Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Pressured Gay Treasurer to Resign
Fellowship’s "basis of faith" signature requirement may be illegal
Steven Jackson felt pressured to resign as treasurer from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship because he is gay. Meg Kinsley /// The Spectrum
Sophomore history and French major Steven Jackson resigned last month from his post as treasurer of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship after feeling pressured to do so because he is gay, he told The Spectrum. The Fellowship may also be breaking the law, as its constitution requires its executive board members to sign a "basis of faith," a statement affirming certain Christian beliefs.
The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is a national, student-led, evangelical ministry with a UB chapter, recognized and funded as a club by the Student Association. Jackson is also the speaker of the SA Assembly.
IVCF Vice President Leslie Varughese said the club's executive board members, including Jackson, mutually decided that Jackson's resignation would be best for both Jackson and the club, not because of Jackson's homosexuality, but because of his refusal to accept Biblical scripture - specifically, those Bible passages that condemn homosexuality.
Simply put, the problem was not that Jackson is gay; the problem was that Jackson doesn't accept Bible verses that condemn gay people.
"I don't see Scripture as reliable as they do," Jackson said. "They'll take it as God's word, and I won't, because I don't believe that's the case."
But Jackson, who was elected treasurer by his fellow IVCF members, also said that his homosexuality was indeed a sticking point.
"[Other IVCF members] said, 'Well, on one hand, you're gay, and that's not a message that we want Intervarsity to show the campus that we think is an OK lifestyle,'" Jackson said.
Jackson did not want to reveal the identities of those who told him that he should step down, but he said that they included both IVCF staff and executive board members.
When asked whether Varughese's characterization of the resignation as a mutual agreement was accurate, Jackson said yes and no.
"It was definitely a pressured [resignation]...They made it clear that they felt like I should step down and kind of made me uncomfortable enough to the point where I just wanted to leave," Jackson said.
Both Jackson and Varughese said that Jackson's resignation resulted from his being in a leadership position (treasurer), and that if he had been an ordinary member of the club, nothing likely would have happened.
"We told Steve that it would be very difficult for him to lead with integrity in an organization that had contrary beliefs...We didn't ask him to leave the Fellowship, and we do not want him to leave the Fellowship," Varughese said. "We love him, and we want him to continue to seek God and grow in his faith."
She added that the IVCF welcomes all people and has had members with different varieties of backgrounds, beliefs, and practices.
Jackson's boyfriend, junior English major Clinton Hodnett - events coordinator for UB LGBTA and a student assistant with Wellness Education Services' LGBT Outreach Team - also identifies as both gay and Christian.
"I don't think that being gay intrudes upon my religious beliefs at all," Hodnett said. "It may change what religious beliefs I choose to agree with or not, but I don't consider myself any less of a Christian because of my sexual orientation."
SA Senator Katherine Pizzutelli said the SA Senate will discuss the IVCF at its next meeting, to be held Sunday at 3 p.m.
"Intervarsity Christian Fellowship was given a budget of $6,000 this year," Pizzutelli said in an email. "Divide that by 20,000 undergrads. I will not tolerate discrimination. I feel like asking for my 30 cents back. I have talked to several people over the past few weeks and have discovered that some students, my friends, have felt personally targeted by [IVCF]. If someone has felt personally threatened by any entity on this campus, I would encourage them to call the University Police to report the incident."
Because UB is a public school, the IVCF's "basis of faith" may be illegal as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Christian Legal Society v. Martinez decision, which established that a student cannot be barred from participating in a club because of his status or beliefs.
The SA Senate will consider derecognizing the IVCF if senators find it to have broken the law, according to Pizzutelli.
"These meetings are open forums, and we welcome and encourage all students to attend," Pizzutelli said.
Additionally, the IVCF constitution's "basis of faith" requirement has gotten UB's attention, according to Varughese.
"It was brought to our attention that there was an issue with our constitution, and the university has asked us to address it, so we're in the process of addressing it right now," Varughese said.
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