Swarthmore Christian Fellowship Has a Sexuality Problem

  "I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Genesis 9:13)

 

"I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Genesis 9:13)

A close look at the group’s policies on queerness

In the spring of 2015, Dayna Horsey ‘18 was confident that she would be the one of the next leaders of the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship (SCF). She had been happily active in the group, going to SCF events almost every day, and was under the impression that most who applied for a role would be given a leadership position .

What she didn’t know was that her application was doomed from the start: over Sharples dinner one night, SCF’s president, David Tia Zhou ‘15, explained to Horsey that she was too accepting of gay sexuality to be a leader in the group. Then, he hugged her and wept.

“[H]e was just, like, crying on me,” Horsey recalled.

Not becoming a leader didn’t bother Horsey too much. “I’ll find something else to do,” she remembers thinking, and indeed, she left SCF soon after. But she was angry—while she wasn’t queer herself, she had queer friends who had been hurt by religious intolerance. And she was shocked at how wrong she had been about SCF, Swarthmore’s largest Christian group.

“I didn't realize at the time how conservative SCF was,” Horsey said.

Here’s how conservative it is: SCF’s leadership believes that God designed humanity for only one kind of romance, heterosexual marriage. Any relationship should exclude pre-marital sex, be heterosexual, and lead to marriage.

People who disagree with this stance, or those who date people of the same sex, cannot be leaders within SCF.

This policy may be little-known around campus, but SCF makes no attempt to hide it. The SCF leaders interviewed for this article did little to sugar-coat their beliefs or evade questions; rather, they gave long, candid interviews in which they explained their doctrine and clarified how their policies work in practice.

“According to the Bible, God has a specific design and purpose for sexuality,” SCF co-president Michael Broughton ‘19 said in an interview, adding, “the act of sex is designed for a specific purpose that can only be enacted in [God’s] will between a husband and a wife, specifically.”

To practice any other form of sexuality, in the group’s eyes, is sin. To many Christians, sin is a sort of spiritual crime, an action out of sync with God’s plan. Other sins include murder, theft, and, according to some, premarital sex. Sinning doesn’t necessarily condemn a person to the eternal torment of hell—SCF believes that everyone occasionally slips up and falls short of God’s teaching. However, failing to recognize and repent for your sins means that you haven’t truly accepted Jesus Christ as God, which is the only path to salvation and eternal paradise. In SCF’s eyes, that means you must resist your same-sex attractions, rather than celebrate them, because these desires are tempting you towards sin.

“[T]o not repent—to not orient one's lifestyle away from all sin, where ‘sin’ happens to include homosexual conduct—is a very likely indication that the process of accepting salvation has not been fully experienced,” Broughton wrote in a follow-up email. “And yes, not accepting Christ's salvation is grounds for spending eternity in hell.”

By this logic, being gay alone does not send you to hell; however, rejecting what SCF believes are the Bible’s teachings about sexuality might make eternal damnation more likely, though God makes the final decision about the fate of your soul. More immediately, a queer-affirming opinion makes you ineligible to be an SCF leader: Students who do not agree that acting on same-sex attractions is sinful cannot be leaders, period.

SCF’s beliefs also have effects outside of leadership selection. For some queer students, leaders or not, it translates into an unwelcoming environment throughout the organization. In a group that both current and former members describe as a close-knit, cathartic spiritual community where people build long-lasting friendships, this institutionalized homophobia can be a bitter deal-breaker that pushes members away. And at a time when Christians across the United States increasingly embrace queer love, SCF’s position shows no signs of softening.

Before I go on, a little digression about terms: When this article uses the word “queer,” it mostly refers to cis students who are attracted to individuals of the same-sex, since it’s unclear how trans folks fit into SCF’s view of sexuality.

One thing should be clear: SCF’s leadership policies apply to behavior and beliefs, rather than  identity itself. Celibate queer students who condemn their same-sex attractions (or “lust”) are welcome to lead, and students of all sexualities and opinions can join the organization as regular members.
 

Pain

No story I heard embodied the SCF position’s murkiness and potential to cause suffering as concisely as David Falk’s. In August 2013, David Falk arrived at Swarthmore for freshman orientation. With an outgoing, gregarious personality, he made an immediate splash.

“[David] is a hoot,” Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins recalled, smiling.

