United States (MNN) – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has increasingly faced campus access issues.
More universities have been reviewing InterVarsity’s leadership requirements followed by claims that the organization is discriminatory because it requires Chapter leaders to be Christians. In 2018, InterVarsity was kicked off a couple of college campuses under the guise of discrimination. Following the Chapter removals, InterVarsity filed lawsuits against two separate colleges: Wayne State University and the University of Iowa, to protect religious freedom for itself and other groups.
“What we try to point out to them is your non-discrimination policy does prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. We hope it was also designed to protect religious groups that want to keep their religious identity,” InterVarsity’s Greg Jao explains.
“For InterVarsity Chapters, it’s incredibly important that our leaders of our Bibles studies are Christian. That the leaders of our worship times actually believe the God that we’re singing to. And, I think what’s been fascinating is that universities are taking a very wooden reading of the non-discrimination policy.”
Interpreting Non-Discrimination Policies
InterVarsity has pointed out that through the wooden reading, there are more groups than just InterVarsity Chapters which would fall under the “discriminatory” category. For example, fraternities and sororities choose members on the underlying basis of gender. Athletic teams also choose members on the basis of abled body status.
“We’re not doing that. We’re saying everybody should come to an InterVarsity meeting. We’re an evangelical campus ministry. We’d be delighted if everyone came. It would save us a lot of time. But, it’s important that our leaders actually believe what Christians believe. That’s what students are looking for,” Jao says.
Jao believes the wooden reading of the various universities stems from a misguided goal to ensure there is no conflict on campus. However, a lack of conflict can stifle diversity.
“I think they misunderstand how diversity best works. In the end, the best kind of community would be a community where you have distinct differences in the groups and you teach them how to have conversations respectfully, with each other, about each other. And so, build the kind of community which says in spite of our deep disagreements and differences, I’m committed to working with you to build a more cohesive, just, flourishing, civic experience on campus,” Jao says.
But this problem is a symptom of an even bigger issue. America has forgotten how to have conversations.
Jao has looked at studies from Pew and other research organizations. Per what he has read, the United States has become more polarized in the last ten years. This polarization continues to accelerate rapidly.
Part of this polarization is a result of the multiplicity of media. People can now create echo chambers based on the media and news one chooses to ingest. Current technology has allowed people to create one narrative to listen to, rather than the many.
The American Church and Polarization
Jao also believes the decline of the American Church has contributed to the polarization and loss of conversationalists.
“I would hope if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that the presence the church would allow people to have truthful honest conversations, deeply leavened with grace, but highly committed to justice,” Jao says.
“Now, I know as I say that, a lot of people say that’s never been super true about the Church, but I do think when the Church is functioning as the Church should, then you do have a context where we can say, I would like to share what I think with you.”
Will people be offended and sometimes hurt? Yes. But, in the Church, this should mean saying sorry, give grace, and then to learn and grow together. There should be efforts to rebuild relationships, even with people of different opinions, rather than avoiding them.
How do we get to a place of grace and growth in the Church? Jao recommends by listening. Have conversations face-to-face in relaxed situations where relationship building can happen. Get off Facebook and grab a coffee together to talk about your similarities and differences and hear each other out. Start building relationships where conflict can happen without the relationship crumbling.
“I think the theological virtue of humility is often missing. And, if you lack humility, the ability to say, ‘I didn’t know that. You’ve shown me something I’ve never seen before. I was wrong, I’ve changed my mind…’ is nearly impossible,” Jao says.
“So I think there’s a need to pursue kind of theological virtues…And I wonder if between our lack of curiosity, our lack of humility, and our lack of time—we don’t have the ability to have the kind of conversations that we most desperately need to have in our society and that the Church should best model.”
Maybe it is time to take these matters of conflict seriously when we gather together as churches to take communion. Rather than rushing to partake, let’s pull up some chairs as two sinners forgiven by Christ, and have a conversation.
“If the Church were more the Church, I wonder how our culture would have changed,” Jao says.
Jao asks that we would all look at our culture with a certain amount of charity. Jao recognizes how in enforcing non-discrimination policies in wooden ways, these university administrations are trying to create the best environment for students to flourish. Despite pursuing this goal in a wrong way, Jao iterates this does not mitigate the fact these administrations are trying to do a good thing.
The Take Away
However, we need to realize there is a better way of pursuing diversity, prosperous environments, and handling conflict. The Scripture teaches us just this through what it means to be fallible and redeemable by Jesus.
“I would love for people to walk away from this conversation with a sense of holy dissatisfaction at how the Church is modeling [and] having these kind of conversations. If the church were curious and courageous, and committed to face-to-face conversation and relationship, so many of the ills of the Church would fade away,” Jao says.
“The petty conflicts. The issues around #churchtoo, the misuse of power, the long rivalries, those I think could be put aside or addressed appropriately, and we would begin to model for the whole world the fact Jesus brings together, people who are wildly different in every way possible. We don’t assimilate to a single behavioral standard, but instead, His glory is magnified as the diversity of the people and the opinions around Him are increased because He’s Lord of all and Lord of every people.”
Header photo courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.