It’s up to staff members on 667 college campuses to decide whether they share InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s theological beliefs on sexuality, following an 18-month study on LGBT ministry that concludes next month.
There will be no morality clause to sign, no list of things they can and cannot do or say, and no statement to verbally affirm, according to Greg Jao, vice president and director of campus engagement for the evangelical student ministry.
Instead, if any of InterVarsity’s 1,300 staff members oppose the theological positions detailed in a 20-page document—including prohibitions against same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, divorce, masturbation, and the biblical underpinnings for each—released in early 2015, they are expected to disclose their conflict and leave.
“We’re trusting their integrity that they’ll resign rather than continue to work with an organization that disagrees with them,” said Jao. “We framed it as an involuntary termination, even though staff are self-disclosing. We are trying to acknowledge that they would not have chosen this except for the fact we have clarified and reiterated our position.”
The policy was reported by Time magazine yesterday, bringing a barrage of public commentary and questions to a sensitive issue that staff members have been weighing for months. Jao says he knows fewer than 10 people who have resigned since this summer; one former staff member estimated it was at least 20.
As Christians on both sides react to the news, some say that InterVarsity’s scenario will only become more common for evangelicals and their organizations: Those who have kept their convictions over marriage and sexuality to themselves will be increasingly asked to take a side and make their stances clear.
“When InterVarsity Christian Fellowship makes the pages of Time magazine going into the weekend, you understand what we have been saying for a very long time,” stated Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler. “There is no place to hide. Soon we’re all going to know what everyone believes on all of these issues, and Christian institutions, Christian organizations, Christian ministries, and Christian churches, indeed every single Christian will eventually have to give an answer.”
That’s partly why InterVarsity put its staff through training on these issues in the first place, Jao said. As a college ministry, sexuality is a major issue in their discipleship and outreach efforts, and they want their staff to be in agreement as they minister to students.
For more than a year, all InterVarsity staff participated in nine sets of lessons on sexuality. They studied the Bible in groups, read position papers, heard from theologians, and listened to interviews with LGBT leaders. They wanted to offer those working on campus a more robust approach to ministering to LGBT students and a shared theological underpinning for their positions.
“We should be clear about what we do and don’t believe,” said Jao. “Not because we want to push people out, but because we want to be clear what we’re inviting people into.”
Still, the push for theological consistency can be frustrating and painful. Staff worry about LGBT students impacted by the news, their colleagues who are leaving, and celibate LGBT staff who may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending their decision to stay.