Rob and Sim Gregory, who have served as volunteer advisors to the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF) for eight and nine years respectively, will step down from their roles at the end of this academic year due to their refusal to sign the College’s Volunteer Agreement. Though the Gregorys will no longer hold an official position at the College, they are not banned from visiting or giving talks on campus.
Introduced this fall, the Agreement requires all volunteers associated with the College to formally agree to comply with the College’s policies. Among the policies outlined in the Agreement is Bowdoin’s Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment policy, which prohibits discrimination against any Bowdoin community member based on factors that include race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
The Gregorys said that signing the non-discrimination policy would violate their faith and the Christian gospel they teach, specifically their scriptural interpretations of sexuality.
“The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders,” said Rob Gregory.
Though the Gregorys agreed to sign the Agreement with a Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster denied the request, saying it was unfair to grant policy exemptions to some groups and not to others, regardless of the reason.
“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,” said Foster. “And that is a violation of Maine law and therefore also a violation of College law.”
Sexuality and BCF
The Gregorys and BCF are under the advisory of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a national organization that defines itself as “an evangelical campus mission,” according to its website.
While the Gregorys have never been paid employees of InterVarsity, according to Rob Gregory, they have deferred to the northern New England InterVarsity directory in their communications with the college over that issue and have used InterVarsity letterhead in some communications with members of BCF.
The most controversial issues with BCF in recent years involved two chapel services—one in 2009 and another in 2011—that offended some members of the Bowdoin community, who felt the remarks made were homophobic.
“There is something that speaks to all of us that makes us uncomfortable...It doesn’t come as a surprise,” Rob Gregory wrote in an email to the Orient in 2011 in response to the incident that year. “We want to be as broad and fair in looking at as many texts as we can.”
Though BCF has welcomed LGBTIQA-identified students into its group over the years, InterVarsity has a national reputation for refusing to let LGBTIQ students hold leadership positions in its campus chapters.
“I want to make it clear that to make this issue an issue of LGBT-sexual orientation is to miss the bigger picture of the gospel, you’ve lost the picture, you’re off the map,” said Rob Gregory.
“Every time we open the scriptures, every time we meet each other on the grounds of the scriptures, we expect that some part of us is going to be offended. The reason? Because Jesus doesn’t come to flatter the crowds,” he said.
Bob Ives, director of religious and spiritual life, helped to counsel the Gregorys as they debated whether or not to sign the Agreement.
“It kind of came to a head just a month ago, when the actual documents were there, when we gave them to the Gregorys, and they then refused to sign them because of their moral convictions,” he said.
While the discussion did not ultimately result in a compromise both groups could agree on, Ives and Foster both praised the pair’s devotion to the College over their tenure. The Gregorys led regular Bible studies and have in the past taken BCF members to Mount Katahdin. Recently, the pair, accompanied by nine students, travelled to the Black Ministry’s conference in Boston.
One student married the Gregory’s son while she was still enrolled at the College.
“I think they are probably some of the most dedicated advisors we’ve had, not that the others are not dedicated in any way, but in terms of the amount of time that they spend with our BCF members and the activities that they participate in. It’s really quite remarkable,” said Ives.
Foster echoed this sentiment.
“I think it’s hard to imagine for some of our students someone else serving in that advisor capacity,” he said.
Olivia Cannon ’17 said that the Gregory’s dedication to BCF was a huge reason she was drawn to Bowdoin. When she found out about their upcoming departure, she felt somewhat blindsided.
“On paper it’s really confusing, but at heart it just really hurts,” Cannon said.
But with the guidance the Gregorys have given to the members of BCF over the years, Lauren Skerritt ’14, a current leader of BCF, feels confident that with the group is prepared to move on.
“It was a blessing to have them for the time that we did and we hope to continue what they’ve created for BCF,” Skerritt said. “Whatever happens is supposed to happen, it’s in God’s hands.”
Despite this, not every student member of BCF agreed with the beliefs espoused by the Gregorys, according to Ives.
“There are a number of students who have mentioned that this is why they are no longer in BCF,” he said, referring to the Gregorys’ outlook on homosexuality. “But there are other students who say they aren’t in BCF for other reasons, that it’s just a little too conservative a take on Christianity.”
