When junior Ashley Kerley read InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s “Theology on Human Sexuality” this summer, she was ready to do something. The 20-page document, published by IVCF’s national organization, states that although Christians should love “same-sex-attracted people” as their own, “Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage.”
“And so that kind of left of us wondering why Knox, who prides itself on being progressive and not playing into the hand of oppressors, would want this organization on our campus,” Kerley said.
Kerley, who is the president of Common Ground, an LGBTQ+ organization on the Knox campus, felt that the theology, among other stances by IVCF, is oppressive. She asked to start a discussion with the members of the local IVCF chapter earlier this fall about potentially disaffiliating from their national organization.
The InterVarsity exec members received an email asking when they would like to meet.
“I felt confused and hurt, because in my three years being in this organization, there has been nothing but love and acceptance on all grounds for me,” senior Irein Thomas said. “So it was a lot to process.”
The two clubs held an initial conversation about the potential disaffiliation on Sept. 21, according to Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro. The tie to the national organization was more of a concern to Kerley and Common Ground than the individual actions of the members of the local chapter at Knox.
“I’m not saying the people in IVCF on this campus are homophobic É I’m not trying to take away anybody’s religious freedoms, I’m not saying I don’t want a Christian organization here,” she said. “I think there should be a Christian organization, we just do not think it has to affiliated with this national organization that oppresses the LGBT community.”
But the IVCF exec members feel that neither they nor the national organization are oppressive.
“What we believe is that people are entitled to religious belief É and where we draw the line at the end of the day is is this belief being enacted in a harsh and harmful way to this Knox community? And us as a local community, we have always opened our doors,” Thomas said. “So we feel at the local level and national level that this is an affirming, accepting organization.”
Regarding the theology, senior Maddie Schacht, president of IVCF, says it’s not a requirement for members to agree with it.
“We have members … who don’t agree with it, who agree with it completely, and we welcome that because we have discussion,” she said. “We don’t want a group that agrees on everything, we want to have dialogue and discuss these differences and what scripture says.”
In a press release posted on Oct. 7, 2016, the IVCF national organization wrote, “InterVarsity believes Christlikeness includes both embracing Scripture’s teachings on human sexuality as well as defending the dignity of all people, including LGBTQI individuals, because they are made in God’s image.”
The exec members of IVCF also say that they are accepting of all people in their chapter, and that there are several staff members across the country who identify as LGBTQ+.
But when the theology was published in 2016, the organization asked staff members who disagreed with it to disclose their conflict and leave, according to Christianity Today and the IVCF website.
“They didn’t fire anybody, but on the paperwork, they listed it as terminated. Firing somebody and terminating somebody, those are the same things,” Kerley said. “Their argument is they didn’t fire someone, because it was their choice to come forward and say they disagreed with the policy, basically.”
The two groups could not come to a consensus after their initial meeting. They held a following dialogue on Monday, Oct. 8, facilitated by Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez, and also attended by Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich and Corsaro.
It also did not end in an agreement.
“I don’t think that we were on the same page at all about the purpose of the dialogue,” Kerley said. “IVCF seems to have taken the stance that their organization is not homophobic, and that we were not understanding that, but we have not wavered from the fact that telling gay people not to be gay is homophobic. … So nothing that productive really came from it except for the fact that we realized neither of us is changing our mind.”
Schacht agreed that the dialogue did not accomplish much.
“Our general feeling after the meeting was that while we did receive various support from the faculty there, it was very unbiased form the faculty … and that it wasn’t much of a dialogue,” she said. “It was still demands being made of one group, and both groups staying very polarized.”
Following the discussion, the two organizations decided to take a week off to think on the matters and talk among their own members.
For members of IVCF and Corsaro, the demand from Common Ground to disaffiliate is toeing a careful line. Both pointed to Newman Club, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church, as another club that could be asked to disaffiliate.
“We’re not going to ask students not to be a part of the Catholic Church, so why would we ask students to not be a part of their larger Christian community?” Corsaro said.
Corsaro also believes that it’s okay to affiliate with an organization that one does not completely agree with on all sides. She sees value in this, as members of Knox’s IVCF organization can be an example to others at retreats and conferences.
“One of the things they love is that they get to interact with other clubs, think of the witness they can be when they say, ‘We actually have queer-identifying people in our club,’ actually teach that all are invited to the table,” she said. “And isn’t that what we should be as Knox leaders?”
Common Ground believes that this is not a matter of religious freedom or beliefs, but of oppression.
“It’s really hard to be a member of a marginalized group, to say ‘this is the prejudice I face’ and have members of that group look me in the face and tell me I’m wrong,” Kerley said. “There’s nothing about that that feels good.”
After their week apart was over, Common Ground exec approached Student Senate about other routes they could take. InterVarsity also met with them separately.
This week at the senate general assembly meeting, on Oct. 25, members of Common Ground will make a proposal of a new policy that would not allow clubs that violate Knox’s discrimination code have funding. The next week, the policy will be up for discussion at the student senate general assembly meeting.
“Our ideal outcome is that they don’t affiliate anymore, so how that’s going to be accomplished, if it’s going to be accomplished, I don’t know,” she said. “But right now the path we’re pursuing toward that is to have their budget [revoked].”
Despite admitting that the discussions have been draining and difficult, Corsaro believes there will be a positive outcome.
“So if we can be gentle and thoughtful with one another, I think we can come out of this with some real clarity, about who we are as Knox students, as the Knox community É and about what inclusion really means,” she said. “So I do see opportunity here.”
This is a developing story.