Op-Ed | Defund InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Today
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
As a Christian and a Tufts student, I am calling for the immediate de-funding of the so-called Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF). IVCF continues to promote anti-gay hate speech while acting as the oversight advisory for TCF’s funding, taken from the Student Activities Fee. This is unacceptable.
Last October, I was threatened by an employee of IVCF. They told me to be careful about whom I complained to, because “the last time this happened it cost everyone a lot of money, and we had to get lawyers involved.”
The phrase “the last time” was in reference to 11 years ago, when Julie Catalano (LA ’01) was forcibly removed from her exec-board position for refusing to condemn her own sexuality. IVCF acquired a lawyer, one David French, to defend TCF. The Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ) allowed the latter to defend TCF against Catalano, who had no legal counsel of her own.
TCF was allowed back on campus through an agreement that they abide by the statement, now in Article IV of its constitution, required by the Judiciary and following Chaplaincy for recognition of any religious group: “In conformance with Tufts University policy, TCF pledges to adhere to all University regulations. TCF does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, disability or an individual’s previous affiliations in criteria for membership, assignment of voting privileges or rank” (emphasis mine).
This is deliberately ambiguous. Students and IVCF leaders alike have denied to me that this clause exists, that it applies to religious groups, that it applies to them specifically or, if all of the above are true, instead assert that these rules should no longer apply to them.
As IVCF New England Regional Director Chris Nichols told me in Nov. 2011, if a gay person was elected to an exec-board position, refused to resign and IVCF could not otherwise compel them, then “IVCF would not continue its relationship with that chapter.”
On Dec. 7, 2011, then-director of the Tufts’ IVCF chapter, Ms. Alexandra Nesbeda, was quoted in a Daily article as saying that any queer relationship – no matter the kind, amount or lack of sexual play – is, by definition, “unchaste.” Among other IVCF rhetoric and publications (such as “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality”), this statement is in line with IVCF’s Chapter Leader’s Handbook, which reads: “Is it ok to have a homosexual encounter? [...] A Christian says no.”
Ms. Nesbeda’s callous admission alone should have resulted in an immediate severance of relations between Tufts and IVCF.
Are we surprised, then, at how doggedly IVCF refuses to compromise? Why TCF has no elections? As Alec Hill, President and CEO of IVCF has written, the recognition of IVCF chapters as student groups has been challenged or revoked at 41 (!) different colleges in the 18 months leading up to February 2012 alone in light of intransigent, harmful practices such as these.
To those who believe IVCF’s censorship, lying and bullying has a right to the Student Activities Fee, remember that free speech is not free of accountability. Since when was freedom of religion a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that excused bigotry? Since when was an organization like IVCF given the permission to speak for evangelical Christians such as myself? Consequences too long deferred are no different from consequences avoided. It is long past time to force the administration’s hand on this; it is long past time to end meetings with unwilling liars who argue in bad faith; it is long past time to tolerate – that word the intolerant hate so much – self-righteous pontificating that says: “Yes, we will use your buildings and your money, and we will not treat you as an equal. Because we are religious.”
As am I! Let me be clear: I am not suggesting censorship of those who say these things under cover of religion. But I am pleading for accountability – and consequences. I encourage everyone to talk to the student leaders and to the IVCF representatives and to pay as much attention to what is said as to what is not. (Do they answer the complaints? Do they avoid them? Do student leaders and members themselves feel bullied by IVCF? Do they support it uncritically?)