Religious identity in a secular age: InterVarsity and human sexuality

Below is an article that I co-authored with my colleague, Andrew T. Walker. The article was originally published at ERLC.com

Yesterday, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship became the latest target in a proxy war over human sexuality. An article posted at TIME with the headline, Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage, brought national attention to InterVarsity’s effort to maintain the biblical and theological integrity of its organization. Simply put, InterVarsity is now the subject of attention and outrage for expecting its employees to abide by orthodox, biblical teachings on human sexuality and anthropology that have stood uncontested throughout the history of the global church.

There is nothing scandalous about this decision. InterVarsity is a distinctly Christian organization. InterVarsity exists “to establish and advance…witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord: growing in love for God, God’s Word, God’s people of every ethnicity and culture and God’s purposes in the world.” And this action is nothing more than an intentional effort to maintain fidelity to the teaching of God’s Word in a time when basic tenets of Christian anthropology are now prejudicially heralded as bigoted or harmful.

Some are criticizing the organization’s decision to move forward with “a process for ‘involuntary terminations’ for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality,” as imprudent or extreme. But it is critical to note that this step is actually the result of a “four-year internal review on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.” Even in announcing the decision to dismiss employees unable to affirm the organization’s position on these matters, InterVarsity has offered those who are subject to involuntary termination a two-week period of paid notice and “offered to cover outplacement service costs for one month after employment ends to help dismissed staff with their résumés and job-search strategies.”

If anything, InterVarsity is to be commended for the faithfulness and wisdom displayed by its leadership in addressing this issue with compassion and sensitivity. No one rejoices when employment and livelihoods are in jeopardy. But the essence and theological integrity of a Christian institution demands obedience to Scripture. Not only did it carefully consider the relevant questions concerning human sexuality over a period of four years, but at the conclusion of this period, it produced a carefully articulated “20-page internal position paper on human sexuality in March 2015, and then gave staff 18 months to study it and participate in a nine-part study exploring its conclusions.” This is a model of biblical wisdom and discernment.

There is no witch hunt; and there is no hypocrisy on InterVarsity’s part as others allege. InterVarsity’s actions bring clarity and foundation to an arena of debate that promises to tear many institutions apart. Furthermore, as the Supreme Court upheld in its Hosanna-Tabor ruling, religious institutions are within their constitutional right to determine the conditions of employment when predicated on confessional beliefs. Lest first principles be overlooked amidst the emotion and fervor, basic rights of association are at stake in InterVarsity’s decision.

But for many people, there is only one concern. The conclusions reached by InterVarsity are unacceptable. They defy the modern spirit of tolerance and inclusion; and so Christian orthodoxy must be subjugated to the orthodoxy and dictatorship of tolerance, a tolerance that goes in only one direction. Unfortunately, the only manner in which an organization as large and influential as InterVarsity—boasting more than 1,000 chapters on 667 college campuses around the country with upwards of 41,000 students and 1,300 staff members—might escape such public ridicule would be capitulation. Dissenters and revisionists of biblical orthodoxy would accept nothing less than total surrender.

Expect more of these episodes in the future. The culture will not countenance any middle ground. In the case of human sexuality, every organization will be beckoned to choose whom it will serve.

Surely, this was a difficult and challenging move for InterVarsity, a step they certainly undertook with heavy hearts. Even so, we commend InterVarsity for its faithfulness. May God bless InterVarsity for its courage and resolve, a resolve that will cost them dearly in a secularizing culture, but a resolve that honors Christ nonetheless.