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This past September, the religious group Harvard College Faith and Action pressured a bisexual assistant Bible course leader to step down from that leadership position following her decision to date another woman. This decision—in rationale, execution, and aftermath—reflects a series of deeply troubling actions on the part of the organization, including and especially by its leaders.
The decision to press the woman to leave her role was a direct violation of the Harvard College Student Handbook policy that dictates nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite HCFA’s denial that it had violated the handbook’s policy, there was no reason why its leadership should not have expected the College to see differently and mete out penalties, which ultimately came in the form of a year-long “administrative probation” for the club. The decision to pressure the student in question to step down from her role therefore most likely had perverse, existential consequences for HCFA, jeopardizing benefits that students of faith derive from the organization.
Furthermore, the relationship between HCFA and Christian Union—an umbrella organization that offers HCFA, in the words of HCFA’s co-presidents, “pastoral, spiritual, and financial support”—merits further investigation. In fact, it was one of HCFA’s ministry fellows—an employee of Christian Union—that learned of the same-sex relationship in question and played a significant role in setting in motion the process of removing the woman from leadership. While HCFA’s undergraduate leaders claim that all decisions made by the group are fully their own, this dynamic necessitates investigation as to whether Christian Union impedes the “local autonomy” HCFA must exhibit, per the student handbook.
Ultimately, issues of College policy aside, HCFA’s decision to remove a leader for being in a same-sex relationship is nothing short of morally egregious. That said, the College has meted out penalties, and an analysis of the situation must turn to the specificities of the punishment itself and the changes that HCFA must make.
As a start, HCFA must come clean in explaining their rationale. In its statement to The Crimson, its leadership cited “theological disagreement” over “extramarital sex,” and not the same-sex relationship specifically, as the grounds for asking the leader in question to step down. However, given The Crimson’s recent reporting—in which several current and former members of HCFA indicated that the woman was removed for her same-sex relationship—we find HCFA’s explanation holds little water. We believe that the rehabilitation of HCFA needs to start with honesty and full disclosure.
That said, the College itself also owes HCFA and the student body clarity. Thus far, Harvard has been vague about the details of the year-long “probation.” Frankness on the policy’s specifics is vital, especially given that this is reportedly the first time such a probation has been imposed and that the College has been thus far opaque regarding which privileges are being stripped. The College should be fully transparent about the ramifications for HCFA’s actions.
Of course, external judgement must be met with internal reform if HCFA is to persist. The club should be prompt, honest, and public in its apology to the woman who was asked to leave her role. The comments made by the leadership of HCFA do not publicly express anywhere near the remorse warranted by their actions.
As Christian Union itself asserts, the only way to change a culture is from the top down. Especially given that HCFA only has a year to come into compliance with the College’s rules and standards, we believe any real change in culture necessitates a change in leadership. Thus, we believe that everyone in the club involved in this decision should step down as part of their apology and their commitment to creating a Christian group where all students of faith feel welcome.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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