Tom Gilson

InterVarsity Makes a Sound Decision Despite Disagreement

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has updated its statement of beliefs regarding gay marriage and sexuality, according to Time, making plain its adherence to historic Christian and biblical beliefs and practices. The news is a couple weeks old but I still want to say kudos to IV.

I’ve been in a position to influence a similar kind of decision, having been a Human Resource director for one of InterVarsity’s sister organizations, Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) for several years during the 1990s. I’ve also done consulting work for InterVarsity’s Human Resource department, and later on I was involved in controversy over “de-recognized” campus ministries as a vice president with Ratio Christi, which, like IV, has been kicked off campuses for requiring its leaders to agree with the organization’s own beliefs and values.

They are a Christian organization promulgating Christian beliefs. This paper clarifies their ongoing commitment to that identity and mission. Good going!

Not everyone agrees, of course. That’s their right. They don’t have to agree. IV is a voluntary organization. No one is required to agree with its position on anything. There’s no coercion there. Those who disagree are free not to join, or if they’re already involved they’re free to re-examine their beliefs or else to disassociate. There’s nothing outrageous in that.

And yet predictably enough, some people are outraged. Former staff member Matthew D. Taylor, writing for the Huffington Post, says “They have drawn the wrong line in the sand.” Their stance is “unnecessarily confrontational and rigid,” he says, and adds,

The lesson I take from my study of Christian history is that orthodoxy takes centuries to define and does come with some sharp edges, but orthodoxy is also capacious and preserves the mystery of the Christian faith rather than anxiously enumerating every fine point in every job and tittle of the Law.… There is room for disagreement and debate within orthodoxy, hence the entire adventure of Christian theology through the millennia.

In this he is of course correct — though he could have provided a less muddled example than the one he tried to articulate regarding Arius. There are doctrinal debates that Christians have never settled. Issues surrounding marriage and sexual morality are not on that list, however. The Bible speaks clearly enough: sex is right good within marriage, and marriage is for a man and a woman.

Taylor doesn’t see it that way. For him,

The Bible doesn’t resolve the great debates of Christian history; it occasions them…. There is a reason the great ecumenical creeds don’t define sexuality (or, for that matter, a singular approach to interpreting the Bible). Orthodoxy lives in the disagreements among Christians of good will come to the description is genuinely and openly.… I think that they have drawn the wrong line in the sand, that it is a line that is arbitrary.

In this he is quite wrong. The creeds grew out of debate, as Taylor knows, but there was no debate on sexuality simply because the Bible’s teaching on it is too plainly stated to require any clarification through debate. For centuries it’s sat quite comfortably within the “sharp edges” of doctrine Taylor otherwise approves. Only in very recent times has this been questioned or doubted — but the scholarship on which those questions is based is highly suspect at best.

There is plenty of room for converation on the pastoral and relational implications of Christian moral teaching, but the basic doctrine is clear and solid.

Yet another objection was voiced in the Time articleby Bianca Louie, formerly the IV director at Mills College in Oakland:

I don’t know how interpersonally can do ministry on campus with integrity anymore. Mills is a women’s college with inclusive transit policies, and higher is overall making more efforts to be inclusive and safe for LGBT to students… I could see us getting kicked off campus because of this.

Time adds that Louie and several other IV staff “formed an anonymous clear collective earlier this year to organize on behalf of staff, students and alumni who felt unsafe under the new policy.” The operative word there seems to be “safe.” I don’t know where that fits into a campus mission organization’s purposes. American campuses may increasingly be opting for “safety,” with trigger warnings everywhere, but Christianity has never been a “safe” religion. Its founder died on a cross. His earliest disciples sacrificed their lives for Him. Christians still die for Him today.

Yes, Christianity is (or should be — it does not always live up to it) a safe place for sinners to find grace, restoration, mercy, and reconciliation with God and with others. But this assumes that the same sinners agree that grace, restoration, and mercy are common needs of us all — which further assumes that we’ve all done something wrong that calls for these virtues.

Grace and mercy are about overcoming sin and guilt through Jesus Christ, not denying it. InterVarsity cannot minister with integrity if it denies that historic Christian truth.

And Louie’s further commments quoted in Time are revealing as well:

I think one of the hardest parts is been feeling really dismissed by InterVarsity. The collective went through a very biblical, very spiritual process, with the Holy Spirit, to get to where we are. I think a lot of people think those who affirm [same-sex marriage] reject the Bible, but we have landed were rehab because of Scripture, which is what InterVarsity taught us to do.

This is a clear statement that InterVarsity’s leaders, who (I’m certain) “went through a very biblical, very spiritual process, with the Holy Spirit,” got it wrong, in her opinion. If it’s dismissive for IV’s leaders to say that she and the collective got it wrong, then it’s dismissive for the “collective” to say that IV’s leaders got it wrong. She’s claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance on her group’s answer, implying that IV’s leaders were following some other spirit, certainly not the Spirit of God. That’s a strong accusation.

This is actually another safety-related complaint. She feels “really dismissed.” She could have said IV was wrong, but if she did, Time didn’t report it. She resorted to feelings-related words instead.

Christianity is a religion of strong emotions. Love, joy, peace, sorrow, grief, concern, enthusiasm, and more, though (interestingly enough) not fear, which is cast out, says Scripture, through perfect love, and of course also through faith. These emotions are of the essence of the richness of Christian life. They are not, however, part of the definition of Christian belief or doctrine.

So Taylor and Louie have problems with continuing on IV’s staff. They think IV is at fault. I see something else. I see them trying to re-define not just a mission agency’s doctrine but Christianity itself, based on questionable biblical criteria and the category error of judging doctrine according to feelings.

If I were still an HR director and they were part of my mission agency I would be grieved to see them go — I was never happy to see a staff member be terminated either voluntarily or involuntarily — but I would say that they had made their decision. They don’t belong as staff members in a mission organization they disagree with so fundamentally.

Image Credit(s): Wikimedia Commons.


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