When Falk told me his story over video chat, his backdrop rarely stopped moving as he paced in circles, sometimes giddy about his exciting present, at other points riled up about the painful past.

Falk enrolled at Swarthmore as a devout Christian. In high school, he had come out as gay, but had lived a sheltered four years. When he arrived on campus, he dated male students and joined SCF, assuming, based on Swarthmore’s liberal reputation, that it was a relatively tolerant Christian group. Although he worried about how fellow Christians might see his sexuality, he himself felt he had reconciled his faith with being gay.

“I kind of just expected, ‘Okay, Swarthmore’s kind of progressive and there shouldn't be any problems. I’ll just fit in,’ ” Falk recalled.

David Falk during his freshman year at Swarthmore. Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda ‘17, provided by David Falk

David Falk during his freshman year at Swarthmore.
Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda ‘17, provided by David Falk

 

At first, he seemed to fit in just fine. Once in SCF, he enjoyed being a member and began to think about becoming a leader. Then began a painful step-by-step discovery that would test the harmony between his faith and his sexuality. Falk’s first clue was the existence of Swarthmore Progressive Christians, a much smaller alternative to SCF.

“I was like, ‘Huh, that’s interesting. Does that mean, like, they're more progressive than Swarthmore Christian Fellowship?’ ” he said.

The answer he received was that SCF was more politically inclusive, so it included both conservatives and progressives. For a while, that put Falk at ease, but he began to hear about queer students who had fallen out with SCF leadership. After asking around, he discovered that SCF was a member of InterVarsity, a national, evangelical network of Christian student groups. That led him to Google, and soon he was reading reports of InterVarsity chapters around the country forcing queer students off of leadership. SCF didn’t just welcome conservatives—it was conservative.

This discovery began Falk’s alienation from the group. Other events worsened it, like the realization that dating his then-boyfriend would disqualify him from leadership.

SCF’s position on same-sex dating is muddier than its position on sex. SCF leaders clearly disapprove of it, but they aren’t sure if dating someone of the same gender makes you a sinner.

“The idea of ‘dating’ in a very basic sense might not technically be sin,” Broughton wrote in an email, “but there are various physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries that those in dating relationships tend to cross before they get to marriage, and crossing those boundaries in a homosexual context would probably come closer to constituting sin.” Plus, he said, dating someone of the same gender probably means you disagree with SCF’s conservative ideas about sexuality.

“For these reasons, same-sex dating would disqualify someone from being a leader,” he concluded. Sin or not, same-sex dating and SCF leadership do not mix. (Again, it is unclear how trans students fit into this gender-based dating policy.)

A low point during Falk’s freshman year came after a Friday-night musical performance sponsored by InterVarsity, during the Spring semester. Falk stayed behind to talk with the musicians.

“I was talking with this guy InterVarsity paid money to bring, and he was saying, ‘Are you struggling with anything?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm struggling with my role in this community, and reconciling my sexuality and my faith.’ ”

The musician, whose performance had struck Falk as beautiful, responded viciously.

“[H]e was like, 'Do you seriously believe that God would think that it's any way acceptable [...] for a man to stick a penis in another man?'” Falk remembered the man saying. “How can you not see that God finds that revolting?’ ”

Falk alerted SCF leadership to what he had been told, but he said they offered no emotional support and simply told him SCF didn’t endorse what the performer had said.

“It was one of the most horrible nights of my entire life, where I went back to my room and I was crying for hours, being like, ‘God, why did you make me like this?’ ” Falk said. “And I went through that alone.”

Falk fell into what he called a “spiritual identity crisis” around his sexuality. At SCF, one way members can process spiritual crises is by sharing testimonies at an event called SWAT Night, which happens once to twice a year. These testimonies tend to be deeply personal reflections on an SCF member’s relationship with divinity.

“I said one day, ‘I think I need to do one of these, because, you know, I've been hurting and this is a story that needs to be heard.’ ” Falk said. “And I was told by someone on leadership that, you know, we can't, as a group, officially have a message that's affirming [of queer sexuality].”

Falk’s testimony was rejected. David Zhou, who was already a leader at the time, said that he didn’t reject Falk’s testimony personally, but that he agreed with the decision:

“I think a space like SWAT night presents itself as a platform to teach and any teaching should be consistent with what the Bible teaches,” he wrote in an email. “For example, if someone said they were dating a non-Christian and felt that God blessed that, that person would be asked not to share about that during SWAT night since it directly contradicts God’s Word.”

