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Who should tithe? (If we tithe…)

I’m currently reading another Christian Smith/Michael Emerson book called Passing the Plate, which examines Christian giving from a sociological perspective.  Toward the beginning of the book, they explain that they are talking about “tithing” a lot because a 10% tithe is what most churches and denominations say they believe is appropriate.  I initially read this very skeptically.  Tithing for Jews was about the tribes with land supporting the priests who didn’t have any, as well as others who would otherwise be impoverished.  While people must donate for any non-profit to survive, tithing per se did not necessarily seem to be something which translated seamlessly into a modern Christian context.  And even if it did in large part, I felt sure most of the mainline denominations more in touch with social justice would not advocate that everyone tithe.  The appendix of the book, however, proved me very wrong.  It contains statements about giving from various churches, and I learned that many denominations which I thought recognized the importance of social justice still expect tithing of all Christians.

For the moment we can set aside the question of whether we should be talking about “tithing” per se to begin with and accept that many people use the tithe language and 10% as a standard anyway.  And if we accept tithing, I would strongly argue that tithing is not for everyone.  More than that, I would argue that we need to be extremely clear in articulating (in sermons, Sunday school, books, conversations, etc.) that tithing is not for everyone.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on who should be tithing.  I don’t know what people honestly expect.  Do they think that ALL people should be giving 10%?  I do know that the Republicans in North Carolina just changed the state income tax to be a flat rate which will raise the tax on the poor and middle class and lower the tax on the wealthy.  I don’t know if there are some in the church that would say a regressive system of giving is ideal for the church, but I certainly think that sounds upside down from Jesus’s ethics.

Growing up, I knew people who pressured their children into tithing their allowances.  These grew up into teenagers and college students who tithed their part-time earnings and then (ideally) into tithing adults.  I have some issues with the particular ways in which children are often given little choice about their religious practices, but beyond that issue, I think this is a narrative coming from an extremely privileged perspective.  It assumes that these kids can tithe from their jobs at Chick-fil-a because they have parents to support them through college  and that they will get a well-paid full-time job after college.  It is an ideal that isn’t working out for many in our economy, even those who come from wealthier families.

Now I recognize that most 16-year-olds aren’t saving for college in a disciplined fashion, and many college students have no sense of what they might need to have savings for after graduation.  However, I don’t think that changes the fact that in principle it seems wrong to encourage kids with nothing to their name to give so much of their meager earnings away.  From my perspective, those who are still finishing their education and do not have a full-time job are not people we need to be encouraging to tithe.  We should be encouraging them to save.  This doesn’t mean we can’t teach about generosity or social justice.  However, there are many ways they can contribute positively to the world around them without tithing—volunteering, picking a major that will allow them to help people, etc.  The same goes for retired people without any income besides social security or whose entire income is eaten up by living expenses such as medical care.  This doesn’t mean they can’t ever give anything monetarily, either.  I just question a high giving threshold like tithing being applied to those who don’t really have anything and who are likely to encounter financial difficulties in the near future and thus potentially become a burden on others.  If the Apostle Paul tells us to take care of own own families, is there a good reason for us to hinder those who are already dependent on us from better caring for themselves?

Moving even further from this “ideal” narrative of tithing are those who find themselves without an income or with very little income.  One of these groups is students living off of student loans, perhaps with meager work study earnings, or perhaps without.  Student loan money is meant to go towards tuition, fees, books, and living expenses for students.  I have never heard anyone in a position of authority at a church assuring students that while they are accumulating students loans that they shouldn’t be tithing.  I think this is something we need to be saying—if your current expenses are being covered by loans you should absolutely not be tithing from your part-time job, much less your loans themselves.  Similarly, if we are compassionate, those working to pay off high-interest debt from credit cards should not be tithing, in my opinion.  I know many evangelicals who aren’t nuts about credit cards (often after listening to Dave Ramsey).  If we’re going to treat credits card debt as the exploitation it is, we need to allow people to pay off their debts as quickly as possible, without pressure to tithe.  Hopefully for most people that is only a few months.  Even debts with little or no interest should potentially be taken into consideration.  I don’t want to take money from a cancer patient who is going to be paying medical bills for years, and I want them to know I don’t expect that of them.

