Last week, my friend Veronica approached me about writing a piece on the Intervarsity “theological purge” controversy. Veronica, as you will learn below, was deeply involved with Intervarsity for several years and is a great advocate for her LGBT+ friends. With feet in both worlds, the news has affected her personally, and because I found her response to be helpful and insightful, I’d like to share it with you today. As part of our Consider This Perspective series, Veronica’s views shared here are her own, and we are glad to share them with you.
By: VERONICA TIMBERS
Editor: HEIDI WEAVER-SMITH
Recently, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship USA, an organization that works in campus ministry, missions, and publishing, announced a policy that would result in hundreds of individuals losing their jobs for having a theology that affirms same sex marriage.
The news appeared in Time, where journalist Elizabeth Dias reported that Intervarsity employees who support gay marriage or disagree with the organization’s new theological position on sexuality would be fired starting in November. Employees are expected to out themselves on the topic, initiating a two-week termination process. Dias calls the situation a “theological purge.”
In the past few days many have written responses to this announcement ranging from frustrated outcries to celebratory cheers. Intervarsity has tried to calm the storm that has resulted from the article as sides are drawn.
Personally, when I first heard the news, the weight of the announcement was paralyzing. This paralysis has now turned to confusion as I strive to hold my own convictions while refusing to continue the rhetoric of division and so I am writing here.
Intervarsity is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I was a participant in one of their campus ministries for four years and was a member of one of their summer missions trips to China through a partner program called STEM (Short Term Evangelical Missions). Both these experiences were life changing and major points of faith development for me. Additionally, Intervaristy’s books have been instrumental in my faith journey. (In fact go check some of the inside covers to your most loved Christian books and likely a few have been published by them.)
This is an amazing organization, and for this reason, I am saddened by their move to divide their powerful ministry based on this single theological difference. While I realize that the leadership of Intervarsity is acting on a deep conviction based on their Biblical understanding of marriage, I think this action sets an example that division and silencing is the answer to the on-going debate surrounding LBGT+ Christians, family, and friends. The reality is that this discussion about gay Christians and gay marriage is going to continue to be a part of the Western Church and campus ministries in spite of Intervarsity’s leadership decision, and yet, firing and silencing the affirming voices only serves to remove the organization from that conversation.
We can do the hard work of being the body.Any side of the argument can easily choose to surround themselves with those who believe the same on this issue, or any issue for that matter, and then we can all pat ourselves on the back while repeating to each other what we already believe. Or, we can do the hard work of being the body. We can have conversations across sides and serve together. We can offer our gifts to God and let the world see how differences can be transformed in the Kingdom of God from division to unity, if not conformity. This middle way, or third way, is not always easy, but Jesus did seem fond of answering “yes or no” / “right or wrong” questions with innovative answers that shined the light and love of God into the situation (Mk. 7:1-14; 12:13-17; Matt. 9:14-15; Jn. 8:3-10). Ephesians 2:14-20 says” Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near.”
I have said above that I can understand Intervaristy’s deep conviction to be faithful to scripture as they see it; but as a same-sex affirming believer, I must confess a deep hurt at the reality that my theological perspective has and will continue to disqualify me from working in and partnering with certain ministries. I find it difficult to understand why I am willing to work with organizations and surround myself by people that are more theologically conservative than me, yet those same organizations often do not want to work with me. This reality leaves me wondering: Why we are so afraid of each other? Why can we not trust despite disagreement? What are we afraid will happen if we decide to journey through this together? Is God not powerful enough to advance the Kingdom of God despite these two theological extremes? Did God not reconcile extremes once before on the cross when the severity of our sin threatened His Holiness? We can do better. We can trust God more. We can disagree and still be united.
I would like to call Intervarsity leadership to take their own great wisdom for outreach and use the same concepts to find a new way through this difficult divide.Intervarsity’s partnership with STEM training was hands down the best training for cross cultural work I have ever had. We spent weekends talking about how to open ourselves to hearing and learning from others so as best to join God’s work in all people. I would like to call Intervarsity leadership to take their own great wisdom for outreach and use the same concepts to find a new way through this difficult divide.
To close I want to address those that have been overlooked in this Intervarsity battle of the theologies.
To those who face firing, I assume many of you have an affirming stance on gay marriage because you have been part of, the story of LGBT+ individuals. You have brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, and friends for whom faith and sexuality have been a struggle. You may even identify as LBGT+ yourself. I know many of you sought God and scripture on the issue as Intervarsity asked you to do. Please know that your narrative deserves to be held gently and with deep care as God holds all Your narrative deserves to be held gently and with deep carepeople with great tenderness. You are not alone in this difficult time. If you decide to hide your stance on the issue in order to keep your job, because of God’s calling on your life or because of your livelihood, know that, “You are loved.” It is hard to decide to live in silence and with fear of being discovered for having a single point of theological difference. A decision of silence is not failure here, and I trust your decisions and stand by you. On the other hand, if you do decide to speak up and are fired, know also “You are loved.” You will be doing the hard work of aligning yourself with a population whom needs to be reminded the church cares about their daily struggle as they seek God for how to live out faith in light of their sexuality. It is often difficult to stand with integrity but you are not disqualified from service to God even if you are disqualified from Intervarsity employment.
This is a tough moment for the church, but we must remember as Saint Mother Teresa reminded us from Romans 12:5, “we belong to each other.” We can belong to one another now in both love and difference. My prayers are with those who face difficult decisions as well as with Intervarsity’s leadership moving forward.
Veronica Timbers is a disciple walking through motherhood with three young children, attending Asbury Theological Seminary as a Certified Candidate for Elder in the United Methodist Church, and serving as the Associate Director of Outreach and Discipleship at Appalachian Wesley Foundation campus ministry. She also teaches in the Social Work Department at Appalachian State University. Veronica longs for all young adults to fall in love with God and she has a deep desire to see the church become a movement both inside and outside the walls of our buildings.