InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry, has been derecognized by California State University schools. 23 chapters (groups) that meet on the CSU and affiliate campuses are no longer recognized student organizations. The InterVarsity chapters affected will no longer have free access to campus facilities, will receive no campus activity fees, are barred from participating in the school activity fair, and are not allowed to include the university in their group name.
The reason for the derecognition? A requirement that leaders within the IVCF chapter affirm InterVarsity’s doctrinal basis and “exemplify Christ-like character, conduct, and leadership.” In other words, leaders of a Christian organization need to be Christian.
Leadership in a Christian organization like InterVarsity entails both spiritual and practical responsibilities. Spiritual duties include discipling younger Christians (helping them grow in their faith and to act in a Christ like way), conducting worship services and organizing outreach to seekers and other non-believers outside the group. Practical matters are the managing of funds received both from private donations and from university activity fees (which usually come with strict standards). Money is primarily used to support the spiritual aims of the group.
InterVarsity does not require its members be Christian. Typically, the only requirement of membership is two months of regular attendance to meetings. As an outreach organization, it encourages all who want to learn about Christ to become part of their group. But because leadership positions are as much about maintaining the spiritual well-being and direction of the group as they are about practical matters of funds maintenance, leaders need to be Christian.
InterVarsity doesn’t go about this in a de-facto way. It’s probably true that they could remove the requirement from their chapter constitutions, but in practice only elect believers as student leadership. CSU might not police the group as long as the official rule is struck out. But this would in effect be lying about the nature and character of the group, something InterVarsity to its credit, has chosen not to do.
Some people have compared the university’s position to allowing a democrat to be the leader of a group of young republicans. Or the leader of a music appreciation group liking Justin Bieber.
(Okay, had to insert some levity in this post somewhere).
Where these kinds of analogies break down for me is that while they get one part of the argument, that it just doesn’t make sense for a group to be lead by someone who doesn’t share the group’s common set of values, they don’t get the scale quite right. Religion is something deeply important to a lot of us. It affects the course of our lives for decades to come. I could mix religions and say something like a Jewish person leading a Muslim chapter, or a Christian heading up an atheist group, but again that almost sounds like political parties.
Here’s what this seems like to me, a drunk leading an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Meaning, someone who is actively and potentially harmfully deviating from the group’s intended purpose. You wouldn’t want someone who is actively drinking to be your sponsor. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t believe in God helping you to understand your faith.
The reason for the university policies is discrimination. They see creedal organizations like InterVarsity as excluding people. But in doing so, they are committing discrimination of a different kind. They are saying that a Christian organization (or any religious group) can’t have a set of standards by which they choose their leaders that is consistent with their faith and the desired purpose and direction of the group.
This makes sense to everyone, right? I mean, really, why would a Christian want to be a leader of an atheist (free thought) group? Maybe the purpose would be to disrupt the group and “get everybody saved”, but that would be infringing on the beliefs of the people who formed that free thought group in the first place. People who believe there is no God should have a place on campus where they should meet, and so should people who do. The CSU case is not unique around the country, though it is significant as one of the largest state schools to create these sorts of policies.
My alma-mater (which has had some struggles in this area in the past) now has a great guideline for student organization registration:
“A student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may adopt eligibility criteria for its Student Officers that are consistent with those beliefs.”
Again, we get that, right? It’s not discrimination to want to be consistent with your beliefs. And if we’re talking racial diversity, the Inter-Varsity chapters affected by this derecognition were 70% persons of color.
What can you do? Well, for one you can pray for wisdom for University officials and perseverance for the students and staff in California. You can give financially to IV chapters or if you live in the California area you can help transport students, or even just bring food. To rent college facilities absent the recognition will cost the IV chapters $13-30K a year, so every little bit helps.