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I am a Christian and I read lots of books published by Christian publishers, from imprints of major publishing houses like Zondervan and Thomas Nelson to indie presses like Tyndale and the David C. Cook. I read books by conservative publishers like Crossway and WaterBrook Multnomah, and books by progressive publishers like Chalice Press and Jericho Books. On my review pile right now are books from Herald Press, Westminster John Knox Press, and InterVarsity Press.
I am interested in what is going on in the Christian community and I want to read writers from a variety of theological traditions. I want to understand why people believe what they believe–even when I disagree, even when it sets my teeth on edge.
Publishing is a space for exchanging ideas, and celebrating diversity of thought and free speech. That said, I have no problem with Christian publishers, especially small indie presses, who take theological sides. Many independent Christian publishers are affiliated with ministries, denominations, or educational institutions, or are viewed as ministries in and of themselves. It’s natural that they would want to publish books that align with their theology.
Unfortunately, one Christian publisher now feels the need to go one giant step further and require all of its employees to personally agree with
and sign (Correction: employees are not required to sign the document, simply agree with it.) “A Theological Summary of Human Sexuality.” I am of course talking about InterVarsity Press, the publishing arm of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a popular college campus ministry. The decision handed down by ministry leaders will apply to staff members of the ministry and publishing arms of the organization.
The document in question is twenty (!) pages long and includes detailed statements on everything from fidelity and sexual abuse to divorce and same-sex relationships. Employees who disagree with any part of the document were recently asked to notify their supervisors so that they could “conclude their work in ways which reflect their love for students, faculty, the mission and their colleagues who remain.” In other words, so that they could be fired.
I try to avoid writing about theologically or politically controversial topics on this blog. While I have reasonably strong opinions on most issues and enjoy a hearty debate in real life, I don’t think the Internet is the sort of environment that lends itself to respectful, level-headed, open-minded conversation. To be honest, my love of friendly debate in real life has waned in recent years because the friendly part seems to have vanished from the cultural climate, both within and without the church. There are, however, times when it is necessary to break silence and speak out. I think this is one of those times because the InterVarsity Purge (as it is being referred to on social media) threatens the theological liberty of thinking people of faith.
Conservatives and Evangelical Christians often speak out against the culture of politically correct groupthink found on many college campuses today. In this groupthink culture individuals who hold unpopular positions or raise questions about certain ideas or assumptions are shamed, excluded, or suffer other forms of backlash. How ironic that InterVarsity (and I’m sure other Christian publishers I am not aware of) is creating the exact same environment of groupthink in its organization. And it’s not just shame and social exclusion that’s at stake; it’s people’s livelihoods.
Not everything in the InterVarsity document is bad. In fact, a lot of it is quite good. Sexual abuse is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is a bad idea. Divorce happens, but it’s not what people hope for when they walk down the aisle. These are things Christians almost universally agree upon, even if we don’t always live up to our own ideals. I don’t know why requiring employees of a publishing company to sign a document affirming these beliefs is necessary.
The thing is, I don’t think the clauses about sexual abuse, fidelity, and divorce are the reason employees were required to sign this document. I don’t even think the clauses on premarital sex or pornography use are the reason employees were required to sign this document, even though a lot of both happen in the Christian community and there is certainly disagreement over those issues as well. Neither of those topics are particularly controversial in the Evangelical world. I think the primary reason employees were required to sign this document is because of the clause on same-sex relationships, and this deeply disturbs me.
[bctt tweet=”#InterVarsity Is Attacking Freedom of Thought | @parchmentgirl37″ via=”no”]
It disturbs me because InterVarsity is drawing battle lines over an issue on which Christians–progressive and conservative–profoundly disagree. Don’t believe me? Read James V. Brownson’s book, Bible Gender Sexuality (Eerdmans, 2013). Brownson is the James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, which aligns itself with the Reformed Church in America, which currently defines marriage in heterosexual terms. His book is a rigorously academic argument that the Bible contains no opposition to same-sex unions. Watch this powerful video in which pastor Danny Cortez comes out of the “theological closet” and shares the journey that led him to embrace same-sex relationships, knowing that it may cost him his job. I could go on.
Dividing over issues that are secondary to the gospel–the core of Christianity–is destructive. As UCSD alumni and former staff member Joseph Lee wrote, “It saddens me that InterVarsity, who has been a prophetic voice in the areas of race, gender, and ecumenicalism, is essentially giving up its mantle on this vital issue.”
It also disturbs me because Christians who oppose same-sex marriage often say that love and consensus are two different things. Newsflash: robbing someone of their livelihood because they disagree with or question the party line is not loving. There is no “loving” way to spin that. That is what totalitarian regimes do. It is not supposed to be what the Christian church does. Did I mention that just days before all of this went down, InterVarsity posted an article called “Christian Unity in an Ever-Divisive World” on their blog? No, seriously. I think maybe the ministry leadership forgot to subscribe to their own blog.
I briefly considered boycotting IVP, but quickly discarded the idea for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t think it’s fair to authors who had no idea this was coming down the pipeline when they signed on to have their books published. Second, I have never boycotted a publisher before, even those that promote complementarianism. As I said, I read from all sides. Boycotting a publisher feels very different to me than boycotting a product or store. I know some may take a more militant stance and I fully respect that.
I have signed–and I strongly encourage you to sign–this change.org petition calling for the reversal the InterVarsity Purge.
There is much more I could say on this issue. I have covered why I think InterVarsity’s decision is harmful to the church and to the affected employees of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and InterVarsity Press. I have not covered the more personal aspects of this issue–how it affects the LGBT community within the church–or the broader cultural implications of the ever-increasing tendency for Evangelicals to punish those in their own faith communities who think differently on issues that have nothing to do with the message of Christ.
I will leave you with a couple of other postings from around the web:
- The Spiritual Abuse in InterVarsity’s Treatment of LGBT People – Religion News Wire
- Why I Can No Longer Support My Former Employer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – The Huffington Post