In the age of Obamacare and legal gay marriage, InterVarsity may have made such decisions to legally protect its organization. But do the potential benefits of such a bold move outweigh the ramifications of what Dias called “a theological purge?” It’s difficult to make such a case. Instead, InterVarsity has drawn an unnecessary line in the sand that may alienate donors, frighten members, and force employees in good standing to choose between their loved ones and their livelihoods.
InterVarsity’s decision is the result of a four-year internal review of gender, sexuality, and marriage. The study culminated in a 20-page internal position paper distributed in March of 2015 that stated, “We conclude, therefore, that God’s loving intention—seen in the clear teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments—restricts sexual expression to a committed marriage relationship between a husband and a wife.”
During the organization’s time of internal review, InterVarsity found itself embroiled in an external brawl. California State University decided to “de-recognize” the ministry’s 19 chapters on their 23 campuses because InterVarsity refused to sign a nondiscrimination policy. Ministry leaders said that, while their chapters were open to anyone, leaders must agree to Intervarsity’s “doctrinal basis.”
The statement does not specifically mention marriage or sexuality. But by affirming “the entire trustworthiness” of the Bible, college administrators feared it could lead to discrimination against LGBT students. CSU later restored InterVarsity’s status, but other colleges had already taken similar actions against the ministry including, Tufts University, Rollins College, and Vanderbilt University.
What do InterVarsity’s public battles have to do with its recent decision? Quite a lot, perhaps. As Rod Dreher points out at The American Conservative, Federal law does not always look kindly on religious organizations with inconsistent policies. If the organization did not take a firm stand on same-sex marriage across the board, it’s possible that an unclear position on the matter would be difficult to defend in court if it were sued for discrimination.
Faced with this possibility, what’s an organization like InterVarsity to do?
Religious organizations are analyzing how critical the issue is to their missions and ongoing operations. If you’re a civil-rights organization, for example, it’s necessary to have clear policies and procedures on race. If you’re a pro-life group, everyone expects you to have unambiguous positions on abortion policy.
But it’s not clear that a campus organization needs to make marriage a primary concern. No wonder that the organization has not codified a position marriage into its purpose, core values, or doctrinal statements in nearly 80 years of operation. To do so now is to fundamentally alter its organizational identity.