Zhou, who would soon run SCF, wasn’t just any leader. He was known around campus for his penchant for enthusiastically preaching to passersby; he also epitomized the lifestyle SCF encourages in its queer members. In Zhou’s own words, he “experience[s] same-sex attraction.” This wording is intended to identify his sexual inclination without celebrating it.

“I've been told many things, including that I'm repressed and that people feel really bad for me,” Zhou wrote in an email. “I understand that's said from a place of love and care, but I'm really beyond thankful for being able to live according to God's plan. And the most beautiful part is, when I still struggle, when I fall, when I give in to lust, God's grace is enough for me. His grace is sufficient for us because His power is made perfect in weakness. If there is one thing I can communicate it is: Jesus is worth it.”

Zhou’s is the sort of queer struggle that SCF felt comfortable hearing about at SWAT Night, and Falk’s story did not fit the bill. (Recent SCF presidents are split on the issue: Daniel Park ‘18, who led the organization last year, agreed that Falk’s testimony should have been rejected, while current co-presidents Michael Brougton ‘19 and Emily Audet ‘18 said that nowadays a student would be allowed to share queer-affirming testimony at SWAT Night.)

The rejection of his testimony ended Falk’s involvement in SCF. Dismayed at his inability to be a leader and the rejection he felt from the group, he met with then-Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Lili Rodriguez to discuss his situation with her, but ended up not pursuing a crusade against SCF.

“I was just, like, ‘I just need to get out of this,’ ” Falk remembered.

For reasons both SCF-related and not, Falk’s freshman year was becoming miserable. Spring 2014 became Falk’s last semester at Swarthmore.

Falk’s departure saddened Joyce Tompkins, who had long been troubled by SCF’s policies and had hoped that Falk’s experience might spur a public dialogue about queerness and Christianity.

“I thought maybe he was going to rock the boat, but he ended up transferring instead,” Tompkins said.

Falk is now a senior at Penn State, where he has started an LGBTQ Christian group called Receiving With Thanksgiving, which recently hosted a series of prominent queer Christian speakers. At Swarthmore, he had felt alienated from both the queer and Christian communities; at the much larger Penn State, he has found a home.

“I've felt like my intersection of identities has been appreciated and respected here,” he said.

SCF leaders characterize the organization’s stance as an apolitical, purely religious position that has no bearing on how it treats its queer members. But stories like Falk’s—whether of pain, alienation, or outright bigotry—complicate that notion. Intentionally or not, SCF’s stances are inflicting pain.

When I told him about how Falk had come to weep at his allegedly sinful sexuality, Daniel Park ‘18, who led SCF during the ‘16-’17 academic year, gave a surprising defense of this pain.

“I think every Christian should come to a point when they are on their knees weeping at the brokenness of their selves, about everyone being corrupted,” Park said. “Everyone should come face to face with their imperfections against God's standards.”

According to Christians like Park, all people sin, and “homosexual” lust is just one sin among many.

“Homosexuality is a sin, much like pre-marital sex, lustful thoughts, drunkenness, selfish ambition and myriad of others that literally everyone is subject to; it is not somehow special and set apart in the Bible,” Park wrote in an email.

So why, during leadership selection, emphasize homosexuality over so many other sins?

“I don’t think we’re singling out homosexuality just to single out homosexuality,” current co-president Michael Broughton said. “This just happens to be an issue that is relevant in our cultural moment and also on Swarthmore’s campus. Additionally, it is something that in the Christian community is also creating a bit of tension. [...] Since it’s particularly relevant, we’re talking about it more; and since we’re talking about it more, it seems like we’re putting emphasis on it.”

That said, the choice to emphasize homosexuality during leadership selection is partly a deliberate, strategic choice.

“[I]t is a place where we, as a leadership team, seek some unity, as it is a divisive issue on campus,” Audet  explained. “And so we think it’s important as an organization to have some sort of unified definition of what a leader is. And this is one of a few different issues that we use to self-define.”

While the SCF presidents I spoke with said the group’s queerness policies were uncomfortable to implement, they took full ownership of them and appeared confident that they were theologically correct. I asked the current co-presidents if they wished the Bible wasn’t so heteronormative.

