Making room for spiritual expression

Dear Editor,

I attended a play on the Baha’i faith in college. My friend in a creative writing class was in the Baha’i club on campus. I wanted to be a good friend and learn about what she believed. After the play, we stood talking on opposites sides of a chair. I remember feeling that the chair was a barrier in our friendship.

The California State University system recently began creating its own barriers on campus. Through Executive Order 1068, campus clubs that discriminate at membership and leadership levels would be derecognized.

What is basically a good idea—oppose unjust discrimination—has been taken to an unjust extreme in the case of the organization I work for, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Sonoma State University has used the policy to derecognize the two Christian clubs on campus – InterVarsity and Athletes in Action (see “InterVarsity working toward representation” from Oct. 21, STAR). Across the state, InterVarsity has been derecognized from 19 California State University campuses.

What was written to protect freedom of religion is now being used to harm religious expression on campus. The voice and value of religion in the exploration of ideas has been barred from campus life.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a national organization and network of Christian clubs on 600 campuses. InterVarsity at Sonoma State University began in 1962, the year Sonoma State became a university. With a rich history of over 50 years at Sonoma State, InterVarsity has helped students explore faith, serve their campus and become global leaders.

Megan Wong was one of those students. She learned about God’s concern for justice in InterVarsity bible studies, leadership conferences and an overseas mission’s trip. Upon graduation, Wong chose to teach in a school that is 75 percent Hispanic with many students from low-income families.

InterVarsity agrees with the university system that membership should be open to all, but disagrees with its policy that religion can’t be used as a standard for leadership in a religious club. If the leaders don’t uphold the core beliefs of the faith, the club ceases to be what it was founded to be.

Christian faith is essential for a Christian club, so InterVarsity has required all student leaders to agree with the doctrinal basis since it was founded in the 1940s.

Campus groups should have the freedom to maintain and cultivate their distinctiveness. This doesn’t mean discriminating, but taking into account the characteristics that define their historical community when determining the group’s vision and direction. 

Students come to the university to explore ideas as they determine their worldview. They expect diversity to aid their exploration. Many universities, like Sonoma State, utilize the wellness wheel as an approach to supporting the development of the whole student (physical, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational, environmental and spiritual).

UC Berkeley notes that “the wellness wheel demonstrates how the dimensions of life work together to support and foster wellness in each of us.” It’s unfortunate, then, that part of the university welcomes the value of spirituality in personal development and another removes those resources from the campus.

Sonoma State now has half the amount of religious clubs that it did last year. Diversity has decreased. One aspect of the wellness wheel is vastly under resourced, which will hinder the development of students, who are our society’s future leaders.

After the Baha’i play, I wrote a poem about that chair for my creative writing class. I imagined that there could be a comfy chair big enough for my friend and me to sit in together as we learned about each other and our different faiths. Where’s the chair big enough for all students on campus to explore their spirituality?

- Jenny Klouse, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship member