The members of Athletes’ Bible Study (ABS), which had been a sub-group of the Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF) since its establishment in fall 2008, decided Monday that the group would renounce its affiliation with WCF and become an independent Christian organization on campus. Discussion of this controversial decision spread across campus Monday following a post on Williams Students Online (WSO).
The source of the decision was a conflict between the sexual practices of one of the group’s co-leaders, who requested anonymity due to issues of privacy, and the principles of the off-campus non-profit organization InterVarsity, which WCF has been affiliated with since WCF’s inception over 30 years ago. As a student fellowship associated with InterVarsity, WCF has the ability to request materials, attend conferences, receive staff support and aid in the organization’s off-campus service events.
Although InterVarsity was not directly involved in the ABS decision process, it asks that all staff members and leaders of groups who affiliate with the organization actively aspire to follow its interpretation of Biblical doctrine: that the only appropriate context for any sexual interaction is marriage between a man and a woman.
The issue was first discussed last November, when a student approached Matthew Mascioli, the InterVarsity staff member connected with WCF, concerning the group co-leader’s sexual practices. The student explained to Mascioli that the group co-leader had historically been in active homosexual relationships, and the student was concerned that the group co-leader remained sexually active. Following the student’s communication with Mascioli, discussion began between the group co-leader, Mascioli and ABS co-leader Lawson Gow ’12 concerning how to best approach the situation.
“From the earliest moments, the issue was making sure nothing was done in haste,” Mascioli said. “It was going to be the decision of ABS, not my decision or the decision of anyone else in WCF. The decision was made between these two particular leaders in early February.”
According to Mascioli, the heart of the issue was not the student leader’s sexuality, but her decision that she would not commit to being sexually inactive. “InterVarsity believes that sexuality is God-given and is something that glorifies God,” Mascioli said. “The issue is not homosexuality, per se. The issue is not even that a person is struggling with being sexually active … the issue is when a staff member such as myself or a student leader is no longer making the attempt to follow what InterVarsity believes is clear biblical teaching regarding sexuality.”
Mascioli noted that in his experience, he was aware of situations both in which a heterosexual student leader who was sexually active stepped down from leadership for that reason, and also in which a student who identified as homosexual but was not sexually active retained a leadership position.
Gow and the group co-leader initially decided that she would step down from her position and that ABS would remain affiliated with InterVarsity and WCF; however, the members of ABS were uncomfortable with that choice when they were informed of the two leaders’ decision at the ABS meeting last Thursday. Upon further reflection, Gow and the group co-leader decided instead to end ABS’s affiliation with InterVarsity and WCF.
“We had to have the conversation of whether or not we should break away from InterVarsity and WCF,” Gow said. “If we did not break away, she would have to step down. [Had] she said publically that she was not a practicing homosexual, [InterVarsity] felt that would be acceptable, but she did not really have a desire to do that.”
Gow and Mascioli both expressed hope that the situation would have been approached in the same manner had the student leader been an active heterosexual rather than an active homosexual. However, Mascioli noted that on a larger scale, the queer population is far more widely discriminated against within the Christian community than is the heterosexual population, and Gow said that the issue was likely first raised due to the fact that the student leader is openly lesbian.
“I believe in the Bible, and I do believe that it says that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, and I believe that it is equal with all other sexual sins,” Gow said. “I initially said that it made me feel uncomfortable that we’d be breaking away from the Williams Christian Fellowship on that basis.” However, the initial decision was reconsidered because “the reaction of the rest of [ABS] was that they felt left out of the conversation.”
Gow is optimistic about the current arrangement. “Continuing to lead together and acknowledging the disagreement is the best thing to do,” he said. “I love [my co-leader], and I don’t want to lead a Bible study without her. I think we work really well together. I don’t care that she is homosexual. I am just trying to read this book and follow what it means.”
“I did agree with the decision to split because I feel like she is a really good person and a really good Christian,” said Caitlyn Cain ’11, one the co-leader’s close friends. “For her to step down from her position for something she is being honest about isn’t fair, when there are plenty of other people who may not be as good of a leader as [she], and they aren’t being as open and honest.”
Cain complimented the way the Gow handled the situation. “He did a really good job of opening the decision to everyone,” she said. “He asked us how we felt about homosexuality, there were a couple of passages read from the Bible about how God feels about homosexuality.”
WCF receives funding from the Chaplain’s Office and College Council (CC). “College Council is aware of the situation and is engaged with the parties involved,” said Lizzy Brickley ’10, CC co-president. “We are currently gathering information, and we will not be taking sudden action at this time.” Brickley said that CC is considering whether or not the situation is a violation of the CC funding bylaws, which include non-discrimination policies.
The student leader declined to comment but confirmed the factual accuracy of this article.