Letter from Alumni: It’s Time to Create an Inclusive Christian Student Group

To the Amherst Christian Fellowship:

We are a group of alumni that spent our college years deeply involved in the Amherst Christian Fellowship (ACF). Many of us went through the formative experience of First-Year Bible Study. All of us authors served as leaders with the ACF Executive Team or various Bible studies and in Disciple Links, Terras Irradient, Gospel Choir and other activities affiliated with ACF.

We write to you to share our feelings about InterVarsity and its recent decision to begin firing staff who do not condemn same-sex relationships. Our disagreement with InterVarsity lies in their broader legacy of discrimination toward LGBTQIA students and staff, including exclusion from staff and campus leadership. ACF has been affiliated with InterVarsity since 1981. InterVarsity hires and oversees ACF’s campus staff, and it sponsors its several annual retreats and a triennial pilgrimage to Urbana, a national student-ministry conference.

InterVarsity tends to err on the conservative side of theology and American politics, but it has traditionally fostered spiritual curiosity and openness. This welcoming spirit is inconsistent with InterVarsity’s now-public policy on sexuality and gender identity. Recently, its stances on sexuality and gender identity were brought to light by TIME Magazine: InterVarsity staff are now to come forward and claim their convictions, and those who profess to be allies (“affirming” in Christian lexicon) would be “involuntarily terminated.” (Affirming Christians believe that LGBTQIA individuals are not inherently sinful because of their identity; they believe in full inclusion, the right to marriage and access to church membership, leadership and other aspects of Christian life.) InterVarsity’s policy targets allies, and of course, it prohibits the involvement of LGBTQIA staff, who would face the same decision: “believe and behave” or come forward and face severance. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it makes InterVarsity hostile and unwelcoming to LGBTQIA Christian students. Now, InterVarsity’s decision warrants a response from ACF.

We are saddened, hurt and angered by InterVarsity’s decision. We also don’t know how you, current students, feel about this. In recent years, ACF has not had a systematic relationship with its alumni. We write to you during this trying time to implore ACF to choose inclusion, and we choose to ask you in such a public forum because past efforts at internal resolution were unsuccessful. Three years ago, when we called for ACF’s disaffiliation from InterVarsity, ACF and InterVarsity staff advisors encouraged us to be discreet and to remain with InterVarsity. We listened to them, but if given the chance again, we would not make the same choice. We hope that you will be more empowered to make a decision, now that a decision must be made.

This is an issue that has been on our hearts and is of great importance to us on a deeply personal level. Some of us are queer, and while we have a variety of theological beliefs, we also share a love for the fellowship and for God’s people. We’ve experienced first-hand how involvement in ACF can be incredibly life-giving at times, but also how painful it can be at others. In particular, we’ve experienced how identity and beliefs relating to sexuality and gender can cloud one’s relationship with ACF.

With its ultimatum to affirming staff members, InterVarsity draws a clear line in the sand, and ACF must respond. Will you, as Christians and members of this diverse group designed to serve a diverse campus, choose to remain affiliated with InterVarsity and thereby sanction discrimination? Or will you choose to disaffiliate with InterVarsity, champion the spirit of ACF’s best, and adhere to Amherst’s mission?

We beseech you to disaffiliate from InterVarsity and to commit to inclusion. InterVarsity’s decision is unacceptable in light of the spirit of the College, Amherst students, and — we hope — many of you. InterVarsity’s policy to oust staff who are allies to the LGBTQIA community is a step backward for an organization that reaches over 40,000 students on almost 700 college campuses. Its policy is jarring against the backdrop of its assertion at a recent conference, when few other evangelical organizations would agree, that Black Lives Matter, that First Nations peoples suffered great harm at the hands of Christians and that questioning is critical to spiritual growth. It reverses InterVarsity’s reputation as the “thinking person’s campus ministry” and InterVarsity’s history of preserving unity in all things essential and liberty in all things non-essential. And this policy is a free-fall from what Amherst Christian Fellowship is at its best: a unifying presence to Christians that may hail from across the globe — a tent wide enough to welcome those who have been steeped in Christian life, those who have been hurt, and those who have had no relation to its tenets. At its best, some would say, ACF looks a little like the kingdom of God.

If ACF continues its affiliation with InterVarsity, then it refuses to protect its members from discrimination, and it ensures an indefinite future led by staff required to believe that LGBTQIA people are worth less. If ACF chooses to both disaffiliate from InterVarsity and commit to non-discrimination, it instead creates an environment where all students and all Christian beliefs are welcome.

For better and for worse, this is not a new issue to ACF. We would like to share some recent historical context that we hope may illuminate your path. In the 2013-2014 school year, ACF student leaders formed a constitution-writing committee, on which several of us served. We planned to write the fellowship’s first ratified constitution, which would establish ACF as an organization that is inclusive and celebratory of Amherst students just as we believe God has made them: LGBTQIA, and of many racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, and more. We wanted to draw a circle wide enough to invite all Christians, with their wealth of differences, to build communal and personal faith.

We also wrote the constitution to protect ACF from the fate of InterVarsity Christian fellowships at peer institutions like Tufts and Bowdoin. Because of their affiliation with InterVarsity and because of InterVarsity’s discrimination, those fellowships were de-recognized and excluded from campus resources. We modeled our constitution after that of the Williams Christian Fellowship. (After all, Amherst takes its best from Williams. Thanks, Zephaniah.)

The constitution writing process challenged our intentionally diverse committee, and we spent months crafting what we believe is a strong, meaningful document. The committee voted (8-2) to send the constitution to the ACF student members. Three years of ACF student leadership then refused or neglected to ratify the constitution, leaving LGBTQIA students and staff unprotected from discrimination by InterVarsity.

Due to timing, the constitution was written without input from the class of 2017 and subsequent classes, so we understand that it may feel foreign to you. However, we have wholehearted faith in this document’s ability to set high, Christ-like standards for ACF, and we hope to spare you of the year-long process we underwent. If you would like to ratify and uphold this document, we would be glad to help you however we can.

We acknowledge that disaffiliation from InterVarsity would be messy, especially because InterVarsity pays and oversees your advisor and offers other resources. We are here to support you, and we hope that this letter encourages you to be a source of love and light on this campus. If you would like to continue this conversation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
With love,

Alexandra Coston ’15
Hayli Hu Kinney ’14
Ophelia Hu Kinney ’12
Colby Jantzen ’14
Cecilia Pessoa ’14

Co-signed by:

Cathy Amaya ’14
Kari-Elle Brown ’15
Esther Clark ’10
Timothy Gaura ’15
Daniel Hsu ’13
Taïna Jean-Louis ’13
Esther Lam ’13
Rachel Om ’13
Aida Orozco ’14
Lindsey Plummer ’16
Sabrina Stavanor ’11
Lawrence Wei ’13
Christina Won ’14
Katherine Wu ’10