This article is a response to the piece “A Question of Accountability”, written by Stephen Goeman in Volume CXXV, Issue 3.
As a member and leader of Intervarsity Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), I want to provide a counterpoint to the assertions made about TCF presented in the opinion piece by Stephen Goeman in the October 22 issue of the Tufts Observer. I do not speak on behalf of the entire and varied membership of TCF, but I hope that as a leader I can provide some helpful insight.
Firstly, we would like to clarify what TCF is as an organization.
While membership and activities are open to all members of the Tufts community, TCF is not meant to be a collective that contains diverse views without standing for any.
TCF is a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), a non-profit, national ministry dedicated to the same beliefs stated in our Basis of Faith. Like IVCF, TCF is non-denominational, which means that we are not affiliated with any religious denomination; instead of a particular church, we are organized around a distinct understanding of Christianity. Being evangelical means that we seek to proclaim and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ with love and boldness. We choose to affiliate with IVCF because of our shared understanding of Christianity.
We are a student organization that meets around the following understanding of Christianity, as stated in our Basis of Faith, which can be found in our constitution posted on our website, sites.tufts.edu/christianfellowship.
Goeman has a different vision for TCF than TCF has for itself. Our vision is not to be an “ecumenical Christian collective,” but to be an organization where one particular view of Christianity can flourish and one that adds to the richness of interfaith discussion at Tufts. Our beliefs do not limit the range of expressible beliefs of Tufts students because this range exists outside of our fellowship.
Secondly, the question at hand is whether or not we should be able to have requirements for our leadership.
This semester, TCF has been suspended and is currently derecognized by the TCUJ. Our constitution states that leaders should “demonstrate support and advocate for the letter and spirit of TCF’s Basis of Faith.” The TCUJ interpreted this clause to be in violation of the nondiscrimination policy in the TCU’s Constitution. Going forward, TCF plans to appeal this decision to the student and faculty Committee on Student Life. Our mission is to be a dynamic, Christ-centered community that seeks to strengthen its members and reach out to the entire Tufts campus. We feel that the best way to fulfill our mission of being a community that is centered on Jesus Christ is to have leaders who uphold and are unified by those beliefs.
As mentioned in the opinion piece, the University of Buffalo faced a similar situation last academic year. IVCF’s chapter at U. Buffalo was suspended, and after an appeals process, the judiciary ruled that it is not discrimination for religious groups to require their leaders to agree with their beliefs. In the 17-page ruling in “IVCF vs. SA Senate” the Judiciary linked their ruling even more broadly to all student groups, writing: “We cannot expect student organizations to ignore their defining purpose in selecting officers, and the pretense that we do has caused an unnecessary and harmful battle that pits ‘equality’ against the First Amendment rights of students.”
Our hope is that Tufts will acknowledge a similar right for our campus.
Our constitution states that leaders should demonstrate support and advocate for the letter and spirit of TCF’s Basis of Faith, and in response to God’s love, grace and truth, seek to exemplify Christ-like characteristics through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We recognize that there are students who choose to hold beliefs contrary to biblical views of sexual chastity outside the marriage between one man and one woman. These students, therefore, would not agree with the Basis of Faith, since one of the elements is “the entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible.” While we also recognize that there is room for differing interpretations of scripture, TCF is a group that gathers around this particular Basis of Faith, and students who are in disagreement should not be charged with advocating these beliefs with the fellowship and the Tufts community at large.
All members of TCF are given the opportunity to fill out a leadership interest form, and each application is reviewed and considered by a selection committee made up of current leaders and a representative of each class, democratically selected by the entire fellowship. Since we believe that faith is an intimate aspect of one’s identity, the selection committee approaches each applicant through personal conversation. If they find that they cannot demonstrate support for the Basis of Faith, it may be decided that the role of striving to advocate for those beliefs is not appropriate for them at that time. Even if they do not take on a leadership position, they continue to remain a valued member of the community.
Lastly, we would like to express our concern with being linked to the hateful organizations and violence mentioned in the article, and clarify that we absolutely do not partner with and completely disagree with the actions of the groups mentioned, including Focus on the Family and American Vision. We recognize the adversity that the LGBTQ community faces, and do not want harm of any kind to LGBTQ students, whether in our TCF community or outside of it.
Our Basis of Faith also expresses our belief in the “value and dignity of all people” and that all people are created “to live in love and holiness.” This calls us to love and serve everyone regardless of shared belief. There are and always will be differences in interpretation, and to the best of my knowledge, TCF has never engaged in hateful or violent acts against students who hold differing opinions. Jesus lived a life that proclaims the joy and power of living out the Love of God, and we desire to follow his example. This means that in recognition of different beliefs and ideologies, we seek to respond in actions that demonstrate respect and kindness.
We believe that there is a way to have religious dialogue on sex and sexuality while communicating that all people are inherently loved and valued. Our God’s amazing love is offered freely to us through Jesus, and it makes all the difference. We feel that the beliefs outlined in the Basis of Faith are worth believing and advocating, and desire to protect our ability as a community to do so.
Elaine Kim is a senior majoring in Sociology. She is a member of the Tufts Christian Fellowship’s Vision and Planning Team. She can be reached at Elaine.Kim@tufts.edu.