Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College recently considered revoking the charter for the 5C InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group on Oct. 8 due to its ties with the nationwide organization, which holds anti-LGBTQIA+ beliefs. Though ASCMC ultimately decided not to hold a vote, 5CIV's future at the Claremont Colleges is in jeopardy.
After the national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship announced in October 2016 that it expected employees to quit their jobs if they held beliefs that oppose its traditional Biblical doctrines, including its stance against gay marriage and other anti-LGBTQIA+ ideologies, the former Pomona-Pitzer InterVarsity chapter voted 45-3 in favor of disaffiliation from the parent organization, according to a TSL article.
The previously-named 3CIV, which served Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, and Harvey Mudd College, then became the sole IVCF chapter at the Claremont Colleges, and changed its name to 5CIV.
Not everyone stayed. Chris and Lorraine Harry PO ‘97 are staff leaders of Claremont Christian Fellowship, which was renamed last year from the disaffiliated Pomona-Pitzer IV. Chris Harry told TSL in an email that several Scripps and Harvey Mudd students from the former 3CIV joined them in forming CCF.
“Many [members] didn’t want to be associated with an organization that would enact a policy like this,” Harry wrote. “Students also chose to disaffiliate so that Lorraine and I, who were being forced to leave InterVarsity, could continue as their staff.”
Harry declined to comment on 5CIV’s current controversy, but said he bears no ill will toward the club.
“CCF seeks to maintain a positive relationship with 5CIV, and there are some who attend both groups,” he wrote.
The leadership of 5CIV wrote to TSL in a joint statement that they started talking about the controversy surrounding ICVF more than a year ago.
“Within 5CIV there have been many discussions, and although some students decided to leave the group, 5CIV students on the whole have been grateful for being part of IVCF,” the email said.
The statement went on to explain why they wanted to stay affiliated with IVCF.
“IVCF staff are trusted confidants and aids in times of trouble,” the leadership said. “IVCF staff also are helpful coaches for students as they care for their friends, providing mature perspectives on situations, and connecting students to support services on campus.”
In addition, the email said, IVCF helps 5CIV students uphold important religious morals.
“[IVCF] continues to teach basic Christian values of social justice, racial reconciliation, and fighting against all forms of discrimination (socio-economic, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, immigration status),” the 5CIV leadership wrote.
Rachel Geller SC ‘18, a former 5CIV student leader, said she was “ostracized as one of the only queer students and the only queer leader” after IVCF’s policy announcement prohibiting its employees from displaying pro-LGBTQIA+ beliefs.
Geller said she joined 5CIV during her first year and became very involved. By her junior year she was a group leader for one of its small Bible studies, and by that point she was spending “about 20 hours a week” doing activities with the club.
However, Geller said that as she came to terms with her own sexuality, she began to realize that some people in 5CIV did not share her beliefs on homosexuality.
“I started having some difficult conversations with people I was close to,” she said. “When the policy became public I was really appalled and distressed.”
Geller said she and several other leaders who opposed the policy change tried to start conversations within 5CIV about the issue, but it was hard to get members to engage.
“I think part of it was some people did agree with [the policy], and didn’t want to have to defend it to us, and other people were afraid,” she said. “It was a really a negative experience for my mental health and I felt really betrayed and rejected by people that I thought were supposed to love me unconditionally.”
Kate Vosburg, one of 5CIV’s staff members, said 5CIV is open to LGBTQIA+ students and tries to maintain a respectful dialogue for students with a variety of beliefs.
“People with LGBTQIA+-affirming theology have been welcomed into the 5CIV community,” Vosburg said in an email to TSL. “Although [InterVarsity] has a traditional theology of sexuality, we have never required that members or student leaders share that theology.”
Vosburg said 5CIV has worked to make its members more aware of LGBTQIA+ issues and try to include more programs for LGBTQIA+ members.
“IV[CF] leaders have been through QRC Ally training to be more aware of homophobia and heteronormativity,” she said. “For several years, [5CIV] had a Bible study just for LGBTQIA+ people so that students knew that was a safe space for them.”
Geller said it’s difficult to call out 5CIV’s actions because of its nondiscrimination clause and official policy that any student can be a member and a leader.
“What’s so frustrating about this whole situation is that they explicitly can say, ‘We welcome everyone, we wouldn’t discriminate against you,’ but the environment itself is so hostile it was hard to feel comfortable,” Geller said.
Professor David Vosburg, another of 5CIV’s staff advisers, is also a member of the 7C Chaplains' Advisory Board and the 7C Committee on Religious Activities.
He wrote to TSL in an email that 5CIV complies with 5C nondiscrimination policies, and that IVCF is continually “a blessing to black, white, Asian, Latino, female, male, trans, queer, straight, poor, rich, domestic, and international students.”
The 5CIV leadership agreed that this organization is making a positive impact on the 5C community.
“5CIV empowers students to have spiritual conversations and it adds to the diversity of thought that the Colleges seek to promote,” they wrote to TSL.
Kate Vosburg told TSL in an email that while paid IVCF staff are required to agree with the organization’s ideologies, student leaders are not. She also explained that while paid IVCF staff are required to agree with its theologies, they can still identify as LGBTQIA+.
“The IV policy is about theological beliefs only, it is not about identity or orientation,” she said. “One can be a an IV staff or student leader and be LGBTQ.”
However, Geller said the organization would not have wanted her to express her sexuality.
“The official position of [IVCF] and its staff is that acting on same-sex desire would be sinful,” she told TSL. “If I wanted to be a leader, I had to agree that I would not promote my own theological viewpoints.”
Eventually, Geller said, “I got tired of debating my own humanity.” She quit leadership and cut ties with the organization.
Geller said that she thinks 5CIV should not receive funding from the colleges, but that from a legal standpoint, it has not done anything to warrant revoking its charter.
“Unfortunately, a club’s internal environment cannot be evaluated when considering whether or not they’re discriminatory, only their official policies and actions,” she said.
She also understands that 5CIV provides a safe haven for its members.
“Part of me wants to say that I wish they would [revoke the charter], but I also think that I’m sympathetic to the challenges that conservative students face on the campuses, and I know that a lot of people who are still part of the 5CIV probably don’t feel like there would be another community if 5CIV didn’t exist,” she said.
Vosburg also believes that some 5CIV students face challenges at the colleges due to their religious beliefs.
“I am very discouraged by the repeated religious discrimination that 5CIV students and other students of faith regularly face at the Claremont Colleges,” he wrote to TSL. “The emotional toll that religious students are forced to bear … is inexcusable.”
In the end, Geller’s recent experience with 5CIV was not a positive one.
“It’s really hard as a queer person to be told that something is wrong with you,” she said.“I didn’t want to be told that I was sinful for just trying to be who I was.”