And those who are unemployed or who rely on public assistance to get by?  We have absolutely no business asking them to tithe.  These are the people we should be helping.  I think many of them give with good hearts, but it is exploitative, in my mind, for us to talk about tithing without making this exemption very clear.  I have heard many pastors say, “If you are not a member here, don’t feel obligated to give.”  I have never in my life heard a pastor say, “If you are looking for work, don’t give right now–we want you to wait until you have a job, which will hopefully be in the next month, but we know could be much longer.  God forbid we eat away at what little savings you may have during this vulnerable time for you!”  I’ve never heard anyone teach in church, “Please don’t feel like you need to give if you are on food stamps or Medicaid!”   “Please don’t give if you participate in WIC!”  For Pete’s sake, these are the people we should be assisting with the money we’re gathering.  What sense does it make to take from them?

This is still only looking at a Western context.  What about those living on under $1 a day?  Do we really think God wants them to give 10% of that?  That is ludicrous and disgusting.

I think God only smiles on those who wish to give despite having little.  But I think he scowls at us who continue to make these people feel this is what they’re supposed to be doing.  It’s time to move beyond, “If you’re not a member.”  It’s time to add nuance to our discussions of tithing by letting others know that we will not unjustly ask them to give at a level incompatible with financial position.  And hopefully this only increases the sense of responsibility felt by those who are in a better position to give.

Avon & Evangelism

A group of Internet buddies and I happened upon the topic of multi-level marketing this past week, most of us agreeing that we hate being invited to the so-called parties at which consumer products are sold through social pressure.  I’ve only been invited to a couple (thank God!), and we have a “family policy” against buying from such companies, regardless of how much anyone else might genuinely like their products.  This is not only because they are annoying but also because we think any business endeavor that uses a pyramid scheme is disgusting and exploitative.

Anyway, it came up in this conversation how different it feels to support any other business—even the business of a friend—vs. attending one of these parties.  Buying something in any other context may be influenced by advertising, salespeople, or a host of other factors, but at least it feels somewhat like a choice.  But when a friend is selling and you are surrounded by other party-goers who are buying things… it can be hard to say no, regardless of what you would otherwise do.  Even if you end up reasonably happy with your purchase, there is an uncomfortable social pressure there which changes the dynamic of your shopping experience.

This whole discussion reminded me of something else people like to sell: Jesus.

About a year ago I started looking into the possibility of joining InterVarsity staff.  I had first applied and interviewed during my senior year of college, but I ended up walking away in order to attend seminary instead.  When we first moved back to NC, I thought it would be worth looking into again, but I couldn’t make the four-year commitment to one particular school that they wanted.  But finally last year we were looking at moving to one place for five years for Jeremiah to do a PhD.  InterVarsity was an option again, although I would have to apply in multiple regions, since we didn’t know where we’d end up until April.

However, I had changed.  I knew that I didn’t fit as seamlessly into evangelical culture anymore, and I wanted to get a feel for the regions to which I’d be applying.  I had some discussions with hiring directors in a few states, by email and over the phone, and in two of the regions, I was ultimately not well-suited because InterVarsity’s position on homosexuality in the church has solidified.  There was no longer even the wiggle room to say that my focus would be on caring for students pastorally and if that meant their being in an opening-and-affirming church rather than losing their faith, so be it.

What fascinated me, though, was that in one region, we never even got to talk about homosexuality because apparently my views on evangelism were too controversial.  I was not a good fit for IV staff, I was told, because I didn’t want to do “contact evangelism.”  And when I was talking about multi-level marketing companies this past week, I remembered that conversation.

What I said then—and I think sounds a lot like our “selling parties” discussion—is that just because you are doing evangelism one-on-one doesn’t make it “personal” in a meaningful way and quite likely will actually increase the degree of pressure the person being evangelized feels.  It doesn’t actually matter whether that person thinks they’re happy and comfortable and even decides to convert.  There is a high risk of exploiting that person’s emotions and manipulating them (we’ll hope inadvertently) into changing their beliefs.  And so to a great extent, I think at least the call-to-conversion part of evangelism is better done via institutions than people.  Better done by a minister than a friend.  It’s easy to blow off a sermon you didn’t like or a religious teacher you disagree with.  It is easier to keep your brain working when everything isn’t all tied up in your friendship as well.

