InterVarsity fellowship reaffirms sex theology

by Diana Chandler, posted Monday, October 10, 2016 (one year ago)

MADISON, Wisc. (BP) -- InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA has reaffirmed its longstanding theology limiting sexual relations to heterosexual married couples, and said gay employees and others who disagree theologically will likely feel compelled to leave the ministry.

But Greg Jao, the interdenominational college student ministry's vice president and director of campus engagement, said a Time report of people being "fired" for disagreeing with the policy was misleading.

"Fired, again, has the wrong connotation and the wrong process," Jao told Baptist Press.

Rather, Jao said, InterVarsity is trying to avoid a "don't ask, don't tell" protocol by asking employees to self-disclose any disagreement with the policy. Those who do so might be given additional time to study the policy, he said, but the ministry "will begin a process of termination" if employees persist in disagreement.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender employees and others may remain with the company if they affirm InterVarsity's theological beliefs.

"InterVarsity is concluding a four-year process in which we reiterated our beliefs on human sexuality and invited our staff to study and to reflect on how our beliefs about Scripture and our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture lead us to those conclusions," Jao said. "We recognize employees who disagree, or whose beliefs have changed over time, will leave employment because we have reiterated our beliefs. … Within InterVarsity and elsewhere, there are [LGBT] people who agree with this theology, at great personal cost. We are learning together to follow Jesus."

The theological statement addresses not only the biblical design for marriage, but also addresses premarital sex, same-sex relationships, sexual abuse, divorce, lust, adultery and pornography.

Jao, in an email to Time, identified any employees' decision to leave in response to the policy as "involuntary terminations due to misalignment with InterVarsity ministry principles, which is a category we use for people who leave for theological and philosophy of ministry disagreements," Time reported.

Jao told Baptist Press four or five employees had self-disclosed their opposition to the policy and voluntarily left employment with the ministry, and that he expects some others will do the same.

"In some of those cases they resigned, and we're treating it as an involuntary termination simultaneously because of the situation," Jao told BP. "The vast majority of our staff, while they are experiencing some pain over the loss of colleagues, have said, 'No, this actually reflects what we've always taught, always believed, and I always expected my teammates were on board with.'" Southern Baptist leaders have come to InterVarsity's defense.

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, in an Oct. 7 live video on ERLC's Facebook page, pointed out the broad scope of the theological statement that only clarifies InterVarsity's long held beliefs.

"Some people are focusing on one particular aspect of the statement, when in reality, the policy that InterVarsity has applies to the full range of questions of basic human sexuality right now," Moore said, "from questions of premarital sex and adultery and pornography and sexual abuse and sexual harassment and all of these questions that have to do with what does it mean for human beings to act with integrity and with God's design out of our sexual natures. This really isn't news."

Contrary to secular society, Moore said, Christians should not be shocked by InterVarsity's policy.

"InterVarsity, while maybe on the wrong side of American history, as American history is defined right now, is perfectly in line with where the Christian church has been for 2000 years, where the Bible is, where Jesus' own teaching about where marriage and sexuality is," Moore said. "I see nothing new happening here.

"What I see is InterVarsity saying," Moore said, "'We want to make sure that we're up front and that we act with integrity, rather than just trying to lay low and avoid controversy and leave things fuzzy and undefined. We want to be very clear about what we believe and who we are.'"

Ed Stetzer, former executive director of research for LifeWay Christian Resources and currently executive director of Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, also defended the policy in Christianity Today.

"When opposing beliefs begin to push against the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the faith needs to make clear and biblical statements to ensure biblical fidelity," Stetzer wrote Oct. 6.

"Creeds and statements of faith often aim to make things clear, and describe what's central, in the middle of the muddy cultural milieu. … And, InterVarsityUSA, like just about every evangelical ministry and church, does not intend to employ people who teach contrary to their central beliefs."

The Washington Post and Time each identified an individual who is no longer with InterVarsity as a result of the policy, including 26-year-old Bianca Louie, who Time said had led the InterVarsity campus fellowship at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and had formed what Time described as "an anonymous queer collective" on behalf of staff, students and alumni "who felt unsafe under the new policy."

The policy does not apply to students who participate in InterVarsity chapters on 667 college campuses nationwide, InterVarsity said.

InterVarsity's position paper, "A Theological Summary of Human Sexuality," is posted online at https://www.scribd.com/document/326684433/InterVarsity-Christian-Fellowship-Theology-of-Human-Sexuality-Paper.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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