In the last week, events within Athletes Bible Study (ABS) have forced Williams students to grapple with the sensitive topics of religion and sexuality and the intersection between them. For some of us, this discussion has ignited internal conflicts. I attended a private Catholic prep school, and in those years, I never experienced a conflict between my religious commitments and my support of friends who were gay. At Williams, the potential clash of these two commitments never entered my head, as my religion slowly drifted into the background of my mind. That is, until these last weeks, when I have been forced to reconcile my Catholicism with my friendships.
InterVarsity has been present on our campus in the form of Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF) for over 30 years. In this time, it has been a source of comfort and guidance for the many Christians on campus, bringing speakers to campus, organizing trips and solidifying fellowship. However, its implicit discrimination towards its co-leaders within ABS has led Williams students and members of the administration to rightly question its position on this campus.
InterVarsity’s policy of abstinence reflects basic Christian theology – sexual activity prior to marriage is considered a sin. However, the basis of my anger (and that of others) revolves around the assumption that a gay leader was engaging in sexual conduct without ever being explicitly asked. In addition, I believe that the policy’s enforcement is inconsistent at best, as shown in this recent case. This is the reason that I support, albeit hesitantly, the split of ABS from WCF.
As individuals, we have multiple identities and we belong to multiple communities. For some, InterVarsity is one of those communities. Its right to exist on this campus is not being challenged, but rather it is the inability of the group to subscribe to Williams’ codes of conduct that is up for debate. Once we enroll in Williams College, we decide to adhere to its regulations, be those academic or social. If we do not adhere to these standards, we face, depending on the situation, the disciplinary committee, Security and, most importantly, one another. Furthermore, as members of multiple communities, we must prioritize the importance of each community. The College should be the primary community we subscribe to while we live and study on its campus. Therefore, its norms of conduct must come prior to those of any other community.
InterVarsity’s selective enforcement of its sexual abstinence norms stands defiantly against the College’s statement of non-discrimination. As a gay man or woman is presently unable to be married within the vast majority of Christian churches, then presumably, any sexual act at any time is considered sinful. Therefore, at no time will a gay woman or man be able to enjoy a leadership position within an InterVarsity supported group. If a group is not open to any member of the Williams campus, then it simply has no place at Williams.
Williams is far from being the first college to consider denying access to an organization that fails to abide to its norms of conduct. Harvard has long denied the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) direct access to its students, and not merely as a grandfather clause carried over from the Vietnam War era. Instead, Harvard’s current policy is due to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that limits openly gay individuals from serving in the military. In an interview with The New York Times, Harvard President Drew Faust stated, “We want to have the students in ROTC. I am the president of Harvard and I am their president and Harvard is their university. But we also have gay and lesbian students and I am their president and Harvard is their university.”
Because of Harvard’s decision, students there sought out their ROTC experience from neighboring campuses. Similarly, Williams students should seek out alternate faith support from another inter-college Christian fellowship organization, if not seek out funding directly from College Council to create their own alternate options.
InterVarsity has served the College campus well for the last three decades, but, unfortunately, its recent exposure of their historically discriminatory judgment should be a rallying call for the end of its involvement in the Purple Valley. Discriminatory practices, whether explicit or implicit, have no place within our community. It is time that all of us, regardless of our faiths, answer the call to end InterVarsity’s presence at Williams.