a policy recently put forth by InterVarsity national administration. The new policy, which will go into effect on Nov. 11, articulates InterVarsity’s theological position that any sexual activity besides heterosexual marital relations is immoral. Staff members are asked to step forward if they support gay marriage and queer justice or oppose InterVarsity’s stated position in any way. Self-identifying staff members will then be fired.

According to Steven Hung CM ’17, a student leader of the 3C chapter, and Esther Park PO ’17, a member of the Pomona-Pitzer chapter since her first year, there are currently two staff members and one intern working with 3C InterVarsity, and two staff members working with the Pomona-Pitzer chapter. Hung estimated that one of the 3C staff members has worked for InterVarsity for more than ten years, and the other for about five. Park said that the Pomona-Pitzer staff members have worked for InterVarsity for 12 years.

Students are aware that the weeks leading up to Nov. 11 will be very difficult for staff members. Nicholas Brodber PO ’17 pointed out that staffers will be forced to either abandon their occupations or affirm a policy that estranges LGBTQ+ InterVarsity members.

“It’s a very, very morally painful decision, and I really, really wish that they wouldn’t have to go through it,” Brodber said.

Though he sympathizes with the staff members, Brodber said that he would leave InterVarsity if faced with the decision.

“For me, it’s easy. Fellowship is important to me, and my Christianity is important to me, but … I think if I was a leader, I would just be like, ‘I’m not signing off on this policy,’” Brodber said. “I’m gay, and it would be an existential dilemma if I just committed to saying, ‘Oh, gay marriage should not be allowed,’ or that it’s basically wrong for two people of the same sex to be in a relationship together.”

Many other students are also upset with the policy’s implications for queer InterVarsity members.

“There are many of us who disagree with the policy, regardless of our opinion of homosexuality. We feel that, as Christians, we are called to love everyone and share the good news with everyone, and if we have certain policies that make certain people feel not welcome, we are not able to do what our God tells us to do,” Hung said of the 3C chapter’s reaction to the policy.

Geller added that the policy plays into a long history of hurting queer people by the Christian church.

“It’s been really heartbreaking. This has brought up a lot of trauma for LGBTQ+ Christians who’ve been really mistreated by the church,” Geller said.

For many student members, the new policy represents a disconnect between the national InterVarsity organization and the communities that they’ve come to know at the 5Cs.

“There have been other instances when I see a kind of disconnect between the really great things that I see going on in our fellowship and the national organization … But I definitely didn’t expect this,” Park said.

Geller believes that the new policy will be detrimental to InterVarsity’s image and presence on campuses nationwide.

“This obviously adds to the perception of Christians nationwide as being very homophobic and at the very least not knowing how to interact with or love queer folk. In a place like Claremont, and in a lot of other places across the country, I see this as really damaging InterVarsity’s ability to reach out to all students,” she said.

Geller was part of a group of queer and allied InterVarsity members on various Southern California campuses who recently drafted a petition to revoke the new policy. Brodber urges any concerned students, whether or not they are InterVarsity members, to sign and share the online petition.

“The only way that all this can just be thrown out, and nobody has to be hurt, is if students sign the petition,” Brodber said. “I’m really, really hoping some miracle will happen, and nobody has to be hurt by this decision.”

On Oct. 27, 3C InterVarsity will host a large group discussion at the McAlister Center for Religious Activities, with the topic “Is God Homophobic?” featuring HMC alumni Cameron Gaebler.

With initiatives like the petition and talks about the issue, Geller and other students hope to ameliorate some of the pain that the recent InterVarsity administration decision has caused LGBTQ+ students.

“I would like to apologize on behalf of the Christian church … for the amount of damage that has been done to the LGBTQ+ community, because it is so horrifying, and this year itself has brought so many new tragedies, and we need to do better,” Geller said. “This is not what the Christian church should be, in my opinion. So I would just like to say that I apologize and that we need to be more loving. We need to do better.”