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Christian Counterculture, 2016

Two pieces by Bonnie Pritchett in WORLD. IVP holds the line. I am both surprised and grateful.

The last sentences of each entry are terrific examples of what it means to stand by traditional scriptural convictions and engage contemporary culture without compromise.

InterVarsity responds to pro-LGBT outcry

SEXUALITY | Media critics try to draw blood from a longstanding campus ministry policy

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, an evangelical ministry serving more than 41,000 U.S. college students, is taking flak for reaffirming its biblical stance on human sexuality and requiring its employees do likewise. While the reiteration of an established policy has put some InterVarsity staff members at odds with their employer, media sources insist on making the issue solely about LGBT students—an unfair and inaccurate characterization, according to an InterVarsity spokesman.

Bible study is the mainstay of InterVarsity campus fellowships. From those groups, which often include Christian and non-Christian students, came questions about human sexuality, particularly homosexuality and gender identity, such as: How should the students address those issues on campus? And: Why do Christians believe what they believe about sex? InterVarsity’s answers say more about where the 75-year-old organization stands on the doctrine of Scripture than on its doctrine of human sexuality.

“What is our doctrine about understanding Scripture? The hermeneutic with which we approach it is critical,” Greg Jao, InterVarsity vice president and director of campus engagement, told me. “It’s a critical discipleship issue.” Without a doctrine that affirms the authority of Scripture—even the “difficult passages”—the Christian community will be divided, he said.

From the students’ questions came a policy paper four years ago addressing the biblical perspective on homosexuality. But InterVarsity leadership recognized that first step was insufficient and began work on the current document, which, Jao said, encompasses the whole of God’s design for human sexuality. In addition to the issue of same-sex attraction, the policy paper addresses premarital sex, divorce, sexual abuse, and more.

Contrary to some media reports, the policy statement is nothing new.

“We have always expected employees to reflect the ministry’s theological beliefs,” Jao said in a press release. “We recognize employees who disagree, or whose beliefs have changed over time, will leave employment because we have reiterated our beliefs.”

Jao specifically called out Time magazine for incorrectly reporting InterVarsity would fire employees who supported same-sex marriage.

“This is not accurate. No InterVarsity employee will be fired for their views on gay marriage,” he wrote.

Christian commentators were quick to come to InterVarsity’s defense. That a Christian organization would be called out for reaffirming its biblical beliefs on sexuality is not surprising, wrote Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College.

“But why is it news that evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?” Stetzer asked. “It’s because there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many. The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it. But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainstream evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.”

Jao recognized there could some pushback due to publicity over the policy statement. But that has not been the case the past 18 months, as the 1,300 InterVarsity field staff have studied and reflected “on how our beliefs about Scripture and our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture lead us to those conclusions,” Jao said. Employees were asked “to discern their convictions on this issue.”

In that process, staff members have become more sensitive to LGBT students and staff on their campuses and learned how to more graciously address their concerns. Jao admitted Christians have too often “demonized” LGBT persons instead of addressing the common sin among all people. He said InterVarsity seeks to affirm the dignity of LGBT students as made in the image of God while simultaneously communicating that all Christians must submit to the authority of Christ.

Jao sees that happening in the intimate campus fellowships. In one group, a student came to realize she was bisexual. She also knew her love of Christ would not allow her act upon that inclination, Jao said.

“InterVarsity believes Christ-likeness includes both embracing Scripture’s teachings on human sexuality as well as defending the dignity of all people, including LGBTQI individuals, because they are made in God’s image,” InterVarsity stated in the press release.

In the policy document, InterVarsity announced it would appoint a task force “to examine the implications of transgender identity.”

“First, we acknowledge that it is not sinful to have feelings of ambivalence or aversion to one’s birth gender. Nor do we respond with disbelief or impatience,” the ministry’s authors wrote. “We recognize the difficult social realities they face and commit to a response of love and respect.”


InterVarsity Press faces book conference ban

SEXUALITY | The Society of Biblical Literature temporarily revoked the publisher’s invitation amid furor over InterVarsity’s orthodox stand on human sexuality

InterVarsity Press and the Society for Biblical Literature issued a joint statement late Wednesday acknowledging that during its meeting next week the society’s council will discuss the publisher’s right to exhibit at next year’s joint annual meeting of SBL and the American Academy of Religion. John F. Kutsko, SBL’s executive director, said no decision has been made yet. InterVarsity Press publisher Jeff Crosby said he hoped the council “will continue to make room for the particularity of the discourse that IVP Academic brings to the theological academy via SBL’s annual events.” Crosby has been asked to submit material relevant to the discussion but will not participate in the meeting.

