Where’s the room for compromise?

The Underground Christian Fellowship (UCF) is taking steps to be reinstated as an official campus organization after being placed on suspension last spring by the University’s Integrity Code Board (ICB).

Before the suspension, the group was known as the University of Puget Sound Christian Fellowship (UPSCF) and functioned as a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, a national campus ministry organization.

Associate Dean of Students Donn Marshall issued formal sanctions against UPSCF after the Integrity Code Board revealed that the club had violated University policies. He stressed that no constitution may conflict with the University’s nondiscrimination policy.

The sequence of events that led to the group’s suspension is complex, according to Tracy Wormwood and Chloe Hunt, the Fellowship’s co-presidents.

In a written statement provided to “The Trail” they stated, “A member of the leadership team stepped down because they were uncomfortable with our relationship with InterVarsity and InterVarsity’s interpretation of the Bible regarding queer relationships.  Some complaints were brought to the ICB, which put our club under heightened scrutiny, resulting in our suspension from ASUPS on the basis of misuse of property and violation of the off-campus adviser policy.”

Wormwood and Hunt said they were unwilling to reveal certain specifics of the incident in a public forum because they feared the story would be distorted.  The administration was unable to provide information about the suspension due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Marshall, who is working closely with Wormwood and Hunt, said that UCF would benefit from a public discussion about the suspension.  Caleb Kytonen, an InterVarsity employee who acted as the group’s off-campus adviser, disagreed.

“We are not super eager to ‘get our side of the story out’ so to speak … The Underground Christian Fellowship is currently reconciling with administration. We are on track to become a club again and do not want to do anything to stall that or make a wound larger than it needs to be,” Kytonen said.

InterVarsity has been involved in conflicts with several schools regarding nondiscrimination policies.  The most recent cases include Marquette University in July 2011 and Vanderbilt University in Sept. 2011.  “The Tennessean” and “The Marquette Tribune” reported that the controversy arose from InterVarsity’s discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Wormwood and Hunt said the incidents at Marquette and Vanderbilt are very similar to what occurred at Puget Sound.

“The administration is in a place where they’re trying to decide whether it is inherently discriminatory for a religious group to require its leaders to adhere to the beliefs and act in accordance with the group. In essence, is it inherently discriminatory to allow religious groups to function?” Kytonen said.

During an investigation by the University it was also revealed that Kytonen knowingly violated the off-campus adviser agreement by attending, and often leading, in-dorm Bible studies, according to University Chaplain Rev. Dave Wright.

“None of us had really led Bible studies yet, so we didn’t know how to go about it,” Wormwood said.  She added that Kytonen was present at the Bible studies for the entire 2010-2011 academic year.

Wright, who revoked Kytonen’s adviser status last April, said the students are his priority.

InterVarsity has “a very proactive campus ministry on hundreds of campuses, but they’re also an organization that has been challenging for a number of campuses at times to work with,” Wright said.

After the ICB suspended UPSCF, Wormwood and Hunt considered disaffiliating from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA because of the organization’s unwillingness to cooperate with school policies.

“InterVarsity was like, ‘there’s no room for compromise, this is happening everywhere, we just want to be firm on this.’  But since then they’ve loosened up a little bit,” Wormwood said.  The Fellowship will re-apply for ASUPS recognition as an InterVarsity chapter.

Wright added that he’s working to bring back the Christian Fellowship because a group of students wants it here.

Disciplinary action included suspension from ASUPS, mandatory revision of the club’s constitution and diversity training. At least 90 percent of the Christian Fellowship must attend the training, which will be held Nov. 7.

Wright and Director of Multicultural Student Services Czarina Ramsay will lead the training, which will include “conversation about the experiences of LGBTQ persons in a heteronormative society—with specific exploration of what it is like for those who identify as LGBTQ and Christian,” Wright said.

Wright and Marshall said the group would be recognized once the sanctions have been completed to the administration’s satisfaction.
ASUPS President Marcus Luther has also expressed a desire to see the Christian Fellowship  reinstated.

“My main goal throughout this entire process has been to find a way to bring UPSCF/UCF back to ASUPS as a registered club. They are an incredibly motivated group of students who have the potential to positively impact campus; in my mind, registering with ASUPS will provide them with structure and support that will only further that potential,” Luther said.

The UCF currently has about 40 members, according to Wormwood and Hunt. They joined UPSCF during their freshman year in 2009.
Hunt was looking for a Christian community and was impressed by the friendliness of the UPSCF members at Log Jam. Wormwood tried several Christian groups but she said she was attracted to the community in UPSCF.

“I actually was bawling during my first meeting,” Wormwood said.

The Underground Christian Fellowship meets Mondays 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. If you’re interested in attending, contact chunt@pugetsound.edu.