Date: June 23, 2015
USA (InterVarsity/MNN) — In the United States, it’s open season on people of faith. They’re often vulnerable to litigious individuals offended by traditional religious viewpoints.
It felt like this was the root of rough few years for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It doesn’t seem like it’s an unreasonable request that someone who leads a study group on the Bible would be familiar with its deeper meanings, too. Yet, because LGBTQ students and non-Christian students couldn’t serve in leadership roles throughout InterVarsity, the campus ministry lost recognition of 23 chapters on 19 California State University (CSU) campuses last September.
While general membership is available to all, the question of a diverse leadership and non-discrimination came into play. This isn’t the first conversation they’ve had on this topic, and it probably won’t be the last.
The good news, says Greg Jao with InterVarsity, is that there was dialogue. “Over the course of those conversations over the last year and a half, while we’ve been de-recognized, we found a way forward. Cal State has asked us to insure that all students are welcome to our meetings (which we were delighted to do), and that anybody would have the ability to apply for leadership.”
Anybody? Crafting the application and leadership selection process took wisdom. Jao confirms, “We were able to create a process for leadership selection that we think guarantees that we’ll have leaders who fully embrace our mission and our message. I’m grateful for the prayers of your [MNN] listeners and many other people around the country. We really think this was a miracle.” Jao goes on to explain that during the selection process, “We are going to ask questions about our mission and our message: Gospel fidelity, your commitment to share your faith, your ability to lead other students, as part of the selection process.”
When asked if the process could leave InterVarsity vulnerable to groups who want to create a situation that could lead to litigation, he added, “The nice thing is: trouble-makers are easy to identify. I think in our conversations with administrators and other things, that can be worked out.” A lot of that confidence, while born out of prayer and truth, comes from the open and frank discussions InterVarsity’s leadership had with Cal State’s Administration. “Because of the way that people prayed about this, and because of the way that Cal State was honestly willing to engage in the conversation because they knew that we weren’t taking cheap shots at them, we were able to talk through some pretty difficult issues together.”
Plus, when you really are following Christ’s example, you learn how to love.Jao uses the example of the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church members in Charleston, South Carolina. Their reaction in the days after the shooting attack have baffled the watching world. They forgave. They shared their hope. They shared their love. That kind of love is confusing, attractive, and scary to people, all at the same time. Jao explains, “You have to love the people that you’re witnessing to, and you have to speak truth in a clear, uncompromising way. We teach that lesson all the time on campus. We’ve seen more students come to faith this year than any other year in our history.”
Back to what’s going on in California: while this agreement covers chapters at California State University, the largest public university system in the U.S., InterVarsity continues to face challenges to student chapters on campuses at other locations in California, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Maine, Iowa, and Florida. Keep praying, urges Jao. “We believe that the doors are wide open to the Gospel on college and university campuses, so pray that more students hear the Gospel and respond.”
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA has a total of 985 chapters on 649 campuses and has been active on U.S. College and university campuses for more than 74 years. InterVarsity is a charter affiliate of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and is a charter member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).