Image courtesy of PRISM staff.
Every single voice matters. But what happens when we try to silence those voices through oppression and intimidation? The national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is invoking an involuntary termination, where any staff members who openly support marriage and relationship equality or disagree with InterVarsity’s theological summary of human sexuality will be dismissed from their positions. Many of InterVarsity’s members have been referring to the involuntary termination as the “InterVarsity Purge.”
While there has been some progress towards the acceptance of the queer community in Christianity, it does not by any means suggest that discrimination has been eradicated. Discrimination and violence towards the queer community has been occurring for a long time in Eurocentric Christian cultures, continuing on into the modern era.
Catherine Cheng, a third-year electrical engineering student at UCLA and a leader of PRISM, UCLA’s InterVarsity queer fellowship group, agreed to discuss the matter with FEM.
Q: Can you give a brief overview of the situation and what the “Intervarsity Purge” is?
CC: The national IV [Intervarsity] is “involuntarily terminating” staff who publicly support gay marriage, starting on November 11th of this year. There have been petitions on Change.org to reverse the policy and many queer members and allies in IV have been vocal on social media to oppose the policy and call for changes.
Q: How do you think this affects the queer community, or more specifically queer Christians such as yourself?
CC: As a lesbian Christian in PRISM, a small group in IVBCF [InterVarsity Bruin Christian Fellowship], it hurts to know that our mother organization is pushing us further away by exiling or silencing those staffs who speak for us. I have viewed IV as a community and home, where I found Christ and started following Him, but what is happening right now is heartbreaking.
Q: How is PRISM responding to this Involuntary Termination?
CC: PRISM is raising awareness on Facebook posting news, articles, posts, and videos to raise our voices and gather our allies together. PRISM has helped draft petitions on Change.org that have reached hundreds of people so far. We are making some hashtags go viral: #NotMyIV, #InterVarsityDoBetter, and #InterVarsityPurge. We are spreading our thoughts on UCLA news and Christian news, including Daily Bruin and the Daily Beast. We also hosted a town hall meeting after IV Catalyst, where around 70 queer members and allies joined, to heal, share our experiences and feelings, and respond to questions. PRISM is having more socials and gatherings within itself to create a safe space for discussions about theology and queerness.
Q: Have you ever felt personally discriminated against, or felt like your Christianity was put into question through this “purge” or through Intervarsity?
CC: I’m definitely feeling discriminated against by the new policy. IVBCF has been quite accepting, and I found it to be way more queer-affirming than all other large Christian fellowship in UCLA, such as Grace on Campus and Cru, especially because PRISM was founded in IV several years ago and we have made constant effort to advocate and educate. I have built many meaningful friendships in IVBCF, and many are great allies. I find it especially ironic that after November 11, IV staff cannot publicly support queer justice, while on November 11, 2015, I made the eternal decision to believe in God and follow Jesus’ footsteps.
Q: Do you feel as if Intervarsity has let you down, or lead you on in any false pretenses?
CC: This is a theological purge, and it is not right. It is breaking the one church body apart, and it is silencing those that have been actively undoing injustice. It leaves no room for people to ask challenging questions, discuss constructively, or interpret scriptures in different ways. This discriminating act of pushing away the staff who are advocates for queer justice means pushing away students who are struggling with both faith and queer identity. IV is pushing us away further and further. Why is it that very few of the twenty-plus PRISM members are rarely active in IV? Why is it that PRISM rarely has joint small group with other IV small groups? Why is it that very few of us feel comfortable in the bigger Christian setting?
I am angry. I am disappointed. And I refuse to stay silent. And I urge all of you, who truly stand with PRISM and your queer Christian brothers, sisters, and gender non-binary siblings in general, to advocate with us, reconcile with us, reach out and facilitate healing.
Q: How do you think this reflects on Intervarsity as an institution?
CC: I question that IV values the thoughts of its donors more than those of the students. IV has many conservative donors from different churches, but many liberal students in the universities. I find that these two cultures do not match.
Q: How would you like Intervarsity to respond to your petition and grievances, and what amends do you want put into action?
CC: It is heavily explained in the last section of the #NotMyIV petition. Essentially we want InterVarsity to allow affirming stances to be expressed by all staff, students, and other affiliates without any kind of penalization. We do not demand that IV as a national organization hold a queer-affirming stance, but we do have a list of demands that are outlined in the petition.
Q: How can people help spread your message or be good allies?
CC: Like our Facebook page “UCLA Prism” to get updates. Watch our videos and read the news articles on FB. Sign the petition if you’re part of IV. Reach out to a queer Christian friend and check in with them. Raise awareness and speak up with us on your social media. Go through ally training at the LGBT center.
Q: Will PRISM take a specific course of action if Intervarsity does not change or acquiesce to your demands for reform?
CC: PRISM may leave IV and stand as its own organization, if nothing has been changed. However, this is the last resort, because in Corinthians, God calls for “one church body” and would not be pleased if the church is breaking apart. “And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” We, queer Christians, are Christians too.