The IV staff on the other end of the phone call was surprised to hear this, thinking that there was more potential for emotional manipulation in a church service type setting.  I do see his point about the potential for people to ride an emotional high from a larger group experience, particularly when the mood is set by certain music and lighting.  There is the potential there for people’s vulnerable enthusiasm to be exploited, and that’s why I disagree with the tactics of 19th century revivalism and its descendants.  But still, at the end of the day, I think it’s easier to weigh your own opinions and make your own decisions when someone you don’t know as well is addressing a crowd rather than someone who knows you encouraging you, individually, to move your life in a certain direction.

And as heretical as some would say it is, that’s where I’m at these days with regards to evangelism.  It should be true to the root in the Greek word for “good news”—something truly good and something people are free to take or leave on the basis of their assessment of its goodness.  I think we need to put less “effort” into evangelism and work at being kind and compassionate people who can articulately explain their theology to those who are curious.  So if anyone is going to be told “Now is the time for you to follow Jesus!” they’re going to be hearing that directly from God, not from me.

Blogging About Unemployment

I’ve had some recent posts relating to money, although I haven’t done the best job following through and finishing various series.  Some of that is simply because I’ve been very busy.  But perhaps the bigger reason is that I’ve felt a bit restrained from expressing some of the things I most wanted to say.

The truth is, one of my life’s most formative experiences was the two years of unemployment I experienced between 2011 and 2013.  It significantly impacted the way I think about money, our society, the church, and a host of other issues.  Sadly, it is also something I felt obligated to remain silent about on our blog, because there is such a bias against the unemployed by hiring managers.  I occasionally shared things on Facebook, but I felt weird whenever I did—I imagined others saw me as a loser and/or a whiner, and yet I was only posting a tiny portion of the many complicated things I was feeling at the time.

Thankfully, I now I have a job that I’m really enjoying, and yesterday I finally became a permanent employee after a 4-ish month probationary period.  I know it probably still isn’t particularly “wise” to tell the world I was unemployed for two years, as some future potential employer will inevitably read this.  But you know what?  This is a part of who I am now, and it’s something I want to talk about—for me, but also because I think I’ve learned some valuable things along the way, things that I want to share with others.

So coming soon will be more posts reflecting on the many things I’ve experienced over the last couple years!

Following Your “Calling”

One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is calling.  First, I think I questioned people’s perception of their calling.  There are so many people who think they are called to ministry whom I like to think God is not super-excited about having there (e.g., Mark Driscoll).  But I think the more interesting and relevant thing that I have been considering is the idea that calling doesn’t matter.

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all.  It certainly matters in terms of one’s mental health, life satisfaction, etc.  But I don’t think it matters in terms of opening doors to ministry.  This is extremely relevant in terms of how we discuss ministry callings, especially with young people.  I think in settings where missionaries raise their own support or all you need is the SBC stamp of approval for funding, there is a large extent to which one’s passion and commitment determine one’s ability to enter vocational ministry.  Additionally, anyone who wants to plant their own church can do so.  But if none of these positions is a good fit for you, you may very well find yourself with a discrepancy between your perceived calling and actual career opportunities.  And this is important for us to be honest about as we encourage young people in leadership roles, as we develop seminary programs, etc.

I know people who are “too educated/academic,” “too liberal,” or simple too female to find a ministry job.  Additionally, there are a lack of church-based positions that are both full-time and looking to hire seminary graduates (and pay enough to support families with student loan debt).  On top of this, you often have to move for a job, which simply isn’t an option for everyone.

I have been thrilled that some of my friends have found ministry jobs, either right away or after long searches.  But many other people I know from seminary are doing something completely unrelated to their degree.  Some are happy with that.  Others, I imagine, are not.  Ironically, few of my friends without seminary degrees have seemed to have trouble going into ministry if they wanted.

