Student Government May Dissolve Christian Student Group
In a meeting last Monday, Claremont McKenna College’s student senate—the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC)—met with representatives from 5C InterVarsity (5CIV), the Claremont College’s local chapter of a national evangelical Christian fellowship organization—InterVarsity (IVCF)—and proposed dissolving 5CIV’s club charter.
5CIV is a student run-Christian fellowship organization that organizes and hosts small-group Bible studies during the week for students of the Claremont Colleges, of which CMC is a member institution. Their stated purpose is “to establish and advance at the 5Cs [Claremont Colleges] a witnessing community of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior: growing in love for God, God’s word, God’s people of every ethnicity and culture and God’s purposes in the world.”
One of 5CIV’s leaders told the Independent that 5CIV was only notified of the meeting and the topic for discussion minutes before it commenced. At the meeting, which three 5CIV leaders attended, one student senator referred to the Christian students in 5CIV as “cowards,” while in a private conversation outside of the meeting, another student senator compared 5CIV to the Ku Klux Klan.
The sharp invective reflected the swirl of rumor and myth that has surrounded 5CIV’s membership policies over the past few years. IVCF—5CIV’s national parent organization—requires that paid leaders of its local chapters agree with its conception of Christian theology, which includes a traditional stance on sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
“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,” IVCF’s website explained.
Though this rule only governs organization leadership, and is neither a membership qualification—non-leading members may hold whatever views they wish—nor exclusionary of any identities, some student senators have taken this rule to mean that gays and lesbians are excluded from group membership.
Kate Vosburg, 5CIV’s Staff Minister, told the Independent that the student members of 5CIV spent much of the meeting with student senators dispelling false allegations about the organization, its views on LGBTQ people, and the actual national policy to which the organization adheres.
“One rumor is that 5CIV leaders are required to sign a pledge that they’re not LGBTQ. That never has been the case, nor will it ever be,” she said. “Another rumor was that 5CIV does not allow LGBTQ students into membership or leadership, or that 5CIV does not allow theologically-affirming students as members or leaders. Again, that is not true and will not be true.”
“All students are welcome to 5CIV and leadership qualifications do not include questions of sexuality,” Vosburg continued.
Another popular myth that 5CIV had to deflect was the rumor “that IVCF nationally does not hire LGBTQ people.”
According to Vosburg, “[t]his again is blatantly false. IVCF has, does, and will continue to hire LGBTQ Christians to serve as IV staff. The policy in question is about theological qualifications for being hired; it is NOT about one’s orientation or identity.”
On Sunday, according to 5CIV members, the student senate will have another open hearing on this matter.
It is unclear that ASCMC has the power to dissolve 5CIV’s charter or what that dissolution would mean for the organization. ASCMC already decided to withhold money from 5CIV for the 2017-2018 school year, after funding InterVarsity for many years, due to the unfounded rumors surrounding InterVarsity’s hiring policies.
Vosburg speculates that future action “would mean that we could not host 5CIV events at CMC. It would certainly mean that we would get no funding.”
According to the Claremont Colleges handbook for student organizations, an organization may be suspended or lose recognition if it violates the nondiscrimination clause, fails a financial audit, and/or fails basic registration requirements.
5CIV must also adhere to the “Interfaith Chaplaincy of the Claremont Colleges Guidelines for Student Organizations.” The handbook does not state that having a charter dissolved by a student senate of any of the Claremont Colleges could lead to suspension or loss of recognition for the club.
A move to dissolve 5CIV’s charter at CMC would have some precedent. Last fall, ASHMC—the student senate of Harvey Mudd College, another member institution of the Claremont Colleges—gave 5CIV provisional recognition while it considered whether 5CIV should have exemption from the nondiscrimination clause as a religious organization on the basis that IVCF’s hiring policies requires group leaders to agree with a certain conception of the Christian faith.
Update: A previous version of this article neglected to state that the Independent reached out to student senators for comment. The Independent reached out to the student senators, but the student senators declined to comment.
Update 2: A previous version of the article implied that the comment made by a student senator comparing 5CIV to the Ku Klux Klan was made during the student senate meeting. The comment was made to a 5CIV representative in a private conversation outside of the meeting. The article has been updated to clarify.
Update 3: The description of the meeting on Sunday was updated to clarify that the meeting would be open.
Update 4: Background information on the controversy around IVCF has been updated to clarify that only paid leaders of its local chapters need to adhere to its conception of Christian theology.
Update 5: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that ASHMC dissolved 5CIV’s club charter. This updated version of the article now reflects how ASHMC grated 5CIV provisional recognition while it considered whether 5CIV would be exempt from the nondiscrimination clause as a religious organization.