A national campus fellowship network told employees they can be fired for their beliefs on LGBT relationships.
As America becomes increasingly accepting of same-sex marriage, many conservative Christians have feared that their stand on gay marriage could cost them their reputations or even their jobs. This week, it actually happened: Hundreds of workers were formally notified by their employer that they could be involuntarily terminated for their religious beliefs. But, ironically, those at risk are progressive Christians who support the consecration of gay marriages.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, a large ministry operating on 667 college campuses nationwide, has announced that it will begin dismissing employees who disagree with its theological stance on human sexuality starting on November 11, TIME’s Elizabeth Dias reported on Wednesday. Rather than force employees to sign a document outlining their position, the organization is asking employees to out themselves. Once the employees inform their supervisor of their personal views, the “involuntary terminations” will be triggered.
InterVarsity has experienced backlash since this story broke and released a statement to make clear that they do not have a political position on civil marriage, but only a theological position on Christian marriage. Many will see this as splitting hairs. If an employee interprets the Bible in such a way that makes space for LGBT marriage, they are asking them to leave.
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?
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