“I mean, there’s a part of me that never wants to cause anyone pain. And the fact that [our policy] does cause people pain—that bothers me,” Audet said. “But [...] you can’t wish that the Bible said something different. That doesn’t make any sense, because I believe it’s the word of God. [...] But it is not my favorite SCF policy by any stretch of the imagination.”

 

Uproar

Falk’s story of feeling rejected by SCF is one among a myriad, and there have been times when student discontent with SCF has bubbled to the surface. Tompkins remembers the group hosting gay conversion therapists as guest speakers in the early 2000’s, which caused an outcry. The most recent uproar overlapped with the Spring of Discontent in 2013.

It started in October 2012, when The Phoenix published an article highlighting SCF’s membership in the conservative InterVarsity network. While InterVarsity doesn’t fund SCF—the College does—it has provided resources like dedicated staff advisors, access to Christian retreats, and guest speakers. In turn, SCF abides by InterVarsity’s doctrinal stances, which include its conservative position on sexuality.

To some SCFers in 2012, news of this membership was a bombshell, since back then SCF rarely used InterVarsity’s name and did not advertise the affiliation widely. Most shockingly, the article said that the InterVarsity chapter at SUNY Buffalo had essentially fired its treasurer for being gay. SCFer Nick Palazzolo ‘13, who was a senior at this point and was queer, had never even heard of InterVarsity.

“For me it was like, ‘What? I didn't know this!’ And I felt like something had been kept from me for a while,” he said. “It was really frustrating.”

At the time, Tompkins was speaking to other SCFers like him, who discovered the group’s conservatism after they joined. Tompkins described SCF’s behavior at the time as “a complete lack of transparency,” since both its InterVarsity affiliation and its policies on queerness were little-known facts among the group’s most casual members. After the Phoenix article came out in 2012, a group of SCFers decided to confront the group’s leadership. They worried that the organization’s policies on queerness were causing harm, and their desire for change led to a series of meetings with SCF leaders.

“The ones I sat in on were very painful,” Tompkins said. “A lot of very raw emotion.”

Palazzolo attended one such meeting in April 2013. SCF’s leadership had just gotten a letter from Swarthmore Progressive Christians; the much smaller organization was refusing to hold a joint prayer session with SCF, citing the latter’s policy on queerness. SCF’s leadership was discussing how to respond, and they invited Palazzolo to the meeting partly to hear his take as a queer person.

“A lot of folks [...] were raising questions like, ‘Why can't we just all pray together?’ ” Palazzolo recalled. “I tried to respond to that by explaining that a lot of folks feel as though they can't, because there are policies that are alienating, that are hurtful.”

He also told his fellow SCFers about queer students’ worries regarding the leadership selection process, explaining: “Even if [queer SCFers] weren't told ‘No,’ they know that they would be if they sought something like leadership.”

Briefly, the leaders present at the meeting entertained the idea of SCF endorsing a more queer-affirming position than it had previously. But Trevor Morse, a paid InterVarsity staffer assigned to Swarthmore who attended the meeting, drew a red line.

“[Trevor] was like, basically, ‘No, we can’t. [...] I would feel as though I was sinning myself,’ ” Palazzolo recalled. “And I remember that being really hurtful and painful, and crying a little bit during that meeting.” (Morse said he didn’t remember the specific exchange, but he stood by the substance of what Palazzolo remembered him saying. “I do believe that, assuming a particular action is sinful, it is also sinful to encourage or approve of that action,” Morse wrote in an email. As evidence, he cited the Bible passage Romans 1:28-32, which ends in the sentence: “They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”)

Others at the meeting shed tears, too. One SCF member realized just how much her beliefs about queerness were hurting others; for this harm, she apologized to Palazzolo.

“[S]he directly looked at me, and she was crying,” Palazzolo said.

Palazzolo left the meeting jarred by a conversation rife with sadness and self-condemnation, and angry that a group that preached God’s love felt so unloving. With these thoughts in mind, he sauntered up to Pearson, looked up at the rainy sky, and yelled at God. Within a few weeks, he had graduated.

 

The Litmus Test

That semester of tears and apologies changed things, but only a little, and it certainly did not push SCF to be more inclusive. If anything, what followed was more like a crackdown. Every potential SCF leader is now specifically quizzed on what they think about queerness, and the wrong answer disqualifies them. David Zhou, who served as SCF president in 2014-2015, called the new litmus test a clarification.

