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Gay Marriage and Consistent Ecumenism

When I was in college, I had a chat with the Blue Ridge Regional Director for InterVarsity—a man I like and respect a great deal—about the differences between InterVarsity’s stance on racial issues and stance on women.  InterVarsity likes to present itself as being pro-social-justice, so at points during my time on InterVarsity leadership, I felt disappointed by InterVarsity’s wishy-washiness over women in ministry.

InterVarsity does a lot for women.  At the 2006 Urbana I attended, participants all received a copy of the TNIV so that everyone would be able to use the same version of the Bible in discussions at the conference—a version which just happened to be controversially “gender-neutral”/”gender accurate” (depending on who you talk to) in its language.  Christians for Biblical Equality hosted seminars.  Women were featured as plenary speakers and worship leaders.  And in local chapters, female students and staff lead ministry without gender-based restrictions, all over the country.  I know the effect one many (though certainly not all) students is to normalize women’s presence in ministry.  But it still did not feel like enough.  I wholeheartedly supported InterVarsity’s enthusiasm about multiethnicity, fighting poverty, and opposing injustices like modern-day slavery.  But I still wondered, why are my issues not important?

The argument I heard from our regional director, however, was that InterVarsity was a parachurch ministry, not a church.  It wanted to leave controversial issues like gender roles to churches to decide.  While the regional director himself was very involved in supporting the cause of women in his local church, he did not think it was InterVarsity’s place to take a stand on this issue.  And yet InterVarsity has been taking a progressively louder and firmer stand on against gay marriage over the past several years.  I thought we left those sorts of things up to churches to decide?

That’s why I’m very proud of World Vision today.  In order to maintain an open door towards those from more progressive Christian denominations which are celebrating gay unions (many now legal in their respective states), World Vision is ending discrimination toward individuals in same-sex marriages.  Nobody is saying anybody has to accept more liberal views of gay marriage—but World Vision is also no longer stating via their policies that one cannot be Christian and hold such views.  There is nothing illegitimate about a non-profit taking stances on more “minor” issues, of course—but as a self-identified ecumenical organization, they have decided including members of churches like the PCUSA, ELCA, and the Episcopal Church is important.  Just as they don’t take a stand on baptism, women in ministry, or a host of other theological issues, they are leaving this matter up to individuals in their local churches and denominations.

And you know what?  I could complain about World Vision’s lack of a formal stance in favor of women in ministry, much as I did InterVarsity’s.  But I really don’t find myself caring.  Because this is consistent.  And there is something very admirable about that.  I would like to challenge other organizations—including InterVarsity—to reconsider their stance.  Are you a smaller interest-based organization (like Christians for Biblical Equality, for ex.)?  Or are you trying to include Christians in all their diversity?  If you want to be ecumenical, why is gay marriage the one thing you can’t get over?  I hope others will soon be following World Vision’s lead.

3 Responses

  1. two years ago this month, I was let go from my position on Intervarsity staff because I wouldn’t publicly or personally support their discriminatory stance on LGBT people and relationships. Worldvision is a glimmer of hope that maybe Intervarsity might someday follow suit. But it’s a long way off.

    • Or not. Just read the update. It’s a longer way off than I though, even 5 minutes ago.

    • Ashleigh Bailey

      Zack, thanks for stopping by. That sounds so incredibly difficult. I was strongly encouraged to explore staff while I was a student and thought for years that it was what I wanted to do. For various reasons, I ended up going to seminary instead, and afterwards when I started to explore the possibility of staff again, I ended up being unwelcome, due in part to this issue… but I think it would be so, so much harder to already be working for an organization and have to go. You had even more invested than I did. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve very sorry for your loss. :-(

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012