New volunteer policy
Associate Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze, Foster, and the Human Resources department decided to draft the Volunteer Agreement last spring as part of an effort to make sure all volunteers working with the College were aligned with the policies of the College and the laws of Maine. The document was sent out to all volunteers during the first week of the academic year.
“One of the things we realized,” said Foster, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”
According to Foster, the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation.
With the change in policy, all volunteers affiliated with Bowdoin were also required to undergo a background check, similar to the one that faculty undergo when applying for a job at the College.
The overwhelming majority of volunteers agreed to participate in the background checks and signed the Volunteer Agreement without any complaints. However, according to Hintze, two individuals declined the background check because they did not approve of HireRight, the company that Bowdoin uses for all its background checks, and six DJs for WBOR never responded to Hintze’s messages in the first place. All eight of these individuals have since terminated their volunteer relations with the College.
Foster stressed that the Gregorys were the only volunteers who refused to sign the Agreement. The advisors of both the Muslim students’ organization and the Catholic Students’ union signed the agreement without requesting a religious exemption to any parts of the policy.
Although Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and the Student Organization Oversight Committee were not involved in the decision making process with regards to BCF, BSG President Sarah Nelson ’14 said that BSG stands behind the new policy.
“Our number one priority is to have a community in which every student on this campus feels welcome and safe and the non-discrimination policy is central for the principles of Bowdoin’s philosophy,” said Nelson. “We strongly believe in the non-discrimination policy as BSG.”
Similiar controversies have unfolded at peer schools in recent years. In 2011, the Colby Christian Fellowship (CCF) prevented a homosexual student from leading a weekly Bible study meeting on the basis of her sexual orientation.
“After a thorough review of the matter, we have determined that CCF’s actions were not in agreement with the full inclusion requirement of College policy,” Associate Dean of Students and Director of Campus Life Jed Wartman wrote in an official notice, according to the Colby Echo.
As a result, CCF gave up its Student Government Association recognition in the fall of 2012 and now operates unofficially.
“It wasn’t because of her faith or her personal views, it was just strictly of a sexual nature,” said Ives of the incident. “She was broken-hearted, devastated... This is exactly what we’re hoping not to do.”
Similarly, the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) lost its recognition as a campus group in 2012 after it required student leaders to adhere to eight basic tenets of the Christian faith as outlined by InterVarsity. TCF debated whether or not to request an exemption on religious grounds. In May 2013, the group decided it would not reapply for official student organization status with the Tufts Community Union.
But not all of the controversies have ended negatively. In 2011, a student leader of the Bates Christian Fellowship was involved in a same-sex relationship, which prompted many in the group to consider whether she should maintain her leadership role. Through conversations with the their leadership, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship representatives, multifaith chaplains, the dean of students office, and the head of student government, the fellowship was able to work through the issue.
“The successful outcome was made possible because of those conversations,” said Emily Wright-Magoon, Acting Multifaith Chaplain at Bates. “Everyone decided to stay curious and respectful of the others’ viewpoints and find a way to go on together. In the end, the student was allowed not only to participate in the Bates Christian Fellowship, but to hold a leadership role without needing to hide that major part of her identity.”
Ives said he expects to hold a forum with members of BCF to discuss the future of the group in the coming weeks. He stressed that though it is still possible that BCF will renounce ties with the College and operate as an unofficial campus organization, it is likely the group will proceed to find a new advisor.
“If the students of Bowdoin College have decided they have found another way to move forward as Christian students, it isn’t essential that [we] be involved,” said Rob Gregory, “and we can look back on our eight to 10 years of service as being a time we have tried to be faithful and I hope to some extent we have been faithful.”
—Erica Berry, Garrett Casey and Ron Cervantes contributed to this report.
Editor's note, February 14, 6 a.m.: The original version of this story included a phrase that referenced some potentially confidential information about a student at another college. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, the phrase has been removed.
February 14, 10 a.m.: The original version of this story said that Rob Gregory thought that the College's focus on LGBTQIA rights had "mix[ed]" the gospel; it has been corrected to read "miss[ed]."