InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Gay students clashing with Christian clubs: Inside Higher Ed needs more balanced coverage

Gay students clashing with Christian clubs: Inside Higher Ed needs more balanced coverage

Usually I like the articles that Inside Higher Education comes up with, but its recent piece about a lawsuit involving the University of Iowa was so biased, I first thought it had appeared in a college newspaper.

The intro read thus: “Judge says university cannot deny recognition because of antigay rules. But decision says main flaw at Iowa is inconsistent enforcement, not the rules themselves.” As in, it’s wrong to use one standard for religious groups and another for secular causes?

Why is believing that marriage between a man and a woman — a concept supported by every major religion for thousands of years — automatically “anti-gay?” That slur tints the article, which continues:

A Christian student group at the University of Iowa can’t be stripped of its affiliation with the institution, even if its members follow a “statement of faith” that bans those in LGBTQ relationships from leadership roles, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The decision by Judge Stephanie M. Rose has alarmed advocates for queer men and women. They are worried it would open the door for a challenge of a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2010 that allows colleges and universities to enforce anti-discrimination policies, even when student religious organizations claim those policies infringe on their beliefs. That ruling requires colleges that want to enforce such anti-bias rules to apply them to all groups equally. Judge Rose's decision, however, suggests that her ruling may be relevant only to circumstances at Iowa.

But how did the other side respond to the ruling? We’re not told up front.

The clash between Iowa officials and Business Leaders in Christ began in 2016.

A gay student had approached the then president, Hannah Thompson, about becoming vice president and, during a discussion, disclosed to her his sexuality.

Did this student just show up from out of nowhere or was he a part of this business club? We’re not told. (This Associated Press piece on the matter says he was.)

The student, whose name has never been publicly released, was denied the leadership post. Thompson said this was because of his “desire to pursue a homosexual lifestyle/relationship,” according to court documents.

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Is this news? Evangelicalism’s weakness extends well beyond turmoil of 2016

Is this news? Evangelicalism’s weakness extends well beyond turmoil of 2016

Starting Nov. 9, the media will be clogged with political pontifications. Here are a pair of major themes for those on the religion beat.

(1) What happened with white Catholics, the perennial religious swing voters? How about blue-collar white Catholics?

(2)  What’s ahead for demoralized evangelical Protestants after a campaign that divided them and undermined their clout?

Journalists should also ponder whether evangelicalism’s major weakness extends well beyond politics. So said the Rev. Russell D. Moore in the annual First Things magazine Erasmus lectureship on Oct. 24. He’s the chief socio-political spokesman for the huge Southern Baptist Convention and a fierce moral critic of Donald Trump, especially on racial and ethnic issues. His speech critiqued the candidate -- without ever uttering his name.

However, Moore’s major theme was that many evangelicals’ Trumpism is merely a sign of weakness that at root is intellectual. He said to influence America’s “post-Christianity culture,” religious conservatives must develop stronger “public arguments” on moral questions and on “why and how Christianity matters.” That, in turn, will require much more “theologically rigorous” thinking. (The video of this important address is at the top of this post.)

Many observers over the years have said that for all its innovations and energy, U.S. evangelicalism is all too weak intellectually, thus limiting cultural influence.

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Bias and inaccuracy: New York Daily News on gays and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Bias and inaccuracy: New York Daily News on gays and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Like the clichéd "pig in a python," mainstream media have been slowly digesting the story of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its newly announced policy on gays. But some news outfits aren’t digesting the chunks well.

Time.com last week broke the news that the Christian college organization asked its 1,300 employees to fess up if they disagreed with IVCF's stated beliefs on same-sex marriage -- then make plans to leave the organization.

We're now seeing the usual reaction from bloggers and columnists: everyone from Christian Today to Gay Star News to the Huffington Post.

Except for the likes of the New York Daily News. They couldn't wait for the opinion phase -- they had to add it to the news article.

Here is the paper's idea of a news lede:

The Bible states that you "shall not oppress a stranger."
But one of the largest evangelical college groups in the country appears to be doing just that, as it recently told its 1,300 staffers that they will be fired if they support gay marriage or deviate from any of the organization's strict positions on sexuality.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA recently sent out a six-page letter saying the national group will initiate "involuntary terminations" for all staff members who support LGBTQ people's right to marry.

My first reaction: "Geez, I wonder how gays feel about a lede like that? Being called strangers?"

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That InterVarsity headline at Time: New sign of LGBTQ ferment on evangelical left?

That InterVarsity headline at Time: New sign of LGBTQ ferment on evangelical left?

If you were following religion-beat news on Twitter yesterday then you know that the first big question for today is: "What did the leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship say and when did they say it?" Mainstream reporters also need to keep asking, "Why did they say it now?"

The buzz started with a Time article that ran with this very direct headline: "Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage."

It's clear that the story began with material and input from InterVarsity staffers who disagree with the theology behind this decision by the parachurch ministry's leadership. This is not surprising, to anyone who follows trends and news among evangelical progressives.

Thus, the online piece actually ends with the full text of the document circulated among InterVarsity staffers (following a four-year "discernment" process in the organization) that is at the heart of the dispute. Here is the top of the article:

One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members they will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which hold that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.

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Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

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Foreign Policy magazine: Chinese students in U.S. are converting like crazy

Foreign Policy magazine: Chinese students in U.S. are converting like crazy

Several years ago while teaching a course at the University of Maryland, I became aware of a group of Chinese Americans who took it on themselves to personally welcome every international Chinese student to the school. They’d do airport pick-ups, get-togethers, parties and field trips.

It was a godsend for the new arrivals in more ways than one. First, they instantly had a group of friends that spoke their language.

Secondly, this group was made up of evangelical Christians whose mission was to see that before these students returned to China four years later, they’d gotten exposure to a Christianity they’d never get to see in their native land. I was dimly aware of similar groups doing similar outreaches on other campuses, but not until I saw a pair of articles from Foreign Policy magazine on foreignpolicy.com, did I realize how wide the evangelistic net is spread.

The magazine has come up with two very detailed stories of how Chinese students are flooding into private secondary U.S. schools with the full knowledge and blessing of their atheist parents and how the vast amounts of Chinese studying in American universities have turned out to be an enormous mission field for American Christian groups. The first piece starts thus:

It is no secret that Chinese students are pouring into the United States; over 300,000 of them attended U.S. colleges and universities in 2015 alone, and Chinese are filling up spots in U.S secondary schools in search of a better education and an easier route into U.S. universities. Less widely known is that at the secondary level, most Chinese attend Christian schools -- even though they come from the world’s largest atheist state.

Because of restrictions on foreign student enrollment in U.S. public high schools, Chinese secondary students headed Stateside overwhelmingly attend private institutions. And Chinese parents don’t seem to care if that institution has a Christian underpinning.

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