InterVarsity responds to pro-LGBT outcry
Media critics try to draw fresh blood from a longstanding campus ministry policy
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, an evangelical ministry serving more than 41,000 U.S. college students, is taking flak for reaffirming its biblical stance on human sexuality and requiring its employees do likewise. While the reiteration of an established policy has put some InterVarsity staff members at odds with their employer, media sources insist on making the issue solely about LGBT students—an unfair and inaccurate characterization, according to an InterVarsity spokesman.
Bible study is the mainstay of InterVarsity campus fellowships. From those groups, which often include Christian and non-Christian students, came questions about human sexuality, particularly homosexuality and gender identity, such as: How should the students address those issues on campus? And: Why do Christians believe what they believe about sex? InterVarsity’s answers say more about where the 75-year-old organization stands on the doctrine of Scripture than on its doctrine of human sexuality.
“What is our doctrine about understanding Scripture? The hermeneutic with which we approach it is critical,” Greg Jao, InterVarsity vice president and director of campus engagement, told me. “It’s a critical discipleship issue.” Without a doctrine that affirms the authority of Scripture—even the “difficult passages”—the Christian community will be divided, he said.
From the students’ questions came a policy paper four years ago addressing the biblical perspective on homosexuality. But InterVarsity leadership recognized that first step was insufficient and began work on the current document, which, Jao said, encompasses the whole of God’s design for human sexuality. In addition to the issue of same-sex attraction, the policy paper addresses premarital sex, divorce, sexual abuse, and more.
Contrary to some media reports, the policy statement is nothing new.
“We have always expected employees to reflect the ministry’s theological beliefs,” Jao said in a press release. “We recognize employees who disagree, or whose beliefs have changed over time, will leave employment because we have reiterated our beliefs.”
Jao specifically called out Time magazine for incorrectly reporting InterVarsity would fire employees who supported same-sex marriage.
“This is not accurate. No InterVarsity employee will be fired for their views on gay marriage,” he wrote.
Christian commentators were quick to come to InterVarsity’s defense. That a Christian organization would be called out for reaffirming its biblical beliefs on sexuality is not surprising, wrote Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College.
“But why is it news that evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?” Stetzer asked. “It’s because there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many. The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it. But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainstream evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.”
Jao recognized there could some pushback due to publicity over the policy statement. But that has not been the case the past 18 months, as the 1,300 InterVarsity field staff have studied and reflected “on how our beliefs about Scripture and our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture lead us to those conclusions,” Jao said. Employees were asked “to discern their convictions on this issue.”
In that process, staff members have become more sensitive to LGBT students and staff on their campuses and learned how to more graciously address their concerns. Jao admitted Christians have too often “demonized” LGBT persons instead of addressing the common sin among all people. He said InterVarsity seeks to affirm the dignity of LGBT students as made in the image of God while simultaneously communicating that all Christians must submit to the authority of Christ.
Jao sees that happening in the intimate campus fellowships. In one group, a student came to realize she was bisexual. She also knew her love of Christ would not allow her act upon that inclination, Jao said.
“InterVarsity believes Christ-likeness includes both embracing Scripture’s teachings on human sexuality as well as defending the dignity of all people, including LGBTQI individuals, because they are made in God’s image,” InterVarsity stated in the press release.
In the policy document, InterVarsity announced it would appoint a task force “to examine the implications of transgender identity.”
“First, we acknowledge that it is not sinful to have feelings of ambivalence or aversion to one’s birth gender. Nor do we respond with disbelief or impatience,” the ministry’s authors wrote. “We recognize the difficult social realities they face and commit to a response of love and respect.”
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