The Courage Of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
We are so accustomed these days to one Christian church or ministry falling by the wayside when it comes to Christian orthodoxy on sexual matters. So it comes as a shock when one — especially a major one — takes a firm and uncompromising stand for orthodoxy. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has done just that. Excerpt:
One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members they will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says that it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which holds that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.
Staffers are not being required to sign a document agreeing with the group’s position, and supervisors are not proactively asking employees to verbally affirm it. Instead, staffers are being asked to come forward voluntarily if they disagree with the theological position. When they inform their supervisor of their disagreement, a two-week period is triggered, concluding in their last day. InterVarsity has offered to cover outplacement service costs for one month after employment ends to help dismissed staff with their resumes and job search strategies.
InterVarsity has more than 1,000 chapters on 667 college campuses around the country. More than 41,000 students and faculty were actively involved in organization in the last school year, and donations topped $80 million last fiscal year. The group is focused on undergraduate outreach, but it also has specific programs for athletes, international students, nurses, sororities and fraternities, and others. InterVarsity also hosts the Urbana conference, one of the largest student missionary conferences in the world.
Given how hostile colleges are, and how strongly young adults feel about this issue, taking this stand is likely to be very, very costly, but InterVarsity recognizes the stakes for the integrity of the Christian message. God bless InterVarsity for its impressive courage and steadfastness! As Denny Burk said:
We live in a day when this is news: https://t.co/oWE3RxqbDr
— Denny Burk (@DennyBurk) October 7, 2016
UPDATE: A reader writes that InterVarsity has posted this on its Facebook page tonight:
You may have seen this evening’s article in TIME about InterVarsity.
We’re disappointed that Elizabeth Dias’ headline and article wrongly stated that InterVarsity is firing employees for supporting gay marriage. That is not the case. In fact, InterVarsity doesn’t have a policy regarding employee views on civil marriage.
We know that LGBTQI people have experienced great pain, including much caused by Christians. We also know that we ourselves each need Jesus’ grace daily. So we attempt to walk humbly in this conversation.
We do continue to hold to an orthodox view of human sexuality and Christian marriage, as you can read in our Theology of Human Sexuality Document at the bottom of the article.
That said, we believe Christlikeness, for our part, includes both embracing Scripture’s teachings on human sexuality—uncomfortable and difficult as they may be—as well as upholding the dignity of all people, because we are all made in God’s image.
Some will argue this cannot be done. We believe that we must if we want to be faithful followers of Jesus.
Within InterVarsity and elsewhere in the Church, there are LGBTQI people who agree with this theology, at great personal cost. We are learning together to follow Jesus.
Another reader, a lawyer and a liberal, writes:
This is a smart legal move on their part. Federal law makes it pretty much impossible to take a stance along the lines of, “This is what we believe, but out of compassion and pragmatism we’re willing to be flexible for a certain amount of time, with certain people, and/or in certain situations.” Either you have a blanket policy that applies to all people in all instances, or federal courts will rule that you don’t “really” have a principled position and invalidate the broader policy because of the exceptions. Personally I think that’s unfortunate, because it encourages polarization and an unyielding one-size-fits-all approach to disagreement. But InterVarsity is certainly making the right decision here based on how its commitment to its values and beliefs will be judged in court.
I appreciate this comment for its honesty. I’ve talked to people in religious schools, both Catholic and Protestant, who are being advised by their lawyers to draw clear, bright doctrinal lines right now, and enforce them. If they don’t, the lawyers advise, they are going to have a hard time in court if they get sued. One headmaster I spoke with said his school is facing a hard choice in this regard. When I spoke with him, there was a student in his Christian school whose parents were a lesbian couple. This was irregular in that theologically conservative school, to say the least, but the school had no intention of asking the student to leave, if only because they wanted to provide a loving witness to this student. But the school’s lawyers were warning them that they had better be very careful about this, because if the student and her parents decided they wanted to sue the school for any reason (e.g., it wouldn’t let the girl bring a female date to the prom), their failure to draw a clear policy and enforce it no matter what would count against them, and they could end up being forced by the court to liberalize — this, because they had not clearly enunciated and enforced a clear doctrine. I could tell this headmaster, a conservative Christian, was grieved by this, because he saw a one-size-fits-all, zero-tolerance policy compromising the ministry of that Christian school. But the litigious culture around gay rights was backing his school into a corner. It’s doing it with all Christian churches, schools, and ministries, forcing them to take stands they don’t want to take, or put everything they have at risk from aggressive gay plaintiffs. I am sure that InterVarsity did not want to take the hard stand it has taken, but I am also sure that its lawyers told its leaders that they had no choice.