In the wake of the Oct. 6 announcement of a new InterVarsity (IV) Christian Fellowship USA policy that will purge the organization of self-disclosed queer-affirming staff members, the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship has decided to disaffiliate from the national IV organization.
IV is a national Evangelical organization with chapters on more than 600 college campuses. Student members of IV chapters partake in Bible study, prayer meetings, and other spiritual activities, aided by IV staff members. Prior to the Pomona-Pitzer split from the national organization, two IV chapters existed at the 5Cs, one for Pomona College and Pitzer College and one for Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, and Claremont McKenna College (3C).
Almost three weeks ago, a TIME article confirmed a rumor IV members like Jaira Koh PO ’17 had feared: that IV's national administration would begin firing staff members who openly disagreed with the IV's newly stated official theological position on sexuality, which is that anything besides heterosexual marital relations is immoral. The policy will go into effect on Nov. 11.
Koh, a student leader of the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship, said he had heard speculation about such IV administrative movements before the TIME article, but didn’t think that they would actually be codified.
“I thought, ‘This is such a terrible idea, they can’t possibly do something like this, they’ll come to their senses’ … and then they didn’t,” Koh said.
Many other students in the Pomona-Pitzer chapter were also upset by the implications of the new IV policy.
“I thought it was extremely short-sighted and narrow-minded,” said Pieter Hoekstra PO ’17, also a student leader of the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship. “It wasn’t just that InterVarsity was taking a theological position on homosexual relationships, but that they were asserting that it was an issue that was beyond debate. The fact that they’re literally purging anyone who disagrees with that is basically saying, ‘we don’t think there’s any conversation to be had.’”
Koh and Helen Jun PO ’17, another Christian Fellowship student leader who wrote an op-ed about IV in TSL last week, pointed out that Fellowship would face the threat of being de-recognized as a student organization by ASPC for failing to foster an inclusive environment if it was associated with the new IV policy. Due to this possibility and the hurt that the policy caused queer and queer-affirming students, said Jun, Koh, and Hoekstra, the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship decided to put the option of disaffiliation from the national IV organization to a vote.
According to Jun, Koh, and Hoekstra, disaffiliation from IV was first mentioned at a group meeting Wednesday, Oct. 12, six days after the release of the TIME article. Christian Fellowship members considered the possibility for over a week, and the vote, which was open to all self-identifying fellowship members, took place last Friday, Oct. 21. Jun, Koh and Hoekstra said that the group voted overwhelmingly in favor of disaffiliation, with 45 members voting to disaffiliate, three voting to remain affiliated, and four abstaining from voting.
All three leaders said that they were satisfied with the group’s decision. Although there is a student-drafted petition to revoke the new IV policy, Jun, Koh and Hoekstra are skeptical that the IV administration will react to student protest before Nov. 11.
“I think [disaffiliation] was our only option,” Jun said.
Ellie Ash-Bala, Pomona College's director of the Smith Campus Center who oversees Pomona's relationship to all 5C clubs, including Christian Fellowship, wrote in an email to TSL that disaffiliation from IV will not have much of a logistical effect on how the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship operates on campus, or on the group’s sources of funding.
Hoekstra echoed Jun’s sentiment and indicated that he couldn’t have imagined the Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship staying affiliated with IV.
“I couldn’t really wrap my head around what it would mean to stay,” Hoekstra said. “I’d be serving for an organization that actually would not allow me to continue on as an intern or as staff because of my beliefs in this issue.”
Koh said that he hopes the Fellowship’s decision to disaffiliate will encourage other IV chapters to take similar action.
According to Rachel Geller SC ’18, a student leader of the 3C IV chapter, it is unlikely that the 3C chapter will follow suit.
“Conversations about disaffiliation haven’t really been happening in 3C InterVarsity, but we have been able to have a lot of good conversations about how we can make the fellowship a safer and more welcoming place for queer students,” Geller said.
Geller said that efforts to promote inclusivity within 3C IV, which have been planned since before the announcement of the new IV policy, include an upcoming talk at the McAlister Center for Religious Activities on the topic “Is God Homophobic?” as well as an ally training with a Queer Resource Center staff member for the 3C IV leadership team.
Geller said that benefits of remaining affiliated with IV include an extensive Bible study curriculum, access to IV conferences, and permanent staff members. She expressed the concern that, despite these benefits, continued affiliation with IV will draw criticism from the 5C community.
“I would caution anyone who thinks that staying means that the entire chapter or the student leadership affirms InterVarsity’s theology or policy,” Geller said. “There are a lot of other methods of protest, and ways that students are trying to help their chapters grow in how they handle issues of sexuality and gender that might not include official disaffiliation.”
Hoekstra maintained that official disaffiliation was the most suitable reaction to the new IV policy for the Pomona-Pitzer chapter.
“The fact that [IV administration] was not even interested in discussions is the sticking point,” Hoekstra said. “They’re getting rid of their ability to love and serve queer communities.”
Ash-Bala wrote that she was not surprised by the Pomona-Pitzer Fellowship’s final vote to disaffiliate.
“I have found the Pomona-Pitzer IV group to be committed to building an inclusive faith community on campus. They saw this recent policy change by InterVarsity as antithetical to their goals and took a stand to disaffiliate,” Ash-Bala wrote. “Queer folks have been marginalized in faith communities for a long time, and it is commendable to see students within faith communities taking a stand to change that history.”