“There [has] been hurt where some leaders and members were unclear about SCF’s interpretation of Biblical authority and sexuality,” Zhou wrote in an email. “These conversations led us to be more clear and explicit in the leadership process about the group’s interpretation.”

After the spring of 2013, “[t]he question about your stance on homosexuality became a part of leadership selection at Swarthmore—it's not an InterVarsity thing, this is an SCF thing,” former president Daniel Park explained. Park described the test as a way to clarify the organization’s beliefs to potential leaders.

“This is our effort to be transparent,” Park said, speaking softly and weighing each word. “This is what InterVarsity believes, and we, as a chapter of InterVarsity, agree with that.”

On paper, SCF’s policy hasn’t changed. The group has always loosely expected its leaders to adhere to its doctrine, and applying to be an SCF leader has long included signing a statement of faith. But that statement is vague enough for many progressive Christians to agree with. Before Zhou rejected Dayna Horsey from leadership, Horsey had signed the statement of faith, unaware of its implications. She did not know that when she affirmed “[t]he unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible,” she was also expected to agree with SCF’s conservative view of Biblical sexuality.

Had SCF been more transparent, this confusion would not have happened. Horsey would have known, from the get-go, that SCF took a conservative stance on homosexuality, instead of finding out over an emotional Sharples dinner. Audet and Broughton insist that SCF has improved its transparency in this regard. Nowadays, they said, leaders explain the leadership application process to all potential applicants, and the explanation includes an explicit mention of SCF’s beliefs about homosexuality.

But the explicit question about homosexuality is about more than just transparency. Leaders see it a way to protect the doctrinal consistency of SCF’s upper ranks.

“The specific issue about homosexuality is a really hot-button issue. And it serves essentially as a weathervane, as an indication of the person's broader stance towards the Bible,” Park said, calling a potential leader’s views of homosexuality a “litmus test for trusting in the authority of the bible.” If you don’t agree with SCF’s interpretation of Biblical sexuality, this logic goes, you probably doubt the authority of the Bible as a whole. Audet and Broughton, the current presidents, agreed that SCF treats the queerness question as a weathervane.

This rigor appears to be comparatively new. Andrew Cheng ‘12, a gay man who served as SCF president in 2011-2012—he was celibate at the time—was surprised and disturbed when he heard about the litmus test. He said it had not yet been implemented when he led the group, and recalls leading a group with ample room for disagreement and some tolerance for alternative interpretations. Since then, he suspects, that has changed.

“You know, when I was there, we had a reputation for being this super-weird liberal Christian group,” he said, adding: “And it makes me kind of sad to see that that has changed. Not because I think everything should be liberal, but because the result of the change has been people being hurt and people leaving, especially my babies, my freshmen: Class of ‘13.”

That class includes SCFers like Palazzolo, who became disillusioned with SCF after the painful conversations of spring 2013.

“[If] current leaders are being asked on their views on one specific issue as a litmus test for whether or not they believe in the Bible… Yikes, that's scary,” Cheng said.

 

Interpretation

SCF’s views on sexuality are premised on Bible verses like these:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

Not everybody takes these passages at face value. Progressive Christians like Religion Professor Mark Wallace point to possible mistranslations, pedophiliac connotations, and other contextual clues that guide them towards a more inclusive interpretation of the same text.

Wallace came late to our interview last April. Finally, I found him rushing towards his Trotter office on a bicycle. An animated speaker who deeply feels every word he speaks, he painted a picture of Christian sexuality that sounds more like Judith Butler than St. Paul.

“Jesus is, in a certain sense, non-binary, queer, gender-non-conforming,” Wallace said, counting each adjective off on his hand and citing, among others, a Bible story in which Jesus compares himself to a mother hen. To Wallace, the Bible can be read as a queer-affirming text.

SCF’s current leaders have little time for such interpretive flamboyance. To them, the question is not what the Bible really means but whether you are prepared to accept the text at face value.

“You can context your way out of anything,” said co-president Emily Audet.

According to the SCF mainstream, progressive Christians’ inclusive reading of the Bible is not just unbiblical, but a concession to changing social norms. In our conversation, Park, the former president, referred repeatedly to centuries-long tensions between a changing society and an unchanging Bible. Christians, he said, must choose the latter.

