A Place For LGBTQ College Students Who Won’t Feel Safe With InterVarsity

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In May of this year, I was invited by the InterVarsity chapter at UCLA to speak about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. The crowd was packed with LGBTQ students who came because they heard a lesbian Christian was going to talk about Jesus. Some came for the first time and some returned after spending a while away. They thought maybe this would be the night to come hear about Jesus.

I’m sad to know that talk in May will be one of the last times someone like me will be allowed to speak at an InterVarsity event. TIME reported yesterday that InterVarsity, which has chapters on 667 college campuses nationwide, has told it’s 1,300 staff members they will be fired if they support gay marriage or disagree with their new statement on sexuality. I’ll make a few comments about why this is so troubling and then move on to my hope to highlight ministries that will be safe and supportive for LGBTQ students. Many will feel betrayed by communities that felt like family until now.

Most InterVarsity chapters are at public colleges and universities, not conservative Christian schools. They work with students from a range of religious traditions, with many who might not be involved in church at all. Now that more than half of evangelical millennials support same-sex marriage, wouldn’t it be great if each chapter could prioritize the importance of holding a firm position on same-sex relationships so they don’t unnecessarily alienate students? How will staff members relate to students who overwhelmingly support their gay friends who hope to eventually build strong marriages? It’s hard to imagine fruitful ministry at Yale when LGBTQ students are told the way they’re wired to love is to be suppressed if they’re to belong.

Christians agree to disagree about controversial issues all the time. If we can communally wrestle with serious issues like war and the death penalty, then we should be able to honestly consider both sides of the conversation surrounding same-sex marriage for committed Christians. We have remained united as divorce numbers have risen in our churches, and I haven’t seen people lose their jobs because they supported a friend’s choice to divorce and remarry.

How are we helping college students when we shut down this conversation altogether? We set them up for disillusionment when they find out biblical interpretation, and the Christian life in general, is more complicated than they were told it was in college. They will be heartbroken to find out they didn’t have to choose between their faith and their support of LGBT people. This will unnecessarily create divisions when InterVarsity seemed to be doing great work before.

Unfortunately, many people on staff will now have to make a very difficult decision: tell the truth about their beliefs and lose their jobs, or keep quiet and continue helping students grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus. Is this level of thought policing on this particular issue so important that it’s worth putting staff members in this difficult position? Is it that egregious for these Christian leaders to find joy when their LGBTQ friends find someone to love and care for them for the rest of their lives?

As sad as this is for InterVarsity staff and as much as it will rob straight students of opportunities to grow, LGBTQ students will be the ones who pay the price for this. The students who came out to hear me speak at UCLA were eager to hear about the love of Jesus. They knew the way they were wired to love wouldn’t change, yet they longed to hear a Christian leader say, “this love of Christ is for you, too.” My guess is that InterVarsity staff members who affirm same-sex relationships weren’t pushing their theology on students. What they did was create a safe place for these students to follow Jesus in community. I’m grieved this will no longer be available for LGBTQ students in InterVarsity ministries.

Since so many LGBTQ students who love Jesus will no longer feel safe to attend InterVarsity chapters, knowing they’ll only be supported if they land on one side of a debatable issue that has huge implications for their lives with no cost to the straight people who impose it, I want to create a nationwide list of campus ministries who will love and support these students without qualification. I’ve been compiling a list of ministries people are telling me about on Twitter, and I would love to hear more. Please comment below or holler at me on Twitter if you know of campus ministries that will nurture these students as they seek to become more like Christ.

11 Responses

  1. Emmy R. Kegler

    Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. has a great record of supporting their LGBTQ students. There has been an LGBTQ student group on campus for decades, and the student congregation has been openly affirming for at least the past 15 years if not longer. St Olaf is Lutheran in history (and the student congregation and chapel are Lutheran) but has a variety of other Christian organizations on campus as well — I can’t speak for those groups as it’s been ten years since I graduated, but I can say with absolute certainty that the campus pastor and the campus chapel are welcoming and affirming. Olaf is great for music (performing or teaching), the sciences, and studies in the humanities and arts as well. Happy to talk to anyone who wants to know more about student life in the middle of a small town in frozen Minnesota – tweet me @emmykegler.

  2. Katrina Monta

    Thank you for being present to these students and so vocal about life as a LGBTQ+ Christian. It’s truly heartbreaking and disappointing to see the Church failing so many who already feel so alienated and misunderstood. Your work provides hope and encouragement to many, including myself. So thank you for that.

