Should InterVarsity be Allowed to Define Its Own Theology?

By George Yancey Published on October 23, 2016

A brief disclaimer is in order. I am an InterVarsity Press author on issues of race and anti-Christian hostility. This article is about the campus ministry component of InterVarsity. Other than having once been a faculty advisor for IV at my university, I have never had any association with this InterVarsity component. The reader is free, however, to take into account my connection with InterVarsity Press as they read this piece.

Recently Time ran an article claiming that the campus ministry Intervarsity Christian Fellowship was expelling all workers who supported same-sex marriage. This is not true. It is true that InterVarsity is asking those who do not affirm a traditional stance on sexuality to leave voluntarily. It is a theological and not political matter. Unfortunately, the importance of that difference seems to be lost in the Time article.

So let’s put this into perspective. A religious organization has clarified its theological stance on sexuality and sexual morality. This should not be surprising to anyone. Religious organizations have always defined themselves through statements of faith. If one does not like a particular organization’s theological stance, then one should seek employment elsewhere.

If staff members leave the group in droves because of the group’s theology, then this should be sanction enough. But of course it is not sufficient sanction for some individuals. A letter is circulating among IVP authors and others, asking the ministry to change their policy. The letter requests that IV allow employees who disagree with this position statement be allowed to remain on staff as conscientious objectors.

Failing the Test of Authenticity

I briefly scanned the list of signers. Funny, but I do not remember any of them defending Kelvin Cochran when he was fired by the city of Atlanta for his views on homosexuality or the Benham brothers who were likewise fired by HGTV. I do not recall them voicing their dismay over the forcing out of Brendan Eich. Did they speak up for Eric Walsh when he was fired for a sermon he preached on homosexuality? If not, then they fail the test of authenticity I proposed in an article here last week.

Do these individuals want a true spirit of inclusion? Or just a spirit of inclusion for issues they support? If InterVarsity’s critics are not willing to defend conservative Christians when they are fired for their beliefs, one has to question their commitment to the kind of openness they argue InterVarsity should exhibit.

History Repeating Itself?

This is why I do not believe it when they say they want IV to make room for disagreement over certain sexuality-related theological ideas. What is more likely is that those who are questioning IV’s new policy want to work toward uprooting the traditional sexual moral view and replacing it with one that affirms LGBT values.

This is not mere speculation. There is a history of Christian colleges seeking “openness” and then losing their Christian character. Yale and Harvard were once Christian colleges, remember. Several mainline denominations likewise opened themselves up to contemporary ethical opinions, and are now in a state of decline.

InterVarsity has every right to establish itself as a student organization that promotes a traditional view of sexual morality. Indeed its leaders are wise to do so with it, even if this costs the ministry some public esteem. Christian organizations that want to retain their distinctive values in a post-Christian society have to deliberately establish what they believe. And they need to remain committed to their values, even if it comes at some cost.

Watching the Limits

I have openly wondered about the limits to which persons who oppose conservative Christians might go in their attempts to suppress Christianity. I used to think they wouldn’t interfere with what happens in churches. While InterVarsity is not a church, it is a ministry — and they are applying pressure in an attempt to interfere with its internal decision-making. A better answer would be to see that it simply might not be the best ministry for those who favor a modern interpretation of sexuality issues. It doesn’t have to be. The letter signers should recognize there are plenty of ministries that affirm their modern views on sexuality. There’s no need for anyone to force another one into the service of their own preferred opinion.

A bit of introspection by the letter’s signers should be all it takes for them to realize that by policing opinion at InterVarsity and ignoring it elsewhere, they’re producing a censoring effect within the Christian community. This episode provides even more evidence that progressive individuals, including even progressive Christians, have a level of intolerance for conservative Christians that is often overlooked.

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