InterVarsity

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

First things first: I made a major error the other day in my post about a Religion News Service report about an Iowa judge’s ruling in a legal clash between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and leaders at the University of Iowa.

This wasn’t a typo or a misspelling.

My main point in the post was wrong and I want to correct that and also thank the experts at BecketLaw.org for alerting me to my mistake.

Here is the top of the original RNS report. This is long, but essential. After that, I’ll show the section of the RNS story that led to my error:

(RNS) — Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached last week in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

Those groups also included Muslims, Sikhs and Latter-day Saints, according to a statement from InterVarsity.

“We must have leaders who share our faith,” InterVarsity Director of External Relations Greg Jao said in the written statement. “No group — religious or secular — could survive with leaders who reject its values. We’re grateful the court has stopped the University’s religious discrimination, and we look forward to continuing our ministry on campus for years to come.”

At least three University of Iowa leaders are being held personally accountable to cover the costs of any damages awarded later to InterVarsity, according to U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose’s Friday (Sept. 27) ruling, provided by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented InterVarsity.

A paragraph later there was this:

Rose’s decision comes on the heels of a ruling she made earlier this year in a similar case involving the university and a student group called Business Leaders in Christ. Because she felt university leaders should have understood after that case how to treat the groups fairly, the judge is holding them personally accountable. …

The lawsuit came in August 2018 after the University of Iowa claimed InterVarsity was violating the university’s human rights policy by requiring leaders to affirm the organization’s statement of faith. That policy prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other attributes.

Here’s where I erred. I thought, when I read this section of the RNS story, that the two decisions pivoted on the same section of that University of Iowa policy.

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Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Editor’s note: Please see the post correcting a crucial error in this post. Click here to go to that correction.

Yes, the headline for this post contains the word “Christian” inside “scare” quotes.

I did that on purpose, because it’s linked to the journalism point that I want to make about a recent Religion News Service story about a judge’s ruling on a clash between an evangelical campus ministry and the University of Iowa. The report contains lots of interesting and valid information, but I also think it contains a crucial error that RNS needs to correct.

This problem can be seen in the headline: “InterVarsity can require its leaders to be Christian, judge rules.”

Here’s my question: Did the judge say that it was OK for InterVarsity to require its leaders to be “Christians,” or that it was acceptable for the group require its leaders to affirm a specific set of traditional Christian beliefs on a number of topics, including marriage and sex?

My question: Would officials at the University of Iowa have been happy if some of the InterVarsity leaders were Episcopalians from parishes or dioceses that affirm gay marriage and embrace other doctrines that are consistent with a pro-LGBTQ stance? What if InterVarsity leaders came from other progressive flocks, such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the United Church of Christ?

I’m thinking that University of Iowa leaders would have accepted InterVarsity having “Christian” leaders, as long as they were liberal Christians whose doctrines were acceptable.

But look at the top of the RNS report (this is long, but essential):

Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached … in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

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Podcast thinking: Why do many reporters avoid theological news on religious left?

Podcast thinking: Why do many reporters avoid theological news on religious left?

Back in the fall of 1993, I made — believe it or not — my first-ever trip as an adult to New York City. I had covered many important news stories in American and around the world, but had never hit the Big Apple.

I stayed in a guest room at Union Theological Seminary, since I would be attending what turned out to be, for me, a pivotal religion-beat conference at the nearby Columbia University School of Journalism. But that’s another story for another day.

Here is the story for this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), which is linked this week’s Twitter explosion in which Union Seminary students confessed their environmental sins to some plants and sought forgiveness.

On that beautiful New York Sunday morning, I decided to head to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I was, at the time, an evangelical Episcopalian (with high-church sympathies) at I was trying to run into my wife’s favorite author — Madeleine L’Engle (click here for my tribute when she died). She was writer in residence at the cathedral, but later told me that she worshipped at an evangelical parish in the city.

Why did she do that? Well, in part because of services like the “Missa Gaia (Earth Mass)” I attended that Sunday. As I wrote later in a piece called “Liturgical Dances With Wolves”:

In the Kyrie, the saxophonist and his ensemble improvised to the taped cry of a timber wolf. A humpback whale led the Sanctus.