“It’s okay if you feel tension, it's okay if you're angry, it's okay if you have trouble. But when the rubber hits the road, are you able to say: ‘It's hard, but I choose to trust the Bible over what society says?’ ” Park said.

To the average Swarthmore reader, this opposition between eternal Biblical truth and evolving social politics might appear naive. Yet SCF earnestly rejects any implication that branding same-sex romance as sin is a political position.

“We are apolitical,” Park reiterated several times during our interview. “We don't even talk about political issues. We don't tell members, like, vote for this, this is how you should think on this legislation. [...] It's more like, ‘This is what the Bible says.’ ”

 

The Future

On its website, InterVarsity maintains a list of campus chapters that have lost official recognition for clashing with university nondiscrimination policies. SCF leaders know that such administrative action is a theoretical possibility at Swarthmore as well, given that the group is a chartered organization that receives College funding.

While Tompkins disagrees with SCF’s theology, she said she does not want them to be derecognized, forced to leave InterVarsity, or otherwise pressured to change. Any change like that should come from SCFers themselves, she says. Tompkins primarily wants more open dialogue on the issue, which is currently virtually nonexistent.

Queer student leaders on campus, however, took a decidedly less accommodating stance towards SCF’s institutionalized anti-queer line.

“If you ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’— surprise, you're still a bigot,” Swarthmore Queer Union president Gretchen Trupp ‘18 wrote. “Claiming love and acceptance and actually practicing accepting everyone are two very different things, and it's all too clear which side SCF is on.”

“This policy is pure homophobia, plain and simple,” wrote SQU treasurer Shayne Rothman '20, adding: “I believe any group with any policy that singles out one type of person is promoting hatred and bigotry rather than love and acceptance, especially at an institution that seems to delight in thinking itself accepting.”

COLORS, a group for queer students of color, wrote in a formal statement that they do not support exclusive groups, unless they use their exclusivity to provide “more space for marginalized people.” Executive member of COLORS Byron Biney ‘19 added that “[a]n organization has a target; an idea of the kind of people in that organization and who they want to support. Claiming the standpoint of “apoliticalness” despite constantly making statements that have both religious and political implications [...] is something that doesn’t make sense to me.”

“This group should absolutely be defunded,” wrote SQU vice president Maya Henry ‘20, adding: “Nothing is apolitical.” Trupp and Rothman agreed that SCF should lose College funding over its policies.

Park, the former SCF president, when confronted with a hypothetical loss of funding, seemed unfazed.

“Ideally, Swarthmore would have a space for conservative Christians on campus, and not just a version of religion that happens to fit a desired social narrative,” Park said, adding: “But, if not, Christianity has been oppressed at different points in time, and the Bible actually says that this is expected, this is the norm. Persecution is the norm for Christianity. [...] And if SCF is defunded, so be it.”

Current co-president Emily Audet said she isn’t worried about losing funding. She said Swarthmore generally respects the autonomy of religious groups and, as far as she knows, administrators have never made an issue out of SCF’s policies on queerness. (Swarthmore administrators failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.)

It’s tempting to believe that history arches towards social progress, and that the conservative wing of a given issue eventually mellows out or goes extinct. Indeed, a growing list of American Christian denominations now recognizes LGBTQ relationships as legitimate.

“[A]nti-LGBT theology [...] will eventually get swept away into the dustbin of history,” Wallace said.

But it’s also important to remember that this is no mere political struggle. Leading SCFers sincerely believe that holy scripture tells them that many queer people are tempted to sin. Scripture, in their view, was written by God, the all-powerful creator of the universe who holds the keys to heaven and hell. Such divine authority is hard to argue against, much less overturn, with moral or political arguments.

“We [Christians] are easily manipulable because of how important faith is to us,” Cheng, the 2011-2012 SCF president, said. “So if you believe in something that you would stake your life on, then the things you are taught about that become extremely important in your life and are hard to change.”

Despite the hurt it causes, the inevitable backlash, and its association with the worst elements of the Christian right, SCF leaders feel divinely compelled to accept SCF’s interpretation of the Bible. But they accept this interpretation while fully aware of the emotional carnage it can cause.

“I’m uncomfortable with it,” Park said, referring to SCF’s view of sexuality. “I have gay mentors, gay friends, gay people who are in my life who I immensely respect. [...] I think, when God comes back, I want to ask him: ‘God, why?’ ”