As part of a four-year review of their theological position on human sexuality, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF), one of the largest ministries operating on over 660 college campuses around the U.S., issued a restatement of its belief that sexual activity outside of traditional marriage is immoral. While IVCF said it is not firing employees for supporting gay marriage or premarital sex, the organization—including its publishing arm InterVarsity Press (IVP)—expects staff to align with the organization’s position or face “involuntary termination.”
"No current employees have to sign an agreement, but as an extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, we expect our employees will reflect our theological convictions as an organization, even if diffidently," said Jeff Crosby, IVP publisher.
While the press has not lost any staff members in the move, Gregory Jao, v-p & director of campus engagement for IVCF services, estimates that 7-8 employees have left the campus ministry side of the organization. IVCF has hired an outplacement services firm to help those terminated find new jobs.
According to Jao, staffers are not required to verbally affirm their beliefs, but are being asked to come forward if they disagree with InterVarsity’s theological position. Then, the organization would initiate a two-week “involuntary termination” process.
“Even though we are asking staff to volunteer their disagreement, we are treating this as an involuntary termination because we want to treat departing staff with as much dignity as we can,” said Jao. “We recognize that they do not feel that their decision was purely voluntary—InterVarsity has made its position (and its expectation for our staff) clear.”
Deeming the termination “involuntary” may also yield better results when it comes to state unemployment compensation programs, said Jao, although that varies state to state. In Illinois, where IVP is headquartered, those applying for unemployment benefits must be unemployed through no fault of their own, as defined by Illinois law.
“This is why we have voluntary disclosure and an involuntary termination in the same process,” said Jao. “We were doing our best to honor our staff in a hard situation.”
Unlike employees, IVP authors are not being asked to indicate any support for IVP's theological summary on human sexuality. Amid some concerns about deterring authors, Crosby told PW that he is taking steps to reassure them that IVP’s employment agreement has no impact on its publishing program.
“We will continue to seek out authors who can address topics on a broad range of issues—including human sexuality,” said Crosby. “The range of published works that IVP will do in the future will be just as broad as it has been throughout our 70-year history. The articulation of IVCF's theology of human sexuality does not have any fresh impact on what we desire to publish and are committed to publishing in the years ahead.”
Nevertheless, a group of 50 IVP authors, including Shane Claiborne, Dr. David Dark, Rev. Ian Morgan Cron, submitted a public letter to Jao, raising concerns and protesting the organization’s theological paper, according to Religion News Service.
Responding to the letter, Jao told PW, “We hope our authors realize that this has been our historical understanding of what’s been taught in the Bible. Our publishing program, attitude, and posture toward authors and our wide range in the Christian publishing field has not changed.”
InterVarsity’s move has stirred controversy in the media, with critics calling it a theological purge. And as of Tuesday, nearly 1,600 concerned IVCF alumni had signed a petition on Change.org titled “Calling for the reversal of #InterVarsityPurge.” The petition states that InterVarsity’s policy for employees “excludes many Christian siblings and silences sincere disagreement” and urges InterVarsity Christian Fellowship President Tom Lin, the executive team, and the board of trustees to reconsider the rule.
“If not changed, we fear for the future of the organization and its ability to continue to minister to students and faculty, to the ultimate detriment of the gospel message and the legacy of an organization we dearly love,” the undersigned alumni wrote.
This story has been updated to reflect the identities of some of IVP's authors who signed the public letter to IVCF.