Skeptic Carl Sagan preached, covering turf from the joyful “bisexual embraces'' of earthworms to the greedy sins of capitalists. The earth, he stressed, is one body made of creatures who eat and drink each other, inhabit each other's bodies, and form a sacred “web of interaction and interdependence that embraces the planet.'' … The final procession was spectacular and included an elephant, a camel, a vulture, a swarm of bees in a glass frame, a bowl of blue-green algae and an elegantly decorated banana.

The key moment for me?

Before the bread and wine were brought to the altar, the musicians offered a rhythmic chant that soared into the cathedral vault. … “Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens. Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens. Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life. Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life. Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors. Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.” …

Then the congregation joined in and everyone sang “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.' “

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Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Here’s a remarkable book with news potential that no reputable evangelical publisher would have issued, say, five or 10 years ago: “Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity” by Gregory Coles.

Significantly, New Testament scholar D.A. Carson, a staunch conservative, blurbs that the work “needs to be thoughtfully read by straight people, and by gay people, by unbelievers and by Christians” -- and read “with humility.”

The publisher is the book division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, long hassled by many colleges because its student officers are expected to uphold Christian tradition, including the limitation of sex to one-man- one-woman marriage. Last year, IVCF reaffirmed that policy for employees, sparking media coverage. (InterVarsity hires those of  “LGBTQI identity” if they support its orthodox stance on sexual morals.)

Coles is a church musician and active member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in State College, Pa. He’s solidly evangelical, thus takes seriously what the Bible teaches, carefully examined the arguments from liberal revisionists but concluded that scripture opposes same-sex marriages and sexual relationships.

What then? Though he has no idea why, since youth he’s been “unable to conjure even the slightest heterosexual desire,” and this is no “choice.” He prayed earnestly. He cried. He “felt dirty, worthless, irredeemable.” After long struggles he “stopped praying to be straight” and doesn’t see how that could ever occur. Thus, he’s concluded that he is “a thing that wasn’t supposed to exist: a single gay Christian.”    

The book is a heartfelt plea to fellow evangelicals to rethink their approach to this, the most divisive issue to face U.S. Protestantism since slavery.

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Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

A recent Gallup Poll showed 38 percent of Americans agree with what’s known as “young earth creationism,” which believes God created humanity in its present form some 10,000 years ago.  

That percentage, the lowest since Gallup began asking about this in 1982, was a tie with those saying humanity developed over millions of years “but God guided the process,” so-called “theistic evolution.” Meanwhile, 19 percent said God played no part, double the number in 2000.

The long-running dispute over evolution continues to present journalists with a big challenge in providing fair treatment, particularly if they lack expertise in Bible interpretation. Thus the importance for all media professionals of “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?,” a July book from InterVarsity Press, known for quality presentations of conservative Protestant thinking.

This dialogue book presents respectful but vigorous disagreements from two evangelical camps that share belief in God as the Creator and the full authority of the Bible. BioLogos of Grand Rapids, Mich., champions of “evolutionary creation” (it prefers that label to “theistic evolution”), which harmonizes the Bible with Darwinian evolution. Debate partner Reasons to Believe (RTB) of Covina, Calif., advocates “old earth creation” and criticizes standard evolutionary theory on scientific and biblical grounds.  

RTB began in 1986 under leadership of the Rev. Hugh Ross, a pastor with a Ph.D. in astronomy.  BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Francis Collins (.pdf here), director of the Human Genome Project and currently director of the National Institutes of Health. The two groups held 15 meetings that provide the substance of the new book. 

Both BioLogos and RTB support the vastly long timeline that has long been standard among scientists.

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Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

It’s summer time, which means that its camp time for many children and the adults who run zillions of camps around the United States and Canada.

Many such camps are run by Christian denominations and parachurch ministries, not the least of which is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), which has always focused on reaching out to college students.

It turns out that the huge sex debate that has embroiled InterVarsity here in the States has reached up into Canada where IVCF runs a string of summer camps for youth.

Although this piece by CBC Radio-Canada ran two months ago, it pertains to how culture wars on human sexuality are very much being fought this summer.

A group of alumni from one of Ontario's largest Christian summer camps is fighting to end an anti-gay policy that requires staff to condemn "homosexual and lesbian sexual conduct" if a camper asks them about it.
Volunteer and paid staff at Ontario Pioneer Camp in Port Sydney, Ont., must sign a code of conduct that says "homosexual and lesbian sexual conducts are not to be practised" and staff "should not in any way espouse, endorse or imply acceptance" of what the policy says "should be avoided." 