  3. Bryan Scott

    I take issue with the idea that the only place that can qualify as a “safe space” is one that goes fully “Side A”, and that to expect those who represent or work for an organization to affirm historical Christian teaching on the subject of marriage and sexuality is somehow alienating. Christianity contains all sorts of hard teachings. Certainly you aren’t proposing that there be no parameters – no lines that spell out what an organization stands for and what those who represent it must affirm and teach. You’re just disagreeing over the line being “here” rather than “there.”

    Ultimately, you’re asserting that for an organization to be welcoming, it must change its convictions and lower it’s beliefs to some nebulous ‘least common denominator’ to be “safe.” And it’s an endless regression. If they changed their position on this to accommodate your views, the next person who comes along whose views are just a little bit further removed (maybe they’d want to affirm that sex outside of marriage isn’t always sinful, or that plural marriage such as polyamory for bisexuals should be affirmed) will point to you as being “unwelcoming” and call for a “safe space” for people in these situations. Do you move the line again? Or do you now take the position that InterVarsity is taking now and say that certain expressions of sexuality and sexual behavior indeed falls beyond the Biblical parameters? And in doing so, are you now counted amongst the intolerant and putting people in the position of having to “choose” between their faith and loving their friends who have sex but aren’t married? This line of argumentation just doesn’t make sense to me.

  4. Sarah Grace

    At Texas Christian University, there are a number of campus ministries so I can’t speak for all of them, but the one I’m involved in- Discples on Campus- is a wonderful and supportive group. It’s affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination which is overall affirming, but TCU is located in the Bible Belt, so affirming ministries can be hard to come by.
    I’ve known nothing but love and affirmation from the two pastors who have been in charge of the group during my time here! We really emphasize God’s wide welcome, and that of course includes the LGBT community. 🙂

  5. Erik S

    At Illinois State University, the largest LGBT-affirming ministry (and one of the only two or three on campus that I know of that do accept LGBT folks) is the ISU Wesley Foundation, which is officially associated with the United Methodist Church (even though the global church has different feelings about LGBT people). I’m happy to be a part of this ministry – it’s been great to see the impact it has had on people of all different backgrounds. The website if anyone wants more info is: http://isuwesley.org/

  6. Sylvia Hook

    At the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada), I can’t speak to student-led groups (since I’ve never been a part of one), but I know the chaplain at Renison College (the Anglican college affiliated with, and on the campus of, the University of Waterloo) is very welcoming and affirming, and she does wonderful work in creating a welcoming community around the Ministry Centre there (also, there’s free coffee, tea, and cookies in the Ministry Centre…). The chaplain at Conrad Grebel University College (the Mennonite college on campus) is also affirming, I believe, but I haven’t gotten the sense that there is as much facilitation of community around the chaplaincy at Grebel, and the chaplain’s office is in the residence wing, not the academic wing like it is at Renison.

  7. Bob Stoner

    I echo Katrina’s post above: thank you for what you are doing and how wrong this decision of the IV is to discriminate so harshly. Let people be as God intended – in his image – loved and cherished.

  8. Denise Kendall

    I have two young friends who have been on IV staff in the San Francisco Bay Area for quite a number of years. They are now stepping away from their jobs as new allies – particularly tough as they struggle to live in this high priced area. I’d like to extend a welcome to all SF college students (UC, USF, SFSU, CCSF) to visit Mission Bay Community Church (PCUSA) This not your typical Presbyterian Church (small with a youthful, less traditional approach) Nevertheless MBCC members have long played roles within the denomination to see the PCUSA arrive at full inclusion of the LGBTQ community – we support ordination of LGBTQ pastors (our temporary transitional pastor is a 20-something lesbian woman and 3 LGBTQ members are now attending seminary) 3 of. 8 MBCC elders are gay. We celebrate LGBTQ marriages and we are beginning to baptize babies of same gender couples – ok infant baptism does make us a bit more typical of mainline denominations 😉 But really the MBCC welcome is very warm, the instruction Christ centered and the community safe – please come! Find our website, facebook, instagram, yelp reviews – we have a mobile phone app too! Denise K member/elder MBCC SF

  9. Paul Clutterbuck

    I would echo the comment re Morgan Guyton (@MAGuyton on Twitter). He’s campus minister at Tulane University in New Orleans, with the NOLA Wesley Foundation. His blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice, is pretty awesome too! He does French philosophy in his spare time, and he’s the author of How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity.

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