The church and my faith have been huge parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up going to Sunday school, performing in Christmas pageants, and spending my Wednesday evenings at youth group. I went on mission trips during summer and spring breaks, I was a singer in a worship band, and when I got to college, I made it a priority to find a campus ministry.
Not knowing where to start, I decided to try a different ministry each week. I knew some of the criterion that I was interested in, like powerful worship (music is of huge importance in my every day and faith-based life), a message that wasn’t preachy yet still relatable, and a place where I would feel a part of a close community of individuals. One of the ministries I tried out was Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. They were known around campus for their worship and for being globally focused, which was appealing to me. I went for a little while on and off, but I didn’t really make any connections. It is a very large group, the biggest on my campus, I am generally a shy person until you get to know me, and I’m more comfortable in small groups. I eventually found a ministry that fit like a glove, and Intervarsity was no longer on my radar until early last week.
An article came out stating that Intervarsity plans on dismissing employees who support gay marriage or disagree with the group’s position on human sexuality, which adheres that engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman is morally reprehensible. Any Intervarsity staff that disagrees with this position is being asked to come forward for “involuntary terminations.” The organization maintains that LGBTQIA staff are welcome to stay as long as they adhere to the positions of the group, and that LGBTQIA students are still welcome in the group.
Claiming that the organization remains welcoming to individuals who support and who are in the LGBTQIA community is a blatant contradiction of everything they lay out in their position on human sexuality.
How can you claim that you support and accept people when it is conditional? How can you claim that you support and accept a group of people when you are asking them to essentially denounce themselves just to be part of a group that thinks an integral aspect of their lives is inherently wrong? You can’t. The impact of this is monumental on college campuses everywhere, and I can already feel the impact on my own campus.
I am a bisexual woman, and I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had kept attending Intervarsity services, only to find out through this turmoil that the place I thought was safe and loving was indeed toxic all along. I am so incredibly lucky to be apart of a Christian community that makes it their mission to love, support, and accept everyone, no strings attached, no questions asked. I have never felt nervous or scared to live openly and proudly among my church family. I have never felt anything but safe in the walls of my church. I know that I am loved for everything that I am, and that is all that I could ask for.
Unfortunately, my experience is often not the norm. Many of my friends, especially those in the LGBTQIA community, have felt alienated, judged, and pushed away from Christianity because of their experiences with their own church, campus ministry or Christian extremists. Even with churches like my own, who have LGBTQIA pastors and attempt to welcome all people with open arms, it is difficult not to react to such gestures with confusion and wariness. My pastor and fellow student leaders had a table at my university’s National Coming Out Day, and while many students were visibly excited and pleased to have us there, it was hard to ignore the rest who were skeptical and closed. For that, we could not blame them. When the narrative of Christian judgement and condemnation has reigned supreme (or at least most visible) for so long, it is incredibly difficult to turn that dialogue on its head. That doesn’t make changing the conversation any less essential, though, which is why I think it is so important for Christian communities who are accepting of all people to make themselves as visible and vocal as possible.
There are many members of the LGBTQIA community who may have a desire to know God or be a part of a Christian community, but because of past experiences and narratives preached by Intervarsity, they don’t feel like there are any for them. This is why I urge any Christian to make it abundantly clear that there is a safe, loving and supportive place for any and all people. There are communities who will embrace them as whole people, rather than claim to be accepting while condemning an essential part of their lives. If we are to live the way that God wants us to live, and claim that we are followers of Christ, we are to love others above anything else. It’s as simple as that.