Volunteers must leave Maine campus ministry

by Sarah Padbury
Posted 3/22/14, 09:15 am

The leaders of a campus ministry at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, must step down as of May 1 because they refused to sign a non-discrimination statement. The school’s new volunteer policy requires organizations to allow LGBTIQA—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning or asexual—students to be leaders in the group.

Rob Gregory, along with his wife Sim, has served as adviser for almost a decade to Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. They have facilitated off-campus retreats and offered counsel and support to students. When first approached by the college to sign the policy, the couple asked the college to include an amendment that would allow an exception for their religious beliefs.

College officials refused the offer, saying it would be unfair to other on-campus groups who are required to follow the guidelines.

“If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA, and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation, or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster told The Bowdoin Orient.

Bowdoin’s ruling is reminiscent of a similar decision by Vanderbilt University in 2012 to require volunteer organizations to have an “all-comers” leadership policy, which led to a mass exodus of Christian ministries from the campus. At Tufts University, an InterVarsity group initially lost its official status due to their refusal to sign a similar policy. But in Dec. 2012, Tufts’ student judiciary reinstated the group, deciding by unanimous vote that religious groups should not have to appoint leaders who do not share their beliefs.

Owen Strachan, a Bowdoin alumnus, is assistant professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College and the author of Risky Gospel. In an article for The American Spectator, Strachan reminisced about his days at Bowdoin and challenged the school’s leadership.

“The Bowdoin College Democrats need not admit Republicans to leadership,” he wrote. “The Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance need not admit a person who believes homosexuality is immoral to leadership. The Middle Eastern Belly Dance Ensemble need not admit a non-belly dance enthusiast to leadership.”

The controversy has spread to other colleges in the state. On Monday, the University of Maine’s student newspaper, The Maine Campus, posted a story by Seth Dorman, which argued that tolerance isn’t the question, morality is: How do we determine what is right and what is wrong?

 “For those who don’t believe in God, and those who don’t believe God communicates truth to us, the only source is the self,” Dorman wrote. “Without God, morality becomes a matter of opinion. This is the real struggle behind the homosexuality debate: What is moral, and who decides?”

Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.

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