The point of all this is that it’s not as simple as listening to God and doing what you think God wants.  And sadly, a lot of it comes down to theological wars, finances, etc.  It’s unfortunate, but I think it would be better for everyone if we didn’t pretend God calls, you answer, and that is the end of the story.  Sometimes maybe God has genuinely called, but there is no place to go.  It seems to me that factors other than one’s suitability for ministry seem key to whether or not one is able to pursue vocational ministry—at least within Protestantism, and evangelicalism, in particular.

The Greater Condemnation

In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

For the past several months—perhaps past few years—I’ve been struggling greatly with cynicism towards Christian leaders.  Not all Christian leaders, of course, but toward the ones who make themselves visible—not simply because they are visible, although their intentional visibility sometimes is a contributing factor.

I think growing up this passage from Luke 20 was often read as an a critique of Judaism, as if it were monolithic, as if Jesus were not Jewish, as if the earliest Christians weren’t also Jewish, etc.  This is clearly a dangerous misinterpretation in and of itself.  However, I find it perhaps most troubling of all than so few Christian leaders seem to think these words might also apply to them.

Here’s the honest truth: despite knowing people in ministry I respect, my own time in ministry was also the time when I was the most concerned about others’ approval, the most political (in the sense of compromising here to get something else there), and the most ambitious.  Perhaps some of this is unavoidable and not necessarily wrong.  I mean, I did need a job after school, so why not try to network?  There is nothing evil about that.  And I had good intentions, and I think I did a lot of good work.

But there were also times when I loved having the approval of others—particularly other leaders—a little too much.  I made my own voice quiet so that I wouldn’t make waves.  I didn’t always stand up for what I believed or even for myself.  I was wanted to keep my position and so I made sacrifices—sacrifices I sometimes have regretted over the years.  While I know this is not specifically what this passage is about, I feel they are all part of the same package.  Maybe I didn’t devour any widows’ houses per se, but I was more concerned with my position than with competing loyalties.

These days I’ve lost most of that approval and most of those connections I so desperately craved when I was younger.  It is embarrassing how much I miss it, along with the more laudable desire to be included and involved in ministry.  And I think having lost that standing makes me more aware of what others go through to keep it.  There are great healthy churches and ministry organizations, and I know great people leading them.  But with these honorable exceptions aside, I have come to see Christian leadership as a disgusting game:

You say the right things and do the right things and even try to convince yourself that you believe all the right things, and if you not only play by the rules but also intentionally seek out opportunities to “grow your ministry” (i.e. promote your brand as a leader), you will increasingly be surrounded with people who think all the same things, pat each other’s backs, cover up each other’s sins, and generally think of themselves in a class above all of the unenlightened people they are leading.  And you’ll know people who know people, and that is really all it takes to be a Christian leader in many circles.  A lot of self-delusion and the right people by your side, especially more senior leaders who will vouch for you.

Like I said, rather cynical right now.  Perhaps next time I can share a bit about my thoughts towards Christians in academia specifically or towards popular Christian approaches to mentoring!  Both, I think, tie in with this post at least a bit.

The Luxury of Involvement

At risk of sounding really pathetic, we have all been sick for a month.  Literally a month with at least two of us sick at a time.  It has been really awful.  During this same time period, we have done a lot of painting, both started working here in Waco (me at a normal job, Jeremiah at school, of course), moved, lived without a washer for 10 days, and many other exciting and delightful things.  Did I mention we moved?  And we’ve been sick?  It has been a little crazy.

But now all of the craziness of coalescing into a blog post, perhaps.  Not a very well-thought-out one but one born of late night conversations with Jeremiah, commiserating about our lives.  So here goes:

I think we need to cut “nominal” Christians some slack.  Probably a lot of slack.  Growing up, I think there wasn’t an insult much worse than being a “nominal” Christian.  It meant that either you didn’t get it or you didn’t care, because if you did both get it and care, you would do more.  Being a nominal Christian, as you might assume from the word “nominal” ends up being equated with action more than anything.  If you say some of the right stuff but don’t do all the right things, you might wind up with the label.  And you might imagine that this would be applied to those who do “bad” things, but in my experience that’s not true.  Those people are the “backsliders.”  The “nominal” are those who aren’t really that bad but aren’t actively good enough.

