Senior Megan Molloy discovered an important part of her identity during an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship retreat last summer: she is not straight.
“I don’t know if I would ever have taken the time to really think about myself and who I could be attracted to and who I could fall in love with if I hadn’t gone to this Christian retreat,” Molloy said.
At the end of last term, Common Ground introduced an initiative to Student Senate to defund IVCF. IVCF national’s released “A Theological Summary of Human Sexuality” in 2016 which states that “Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage.”
Senate voted 17 to 7 to not defund IVCF by secret ballot at the March 28 general assembly meeting in Old Main.
Senate also passed a motion to discuss alternative responses to Common Ground’s initiative for this week’s meeting.
Common Ground had introduced a non-discrimination policy to be included in Senate’s budgeting process last term. They moved to the initiative after Senate tabled the non-discrimination policy over worries about how it might affect other clubs on campus.
Common Ground believes that the college should not be supporting IVCF’s national organization by providing the club with a yearly budget through Student Senate because of statements and actions Common Ground describes as homophobic.
“From the start our goal was to have IVCF not funded by our student funds,” junior Teslin Penoyer, a Common Ground exec member, said to Senate.
IVCF requires new employees and interns to agree to their position of human sexuality which defines the only appropriate sexual relationship as between a married man and woman. IVCF national also asks local chapter exec members to sign the agreement, a practice Knox’s chapter does not follow.
They do, however, sign a doctrinal statement.
“The doctrinal basis of beliefs is not like the theology of sexuality, it’s like, ‘do you believe in Jesus Christ,’ like the fundamental principles of Christianity,” junior Irein Thomas, an IVCF exec member, said in an interview with TKS.
Senate devoted time at two meetings toward the issue before voting on the procedure. At the first meeting, March 21, they heard arguments from both groups and then asked each club questions. The second meeting included 10 minutes to finish questions from the first meeting and then Senators discussed their own thoughts.
“It was clear to Common Ground that IVCF as a national organization held homophobic, discriminatory and harmful views, and those views turned into action,” Penoyer said in Common Ground’s collective statement to Senate.
Knox’s IVCF is non-dues paying. They do pay to attend conferences, but also receive scholarships from the national organization to attend.
“Since the [first] Senate meeting, it’s been even further clarified with us that if you think about it a certain way, that money even going to the conference is not really going to the national organization, it’s just going on that conference,” IVCF president Maddie Schacht said. “And typically the national organization loses money with these conferences.”
Senators and IVCF members also raised questions of religious freedom. The groups disagree on whether the issue is about religion or about the specific beliefs and practices of an organization.
“We are not attacking Christianity, not at all,” junior Ashley Kerley said in Common Ground’s statement. “We are standing up to hate, and Christianity is not about hate. To imply that by standing up to homophobia we’re attacking Christianity is offensive to Christianity.”
IVCF approached the initiative as dealing with a question already being discussed in the religious community.
“I think that this is a really serious and important conversation that we need to have as a religious community. We’re concerned with the ability to express beliefs on this campus being regulated by certain ideological groups,” Thomas said.
IVCF cited a definition of discrimination from PFLAG, a group for the parents and allies of LGTBQ+ people. The definition IVCF provided in their presentation to Senate says that discrimination happens at “the intersection of beliefs with actions taken based on those beliefs.”
Vice President for Student Development and Senate advisor Anne Ehrlich said that both she and Knox President Teresa Amott have received comments from alumni on the issue and that those specific alumni have been worried about defunding IVCF.
Senior senator Rachel Watson asked for an open vote but Senate president and senior Sam Cohen decided to have a secret ballot so senators did not face any backlash for how they voted and were not afraid to vote how they felt.
After voting 17-7 to not defund by secret ballot, Senate passed an additional motion to continue discussion of other options at their next meeting on April 4.
Freshman senator Adrian Sancen and senior senator Nick Ryan brought up the possibility of not allowing money from Senate to go to IVCF nationals, in order to avoid having student payment go towards an organization some object to. Other senators worried that simply defunding would not do enough, as removing their budgeted funding would not force IVCF to disaffiliate.
“We think that with systems of oppression, just by supporting the name and by advertising the name and having it out there is still important É you’re still saying that their homophobia and their prejudice is not a deal breaker,” Kerley said when Common Ground was asked to respond to the proposal.
Common Ground held an FAQ and question and answer event on Friday, March 29, the day after the vote, to help students better understand the issue. They had planned the event before they knew the results of the vote. Three students attended.
Common Ground explained that it would continue pushing for IVCF to be defunded, disaffiliated or be taken off campus. Still, they saw not allowing funding to go to nationals as at least better than not defunding at all.
They said that Knox’s chapter visibly splitting with the national organization over the issue would be as good as disaffiliation, but questioned if Knox’s chapter could really stand up to the national organization if the club were split on their support of the statement on human sexuality.
“Why do you have to ignore a homophobic policy? They shouldn’t have a homophobic policy,” Kerley said in an interview with TKS.
They also plan to continue moving towards implementing the non-discrimination policy they brought to Senate last term. The policy would go in the budgeting by-laws and prevent any chapter of a national organization that violates the non-discrimination policy from being funded.
When the policy was originally brought up, Senators were concerned about what other organizations the policy could apply to. Newman Club was the only possibility addressed, however it is not currently budgeted.
Common Ground sees Newman Club as having a very different situation.
“The Catholic Church is a religion, not an organization,” Kerley said. “IVCF, they’re not a religion themselves, they’re an organization that practices a religion. There’s a difference.”
Nor does Common Ground see their initiative as setting a precedent that might be used against other clubs in the future.
“Everything that we did, we did through the pre-existing by-laws and through the pre-existing procedure,” senior Katie Goldstone-Hersch, who is on Common Ground’s exec this year, said. “Everything we are doing is something that anyone could have done at any point.”
As the process continues, some students still balance both identities.
“They’re both pieces of my identity that I kind of recognized later in life. With me it wasn’t like I was born and I knew I was gay. The pieces added up until I couldn’t ignore them anymore. It was the same way with Christianity, it was just like a slow burn until I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” Molloy said.
Molloy does not know what she will do if IVCF loses it’s funding or can no longer send as many students to national conferences. She hopes that there will still be a place for students to form these parts of their identities and to find a supportive community at Knox.
“Had I not been able to participate in [IVCF], I would not have stayed at Knox College. It’s that simple. In a new place where I felt too big, too small, too stupid, and unknown, I had a group that accepted me automatically,” Molloy wrote in her statement.
Student Senate will continue their discussion focusing on other options at their next meeting, Thursday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Room in Old Main.
Rachel Watson is the social media manager for TKS.