So there are several words that are missing in this news report so far. Can you guess what they might be? 

"This very narrow, firm stance on homosexuality is wrong," argues Michelle Dowling, a former camper and staff member.
She helped start OnePioneer, the group pushing for LGBT inclusion at the camp they otherwise love.
"It really held me back for a number of years in accepting myself," Dowling told CBC Toronto. The 28-year-old was wrestling with her own sexuality the last time she signed the contract in 2011.

It’s 14 paragraphs into the story when we get a quote from an InterVarsity official.

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Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Personally, I was agnostic about climate change until I spent last year in Alaska. Living in Fairbanks and hearing ordinary people talk about the winters getting warmer, how the cold isn’t what it used to be and hearing how “break-up” (the melting of Alaska’s vast rivers) is happening earlier and earlier each spring, made a believer out of me.

The winter I was there (2015), the Iditarod was held in Fairbanks for the second time in its history because Anchorage had no snow. When I visited the Alyeska ski resort to try some downhill just east of Anchorage, we had to schuss in a bowl near the top, as all of the runs at the base were bare.

All the evangelical Christians I met up there accepted climate change as a fact, so it’s intrigued me as to why so many in the Lower 48 are fighting it. Which is why I was attracted to this article in Texas Monthly that explains why one evangelical scholar is for it. It begins:

One clear day last spring, Katharine Hayhoe walked into the limestone chambers of the Austin City Council to brief the members during a special meeting on how prepared the city was to deal with disasters and extreme weather. A respected atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, the 43-year-old had been invited to discuss climate change, and she breezed through her PowerPoint slides, delivering stark news in an upbeat manner: unless carbon emissions were swiftly curbed, in the coming decades Texas would see stronger heat waves, harsher summers, and torrential rainfall separated by longer periods of drought.
“Why do we care about all of this stuff?” Hayhoe asked. “Because it has huge financial impacts.” The number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States had ballooned from one or two per year in the eighties to eight to twelve today, Hayhoe explained as she pulled up a slide with a map of the country. “Texas is in the crosshairs of those events, because we get it all, don’t we? We get the floods and the droughts, the hailstorms and the ice storms, and even the snow and the extreme heat. And we get the tornadoes, the hurricanes, and the sea-level rise. There isn’t much that we don’t get.”

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Rare midweek think piece: Calm J-voice of faith in Mizzou media storms (updated)

Rare midweek think piece: Calm J-voice of faith in Mizzou media storms (updated)

In the circles that I run in, the University of Missouri's School of Journalism is way better known than the school's football team. Many of the large state universities in the Midwest have important journalism programs (I have a master's from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), but when it comes to clout in the world of basic print journalism, Mizzou has long been a unique national and global force.

At the same time, the J-school has a reputation as a place where many of the journalists take religion very seriously (providing a home for the Religion Newswriters Association), while offering a cultural environment in which quite a few believers (including both liberal and conservative Christians) have learned to take journalism very seriously. At one point, I know, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship had a chapter just for students in the J-school.

In a way, think of Missouri has a bridge point between the cultures of the Midwest and the South, a location that offers many strengths and some weaknesses as well.

In recent days, the journalists I know -- especially in academia -- have been following the events on the University of Missouri campus with a combination of horror and fascination. A communications professor calling for "muscle" to prevent a student journalist from photographing protests in a public space? Really? For those fluent in academic politics, it has also become clear that President Tim Wolfe's fall had a lot to do with sins against powerful academic interest groups (think teaching assistants and adjuncts, in particular) as well as his slow, weak responses to growing campus concerns about acts of racism.

I have had several emails from people who know Missouri well asking me to comment on the "religion ghosts" in this story, meaning religious themes that are haunting these events but drawing little coverage. And there's the rub: In this case I haven't seen, in the mainstream coverage, enough material about religion to deserve comment.

Have there been meetings sponsored by religious believers to seek unity and healing? Were campus religious groups involved in the protests or responses to the protests? The president said he prayed about his decision to resign. And there was this, in a Missourian story about hunger striker Jonathan Butler:

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