Monday, October 10, 2016

InterVarsity USA Issues Policy that Purges Gay-Affirming Leaders from Its Staff

TIME Magazine broke a story last Thursday about InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA clarifying it's beliefs on human sexuality. Basically, they clarified that their staff will be fired or asked to resign if they personally express an affirming belief on human sexuality, including support for same-sex marriage. The evangelical college organization will begin enforcing this policy effective 11/11/16. People have already begun leaving the organization because of this.

I follow a lot of LGBT Christians who either identify as evangelicals or who come from that heritage. There were a lot of upset people on Twitter that night, concerned that they were being pushed out of the larger Church community by organizations like InterVarsity. Sadly, I've come to accept nothing less. But it doesn't stop me from feeling bad for these folks.

InterVarsity USA issues a series of nonsensical tweets that evening, both denying and defending their beliefs. Basically, they don't have an opinion on civil marriage and they recognize that Christians suck when it comes to LGBT people, but they also believe that LGBT relationships are sinful and some LGBT people agree with them. So they're learning.

Anyway, Greg Jao, the vice president and director of campus engagement for InterVaristy USA, appeared on CBN's "The 700 Club" earlier today to talk about this policy statement. Here is a transcript of most of it:
CBN Woman: Your policy asks InterVarsity staff to self-disclose and leave staff if they disagree with your theological position on sexuality, including opposition to gay marriage. Why is it necessary to ask staff to leave over this particular issue? 

Greg Jao: I think it's important to understand that for us, our position on human sexuality derives from our understanding on the authority of scripture. And that leads us to a particular way to read the scripture and apply it so we're really asking staff to affirm their belief in scripture's authority and how that gets played out in the lives of students and faculty. And obviously if you're doing ministry with university students, talking about sex is important. When we don't have common agreement, it becomes hard for staff to teach with one another. So how do you have a conference about human sexuality when we have disagreeing views on that? You end up asking people to teach what they may not believe. So in the end, it's an issue of inviting all of our staff to reaffirm what we believe on the authority of scripture and how that plays out in human sexuality so that we can engage the university with greater integrity, greater skill, and I hope greater humility. 

CBN Woman: I think some people are confused because in the past the core doctrines when we've thought about them in the faith have surrounded the cross and the person of Jesus. And now are we actually elevating sexuality to a core doctrine? 

Greg Jao: I don't think so. There's two things I want to say there. One, we do think this relates to the authority of scripture and how do we understand scripture so that it is a core doctrine. I think though the unique thing about groups like InterVarsity, our colleagues in other evangelical para-church ministries is that we're constantly engaging students with the issues around human sexuality. They're experiencing it, living it, and struggling with it. And so we want to make sure that, at least from InterVarsity's perspective, that we're providing a clear, consistent message and pointing people to scripture in a clear, consistent way. 

CBN Woman: I know that some people believe that this policy will intimidate and frighten students struggling with their sexuality. How do you go about engaging students in thoughtful conversation about issues around sexuality/gay marriage when a staff person could lose their job over it? 

Greg Jao: First, let's be clear. This has been the expectation we've had for our staff for 75 years. *Chuckles* So I'm hopeful for most people, the InterVarsity they've experienced as a welcoming, challenging, thoughtful place has been true and continues to be true. I think staff actually have told me the more they have studied it, it's made it easier for them to be compassionate, easier for them to confess the sins of the church toward the LGBTQIA community, and more skilled at presenting the gospel in a relevant way. So I remember talking to a student who said it was an InterVarsity that I was first loved and cared for deeply enough that I could finally admit to myself after years of denial that I had same-sex attraction. And it was an InterVarsity that I encountered Jesus and the scripture and gave my life to him. And it's in InterVarsity that I feel I can lay my sexual identity before Jesus and allow him to guide me, which in her case I'm choosing chastity because I believe that's what Jesus calls me to and I'm doing it with joy. So I think when staff are teaching from a clear place they're better able to do the things that we want. And in fact, that's what campus ministers do all the time. We have a clear understanding of the gospel and we clearly invite people to follow Jesus. 

CBN Woman: Wanted to ask you too, many observers believe that Christian organizations like your's must have clearly defined positions on sexuality to protect themselves legally. Has that been part of the thinking for InterVarsity, that you have to protect yourself from future lawsuits by clearly stating your position on sexuality.

Greg Jao: No. Our primary goal been to continually restate the core truths and what scripture teaches to each generation and so because of the confusion in the church and in our culture and because students asked us for clarity, we reiterated what we believe. Worrying about lawsuits is far from the primary thinking at this point. 

CBN Woman: How many staff have left at this point over this issue? 

Greg Jao: As far as I know, at this point very few. Like I said, this has been the position that we've held for over 70 years and it's been our expectation. So I'm not anticipating a lot of people leaving, but we realize that people change over time. So this was a great chance to invite people whose views have changed over time to reassess where they're at. And what we've said to them is we trust your integrity. You're adults. You're people who love Jesus and you know what it means to believe something and then have to teach on it. We hope you'll let us know who you are. Let's work on a way to graciously help you leave staff so you aren't put in a position of teaching something you don't believe and our staff teams aren't conflicted about what we should teach. I hope for most folks it will be a gracious, good way to move forward.

CBN Woman: I know just from following social media that you've taken a lot of flak in the last couple days over all of this. Have you also heard from people who appreciate the stand that you've taken?

Greg Jao: We have. I think what I've appreciated is I've gotten letters and calls from LGBTQ-identifying Christians who said, "This causes me incredible pain and I'm praying for you and have compassion for the flak that you're taking. I'm following Jesus in a life of chastity right now." It's been amazing to hear from them. We've heard from global leaders who said, "Thank you for taking a clear stand in the United States and we stand with you and are praying for you." And we've heard from a number of other ministries and other leaders around the country just saying, "We're holding you in prayer." I don't want to minimize the pain that people are experiencing. It's been real. I actually have been praying for members of the LGBTQI community who've experienced a lot of pain in this moment. But we have received a fair number of people saying, "Praying for you. Holding you up before the Lord." And that's been encouraging.
You can watch the entire segment here.

Let's be clear. I don't care about InterVarsity USA. I have no history with InterVarsity USA. I have no relationship with InterVarsity USA. I have little interest in InterVarsity USA. It doesn't surprise me that they have dug in their toes against gay people, our relationships, our marriages and our families. And I hope that my son never seeks them out when he eventually enrolls in college.

But I do call bull on Greg Jao. I sincerely doubt that Jao has received more than a couple different letters from actually LGBTQ-identifying Christians who don't told him that they are praying for him and oh-by-the-way-I'm-celibate. If he received any such letters, it was likely from adults within the leadership of ex-gay groups who reached out to him with a desire and need to remain relevant in a society that increasingly recognizes that Christianity has little place for or interest in LGBT people.

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