OUR EARLIER REPORT: Backlash over InverVarsity Christian Fellowship’s theological summary of human sexuality has put its publishing arm, InterVarsity Press (IVP), at odds with the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which temporarily banned the publisher from selling books at its annual meeting. In a letter to IVP, the society said it would “discuss concerns” about InterVarsity’s stance later this month.

IVP has not released the letter or responded to it, but Jim West, a lecturer in Biblical and Reformation studies at Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong, published portions of it on his blog. According to West, SBL said it is evaluating its relationship with IVP in light of its “core values, including collegiality, respect for critical inquiry, inclusivity, openness to change, respect for diversity, scholarly integrity, and tolerance.”

The SBL decision follows a handful of petitions and open letters demanding the evangelical college ministry rescind its requirement that employees affirm an orthodox view of human sexuality. The issue caused a furor last week after media outlets obtained copies of a new InterVarsity policy paper discussing God’s design for human sexuality.

InterVarsity’s supporters jumped to its defense after learning about the temporary ban.

“Let me be clear, to ban IVP from the annual convention does not safeguard the academic freedom of SBL members, it amounts to censorship, which many of us are very, very sensitive about,” wrote author Michael Bird, one of IVP’s authors.

Bird said the ban flies in the face of the society’s claims of promoting diverse perspectives and critical discourse.

On his blog, West asked whether Catholic presses and other publishers who share InterVarsity's perspective on human sexuality will also be banned.

InterVarsity’s critics include 50 IVP-published authors who signed an open letter denouncing the policy, even though IVP authors are not required to share InterVarsity’s beliefs.

“The intention of our letter was a request from friends of [InterVarsity] expressing our concern for current staff members who will unwillingly be forced to transition from their place in community based on the ‘involuntary termination’ policy,” wrote author Chris Heuertz.

Although Heuertz reportedly drafted the letter to address grievances with InterVarsity, neither the college ministry nor IVP received a copy. His letter appeared instead in a column by Jonathan Merritt at the Religion News Network.

IVP publisher Jeff Crosby was not available for comment this morning. But Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s vice president and director of campus engagement, said the ministry will remain faithful to its doctrine, and the gospel will continue to advance on college campuses.

Jao expected criticism from certain sources, noting the organizations claiming to speak for LGBT Christians represent an “alternate theology” of human sexuality. But concerns raised by those with a vested interest in InterVarsity’s ministry—current and former students and staff—drew his attention.

“These are people who have a love for InterVarsity, and I am grateful that they are expressing their concerns,” Jao told me Tuesday, before the SBL ban became public. “I hope they will give us a chance to explain.”

Some InterVarsity staff members have been asked by school administrators to clarify the policy paper and its effect on employment issues. Once it was clear the policy covered InterVarsity employees and not students, administrators withdrew their concerns.

The policy paper, titled “A Theological Summary of Human Sexuality,” took four years to draft. InterVarsity staff have been given 18 months to study the 20-page document and its 28 cited texts. Employees whose convictions are at odds with the document are asked to tell their supervisors. Staff members who cannot teach and publicly support the statement will be “involuntarily terminated.”

But Jao emphasized employees are not “fired” for disagreeing with the policy. The terms of the dismissal allow employees in some states to collect unemployment benefits, something they could not do if they were fired.

Despite critics’ calls for more dialogue, Jao said an agree-to-disagree resolution is unworkable because it would require InterVarsity to act in opposition to what it believes is clearly revealed in Scripture. Jao insisted taking a clear theological stand will only help the ministry’s mission of discipleship: “Reiterating [InterVarsity doctrine] is in part a conviction that all of Scripture is good news: It is good news for everyone, even when it’s hard.”

FAITHFUL WITNESS. Book covers from IVP books dating back to the late 1970s.

{Aside: "Yes, Virginia, You mean there really was a time when all Christian book covers did not look like really unimaginative American Greeting card designs…"}

The only remotely similar thing I can recall in the Catholic past is from 2003. Which seems like it was ... well, a decade ago!

A LOOK BACK IN HISTORY |Letter from Cardinal Ratzinger of The Vatican

to Plano Gathering of Anglicans

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote the following letter to the Plano gathering of Orthodox Anglicans. This letter bypassed then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and was one of the greatest single embarrassing moments in his ecclesiastical reign. Its text:

October 9, 2003

From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

The Vatican

On behalf of Pope John Paul II I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany. The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself.

With fraternal regards, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger


FAITHFUL WITNESS. Letter of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger dating back to 2003.

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