By: Grace Rajballie | December 15, 2021
In the fall of 2020, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) released the human sexuality report, a document created by an appointed committee to articulate a foundational biblical theology of human sexuality. The report was commissioned in 2016 by Synod, the highest governing body of individuals within the CRC.
Shortly after the report was released, a group of twenty-six undergraduate and graduate students within the CRC community responded through an overture. The objectives of the overture were to make amendments to its recommendations, continue conversations about these important topics, engage with those affected, and keep unity in the church by making same-sex marriage a ‘decision of local conscience.’
In addition to the creation of the overture, these students decided to meet to discuss how to respond to LGBTQIA+ people within their respective schools. In attendance were a group of undergraduate students from Redeemer who began to question if there was adequate support and active inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community at Redeemer. By mid-February of 2021, twelve undergraduate students at Redeemer were eager to create a formal group for LGBTQIA+ support and inclusion at the university.
Fourth-year student and Genesis co-president Carraugh Brouwer comments on the creation of the club: “After listening to each other’s experiences at Redeemer, we really sensed a need for more community and support for the LGBTQ students than what was currently available, particularly for students in their first and second years, who can feel very isolated and alone. We decided to do something about that and that something turned out to be Genesis.”
The name Genesis was chosen because the word “genesis” means beginning. The leadership team hopes that the club will encourage new and public conversations about LGBTQIA+inclusion and awareness on campus. Moreover, the name recalls the Biblical book of Genesis, which contains the creation story, in which humans were created in God’s image. When starting the club the leadership were motivated by the desire to ensure that all of God’s children feel loved and respected.
Serving as co-president of Genesis alongside Brouwer is fifth-year student Nathan Lise and fourth-year student Bekett Wiebe. Lise was one of the individuals who acted as a signatory on the overture. Lise emphasizes the importance of creating a space for open conversations of support and care for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Lise says, “Redeemer tries to be a community space where people can come together and have shared beliefs and experiences, but for people who don’t feel there is a place for them to talk, they need a place to commune with others and feel loved and respected in their opinions. What Genesis is trying to accomplish is to serve as a place for people who want to talk about this to commune together. Most of us know the line, ‘every square inch is devoted to God.’ Well, that includes this conversation—this part of people’s lives—too.”
Genesis is currently operating independently, meaning that they have no official affiliation with Student Senate or Redeemer. While they are still able to host events on Redeemer property, they do not receive funding from the Student Senate nor do they receive advertisement allowances from senate (e.g., posters in the hall).
Brouwer emphasizes the importance of gaining official club status with the Student Senate: “It is not just about receiving funding or advertisement—we haven’t always felt supported by the community. Having our club be accepted as an official club would help us feel heard and seen.”
Near the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, the Genesis leadership team approached the Student Senate to request official club status for Genesis. The leadership team was asked to wait until the 2021-2022 academic year to formalize the club as there was not sufficient time remaining to do so during the 2020-2021 academic year. Since September of this year, the club has been working closely with the Student Senate in an effort to obtain official club status.
Most clubs receive a decision regarding their club proposal within a few weeks, but the process for Genesis has taken much longer than usual. While this has been frustrating for the leadership, Brouwer and Lise recognize that the club is controversial and were notified early on that it would take more than one meeting to vote on the proposal.
Student Senate president Alison Nirula empathizes with Genesis, reiterating that the senate has a responsibility to support students and ensure that student concerns are addressed properly. While the Student Senate recognizes the need for support for the LGBTQIA+ community on campus, there are complexities to this. Any action taken by the Student Senate must be in line with the Constitution of the Redeemer University Student Senate, which in states in Article 2.4:
“The Student Senate seeks mutual cooperation with the Board of Governors, President of the University, Dean of Students, and the administration. Together we shall serve as means to foster and nurture all aspects of student life in supporting the confessional direction of Redeemer University as outlined in Redeemer University’s official Mission, Institutional Purpose, and Statement of Basis and Principles.”
In determining whether Genesis is in alignment with Redeemer’s policies, the Student Senate must refer to all of Redeemer’s official statements, including the Statement on Identity and Sexuality.
Nirula comments on the difficulties in navigating the idea of Genesis as an official club while upholding the official beliefs of the institution:
“At Redeemer, we exist for the sake and the promotion of the Christian worldview as we understand it, which includes the historically Christian [Reformed Christian perspective] view of gender and sexuality. At the same time, we believe in a public square that allows for diversity of perspectives and opinions. Knowing that this is a topic which creates tension, we [the Student Senate] realized that the decision regarding the Genesis club is complex and has far reaching implications.”
In an effort to give the Genesis proposal careful prayer and consideration, the Student Senate formed an Ad Hoc Committee, consisting of faculty and staff, who met weekly to look over the club proposal. Based on the recommendations of this committee, on November 9 the Student Senate voted to form the “Committee for LGBTQ+ Relations.”
This new committee, which will start in the new year, hopes to continue conversations surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues productively and meaningfully, in a group well represented by student senators, Genesis leaders, and Redeemer faculty and staff. The goal of this committee is to create a revised proposal regarding LGBTQIA+ relations. It will also facilitate open discussions on what this proposal would look like.
Both the Student Senate and leadership at Genesis have expressed a deep desire to preserve Redeemer’s community. Brouwer emphasizes, “We don’t want this to be seen as a group of students who are going head-to-head with the Student Senate and the institution—in no way do we want this to be divisive. We simply feel that there is a deep need for support within the LGBTQ+ community at Redeemer and think Genesis will help us achieve that support.”