Opinions

Reflections on InterVarsity’s Decision

     Staff at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, an evangelical organization with more than 1,000 chapters on college campuses nationwide, are not only being asked to take a stance on the topic of same-sex marriage but to leave if they do not stand where the group believes they should.

     In July, InterVarsity informed their staff that only those who oppose same-sex marriage and agree with the other positions outlined in their “Theological Summary of Human Sexuality” paper will continue to be employed by them. They are asking those who disagree with any of the positions to come forward, beginning a process which they term “involuntary termination…due to misalignment with InterVarsity ministry principles.”

     InterVarsity came to its stance on same-sex marriage following “a four-year internal review on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.” Assuming the group that conducted the review was diverse–representing many backgrounds, experiences and faith traditions within Christianity–and assuming that their study of Scripture was diligent and their conclusions drawn only after much thoughtful and prayerful consideration, I respect where they stand at the end of this process. I do not have to hold the same positions in order to respect their study of the topic of human sexuality, and I unequivocally respect their decision to treat the subject of same-sex marriage as important by giving it the study and conversation it deserves. Indeed, it is important to consider all perspectives on this topic–and I do hope the group gave particular attention to the perspectives of LGBTQ people, whose lives are uniquely affected when these types of stances are taken.

     It certainly makes sense for InterVarsity to care what its staff believe because they teach in their ministry to college students: of course InterVarsity wants them to teach in accordance with the organization’s beliefs. But to what extent? Is it really feasible to expect that staff agree completely with a fairly comprehensive set of beliefs? Moreover, is it really desirable that every staff member holds the same positions–has the same beliefs, thinks in the same ways–as the next person?

     To take a hardline position on a more essential Christian truth–for example, that Jesus Christ died and rose again–and require staff to agree with it would be merited. On the other hand, to require staff to take a particular stance on a topic like same-sex marriage seems like a step too far. The subject of same-sex marriage is certainly important, but not in the way that one’s views on it should hold such unequal weight next to other beliefs.

     More importantly, to ensure that staff hold all of the same beliefs is to lose diversity, to lose valuable perspectives, to lose essential conversation–to lose opportunities for people’s minds and hearts to be changed. At the end of the day, by allowing only Christians who oppose same-sex marriage to work for them, InterVarsity is losing out.

     “We should be clear about what we do and don’t believe,” Greg Jao, Vice President and Director of Campus Engagement at InterVarsity, says. “Not because we want to push people out, but because we want to be clear what we’re inviting people into.” I would like to believe that InterVarsity’s goal is not to push anyone out, but I cannot help but feel this is what they are accomplishing.

     Truthfully, this is an opportunity for InterVarsity to distance themselves from a position that remains unpopular even as it has gained recognition and celebration in the evangelical community in America. Those who support same-sex marriage still find their view not accepted in the evangelical community, even though more evangelical Christians support same-sex marriage than ever before. I am not saying that InterVarsity’s beliefs are not genuinely held, but I am saying that in the evangelical community in America it is still safer to oppose same-sex marriage in order not to risk one’s reputation or even one’s job in certain cases, and for public and private persons alike not to jeopardize their place in the evangelical world.

     “[InterVarsity has] a unique understanding of and willingness to engage in hard issues like racial justice and women in ministry and things of that nature,” Ginny Prince, a former Assistant Area Director at InterVarsity, says. “I thought that they would be more able to contain difference in this area as well, difference of opinion. I think what they do is very important, and I am very sad to go.” I too am disappointed. InterVarsity, an interdenominational Christian organization, should be doing everything they can to cross biblical and theological lines, a necessary undertaking if we seek to be God’s church in God’s world.

     Sources: Christianity Today, TIME

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