By REBECCAS MELSON
There is a wind of change that is blowing through our country and through the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as well. As Americans strive to make sense of a changing political term, questions of race, gender and religion have come to the surface.
Within the InterVarsity Christian fellowship, an organization that is made up of 1,011 chapters on 667 campuses nationwide, there is an unsettled controversy over what some are calling the #InterVarsity Purge. The purge is based on the organization’s stance on same-sex- marriage, and how it affects the employees of their corporate office in New York.
InterVarsity strongly holds the stance of ‘traditional’ marriage, which it defines as an institution between a man and a woman. They believe that their staff should have a unanimous acceptance of the teachings of the Bible, therefore supporting another model is not acceptable. Within the organization’s handbook, Theological Summary of Human Sexuality, the basis of these principles is stated.
“In the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19: 4-6).”
Greg Jao, InterVarsity vice president and director of campus engagement, believes in the organization’s procedures. He says, “When representatives of religious groups do not believe or behave in ways that the scriptures teach, that is objectionable and hypocrisy.”
However, there is still concern over the InterVarsity’s regulation to uphold the Biblical teachings and view on marriage, and the release of employees that are accepting of the same-sex- marriage stance.
“These procedures do not apply to student groups, it is focused on employee standards,” Jao said. “Marriage equality is not the issue. Over the past four years, we have been reiterating our historical position of human sexuality. It covers relationships, porn and sexual assault.”
The organization works to address the outdated practices of oppression, while striving to embrace diversities. However, it is hard for some members and leaders to accept that they could lose employment over their personal beliefs.
InterVarsity has created a nine-part curriculum that spans over an 18-month time. After the curriculum is finished, Jao says, “all staff will be able to say if this is [what] they believe, by understanding the beliefs and expectations of religious origin that we represent.”
If the staff disagrees, then they have the chance to self-identify, and begin a process of communication to other staff members that may result in an involuntary release of their positions.
Debra Lee, journalist and author of “Saving Jesus, How People of Color, Woman, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism,” has provided a modern outlook on the evolving theology of Evangelicalism.
“The dominant theology, crafted by white men, said women were inferior and excluded [them] from Christian theology, the values of people of color, all while denying the existence of white privilege and racial inequality,” Lee said. “InterVarsity sermons and Bible studies ignored traditions such as black theology and liberation theology, both of which had sprung out of the belief that the gospel calls Christians to dismantle oppressive social structures.”
Lee witnessed firsthand the trials of the LGBTQ+ community within the Evangelical society, as well as the groups disconnect from other races. As an Asian-American, her experience in the Evangelical church was more limited than the theology teaches.
Though InterVarsity will continue to follow the marital principals within the Bible, they are strongly reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community, in their own way.
“Inter-Varsity welcomes LGBTQ into our fellowship and [we] employ staff that relate, but who embrace our theology. LBGT students are always welcome in our community,” Jao said, “and many identifying individuals have said that ‘this is a safe place for us, because you have always been clear about your beliefs. We have been welcomed, cared for, and safe here.’”
InterVarsity has been working to transform their affiliations with diversity, endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement and currently containing 49 percent non-white members. The need to embrace all people is in line with Biblical teachings, and that awareness is asserted within their Theological Summary handbook.
The handbook states, “Regrettably, many Christians have not loved same-sex- attracted people as we ought. Too often, we have responded with exclusion and caused them shame or remained silent when
hatred has been expressed toward them. We humbly own our past failures and offer genuine love.” Many millennials within universities are being turned off by this seemingly lack of acceptance for the LBGTQ+ community within religious organizations, as they are striving to find a safe place to express their spiritual needs and identity.
Jesse Slate, sophomore and anthropology major, understands the need for a spiritual community. He identifies with the LGBTQ+ community, and has found a spiritual acceptance within the Anglican Episcopalian Church on the UMW campus.
“I need to know, how do I fit into this group, and what can I do to help humanity?” Slate said. The allegorical interpretation of the Bible allows LGBTQ+ individuals to exercise their spiritual needs and find community without having to question their sexuality.
InterVarsity has chosen not to observe the homosexual theology of the Bible as allegorical. Jao said, “People seem very surprised that I’ve taken this position. It is hard to agree to disagree, but in the end, we can’t with integrity say that this is what we believe.”
The #InterVarsityPurge is not the only pressure that has been on the organization. In October of 2016, Florida students of Rollins University that were affiliated with InterVarsity, held a Bible study within their dorms. The students were asked to abandon the Bible study because the club was no longer welcome on the campus. The university’s inclusion policy states that InterVarsity can’t require group leaders to be Christians.
The University of Michigan also kicked InterVarsity off their campus in 2013, for the proclaimed faith requirement of their group’s leaders. Lee demonstrated in her book, that oppressive White Theology of Evangelical needs to continue to evolve. However, the issue is complicated as the Christian group that was kicked off the Michigan campus was the Asian unit.
After InterVarsity was kicked off the Michigan campus, Jao said, “The sad place that we’ve arrived at is that certain campuses in pursuit of tolerance and diversity – are now saying they will use those standards to discriminate and marginalize viewpoints they disagree with.”
Many students are beginning to question whether their rights are being infringed upon, and whether they can coexist with the diversity of religious beliefs and human sexuality.