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.