Christian Group accused of discrimination loses student group status, splits into two

By Armando Montaño

A divide in the Christian community at Grinnell College last semester over homosexuality led to the creation of a new student Christian group and caused the Grinnell chapter of national Christian organization InterVarsity to lose its association with the College.

The former InterVarsity chapter Grinnell College Christian Fellowship (GCCF) will maintain its presence on campus as the Grinnell Christian Fellowship (GCF). Some of its former members founded the more progressive college group Grinnellians Seeking Christ (GSC).

Last spring, a student questioned GCCF’s policy on denying LGBTQ members leadership positions if they wanted to pursue same-sex relationships. GCF will continue their policy, whereas GSC places no such restrictions on its leaders.

The dispute began when several queer members of GCCF wanted to rise to leadership positions for the 2011-2012 year. InterVarsity staff member for Grinnell Jen Weinman and three students who led GCCF last school year and graduated in May, 2011 decided that allowing an openly queer member who wanted to pursue a same-sex relationship would violate the organization’s central beliefs.

“The decision that was made by core leadership group and the staff member, in their interpretation of the scripture, that same-sex relations are described as sinful,” said Victor Pienheiro ’13, a current leader of GCF. “For someone who doesn’t view it as something as sinful, they wouldn’t be allowed to be a student leader.”

After the queer students left the group, many followed and they formed GSC. Shortly after the split, the Student Government Association (SGA) revoked the student status of GCCF.

“If they felt as if they did want to exclude LGBTQ students, we felt comfortable revoking their student status since it violated the College’s non-discrimination policy,” said SGA President Gabe Schechter.

When GCCF was a student group, it acted as a support network for most of the members during their time at Grinnell. When the split occurred and the network fractured, both sides questioned their views on Christianity and sexuality.

“When I became a part of GCCF I thought … there was room for interpretation as to what the Bible says and what InterVarsity’s policy is,” said Jenny Peek ’13, one of the leaders of GSC who left GCCF. “It was okay to be gay and be a leader, but if you wanted to be gay and pursue a relationship, then it was not okay to be a leader. That was a distinction that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to a lot of us.”

GSC is now an official student group that is eligible to receive money from SGA and the Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice.

“We’re just looking to create a safe, inclusive, memorable Christian community for people on campus, “ Peek said. “As a Christian, it’s heartbreaking to know that there are Christian groups even on the Grinnell campus who feel that way.”

This wasn’t the first time that InterVarsity violated school policy.

In Nov., 1995, a member of Intervarsity left when she disagreed with the organization’s view of homosexuality as a sin. The following week, then Dean of Students Tom Crady and Vice President of Human Resources Frank Thomas revoked the group’s student status.

When Russell K. Osgood became president in 1998, the group changed their name to GCCF and promised to be more open to the issue. However, InterVarsity’s position remained unchanged and as a result GCCF avoided the issue instead of explicitly allowing queer leaders.

Those in GCF had to come to terms with their new status and are aware of their presence on campus. They hold no hard feelings towards SGA or those in GSC.

“I’ve come to peace with it,” said Charity Porotesano ’12, a student leaders of GCF. “The College had to do it, if they see the group’s actions as something discriminatory, I don’t think they should have ignored it.”

Before Grinnell, Porotesano never had to question the view of homosexuality in the Bible. The personal nature of the dispute compelled her to find answers.

“This split forced me to think about this issue a lot and it has challenged my interpretation of the Bible,” she said. “As a Christian, my view is that I don’t find homosexuality sinful.”

Porotesano believes that the group holds importance for people who want a conservative interpretation of the bible so they can talk about their faith and question it.

Others, like Pinheiro, didn’t feel that GSC was right for them.

“I didn’t feel God calling me to leave the group that I’m in,” he said. “I felt like if I left this group and went with the other group I wouldn’t be doing God’s calling for me.”

The divide within the group caused many of the members to fundamentally question their religious beliefs. Pinheiro spent the summer consulting other Christians in Brazil, his home country.

“My personal view is that homosexuality is something sinful and I say that because of my reading of the Bible,” he said. “It’s not something that I’m going to change my mind over something on an intellectual or an academic level, it’s going to have to be through a spiritual experience where God says, ‘Hey Victor, you’ve been wrong about this.’”

Although his interpretation of the Bible views homosexuality as a sin, he doesn’t support discrimination and he doesn’t agree with last year’s leaders’ decisions.

“I do not discriminate against anyone who is queer, I think a lot of people have a really easy time saying, ‘Those guys are queer, that means they’re sinful and god hates them.’ If god hated homosexuals for their homosexuality then he would hate everyone else for the sin in their lives,” he said.

As the dust settles, members of both groups see this as a political issue that represents a fundamental difference in their faith, but that it cannot stop them from their common mission in growing in service to God.

“Christianity is love and peace and that’s even with people you disagree with,” Peek said. “We don’t want to be hosing each other constantly.”

Despite not receiving money from the College, GCF can still use the school’s buildings to hold meetings and poster on campus.

“For us this is a new clean slate,” Porotesano said. “What are some of the ways for us to serve God in more creative ways and not in the traditional singing songs sort of way.”

GCF hopes to participate in more community service activities and events with the City of Grinnell, according to Porotesano.

The Stonewall Resource Center, the campus organization that represents LGBTQ interests, will shift their Christian partnership to GSC, according to the Manager Elliot Karl.

“There’s no hostility towards their members, but we firmly believe that their policy is discriminatory and against the values of the College. For that reason, we have no interest in having any sort of organizational relationship with GCCF and hope to continue the queer/Christian programming we had with GCCF with GSC,” Karl said.

Pinheiro remains optimistic for the future of both Christian groups.

“My belief is that God allowed this to happen and I think good things will happen to both our group and theirs.”