They aren’t excited enough.  Not enthusiastic enough.  Not pushy enough when sharing their faith with others.  And they’re not involved enough.  They are the ones “without enough buy-in to the community,” who don’t show up for much, who are friendly when they do, but a little shy on the sidelines, who maybe go to a Sunday service or an InterVarsity large group but don’t do much beyond that to show their commitment to growing spiritually.  Or maybe they’re a part of a small group but don’t go to church Sunday mornings.  In any case, they show some marginal interest in God, but it’s clear that they aren’t too “serious.”

I can remember, in particular, some of the people I used to write off—not always as nominal Christians, per se, but as Christians who weren’t “active” enough.  Many of them were people who couldn’t maintain the same schedule I did because of other commitments.  Some of these were voluntary (although dearly beloved) like band.  But some were involuntary things like work.  And still, if they didn’t show enough sorrow about it or try hard enough to change their schedule, there was at least a sliver of judgment on my part.

I’m starting to think that all of that was a bunch of bull.  In particular, I’m starting to see the time to be as “involved” as desired by most evangelical churches and organizations as a wonderful ideal with little practical value, particularly for those over 25.  I’m not saying we should all just stop doing anything or offering any opportunities for people to get to know each other or grow spiritually together.  But I do think we need to stop being so judgmental about it and having unrealistic expectations.

I think real-life people are very pressed for time.  If you have kids you have no time.  If you lack money, you also lack time.  I am starting to see time as something belonging to college students, empty nesters, and rich people.  And I think lack of time is behind a lot of the behaviors associated with “nominalism.”  What is seen as half-heartedness, inconsistency, or self-absorption is often simply a lack of time, which is not that person’s fault.  It says more about their social position than their commitment to God.

And I think the response to this that past-me and many people I have known throughout the years would have to this statement would be to say, “But look at Bob!  Bob has nothing!  But look at all the great things BOB does!”  Yes, maybe Bob does these things.  But seriously, is it really fair to make those demands?  Perhaps I have just become a total slacker myself, but I think we have CRAZY ideas about what we can tell other people God wants from them.  What do I think God wants?  I think a lot of the time, God really just wants people to get to spend time with their families and to have a brief rest each day before going back to work in a job that barely keeps their family going.  And I think that in our country there are a startling number of people—from younger people who are less financially established to older people on a fixed income ,and from women and ethnic minorities who have been paid less than they deserve for decades to  all the people who have been laid off in recent years and had to go months without pay—who are in that boat.

I believe that everyone can serve God where they are and everyone should be encouraged to be a meaningful part of a Christian community, but I think in prescribing one-size-fits-all plans for overzealous involvement in order to be recognized as a “strong Christian” or a “leader” or a “godly woman” or a “good guy,” we, ultimately, are siding with those with plenty rather than those in need.  The ability to be involved is a luxury many would like to have.  Let us not make the mistake of implying God is on any side but theirs.

Apologies…

I’m about to start on a real post, I promise, but I did want to really quickly apologize for how awful we’ve been about updating lately.  Things have been incredibly hectic over here because (if you haven’t heard through Facebook or Twitter already!) Jeremiah is starting a PhD program in New Testament at Baylor University this summer!  That means we are moving to Waco, TX in less than a month.  Additionally, Jeremiah just turned in his ThM thesis yesterday and still has several days to finish his last paper for Duke, so things have been pretty academically intense, as well. I’ve been taking care of most of the move logistics, as well as doing extra Ambrose duty so Jeremiah can meet his deadlines.  We’re hoping to start blogging more regularly as soon as things calm down, but in the meantime, thanks for bearing with us!

Slacktivist: “Don’t treat people as symbols for a tribal loyalty quiz.”

Fred Clark from Slacktivist just quoted my recent post, “InterVarsity, Lawsuits, and Leadership,” and extended the discussion with his own post: “Don’t treat people as symbols for a tribal loyalty quiz.”

I liked some of what he said enough to also want to quote him back here, as well:

The argument about sexuality beneath the surface of the pretense of an argument about religious liberty isn’t really even an argument about sexuality. That argument, in turn, is really just a proxy for yet another underlying argument — an argument about the meaning of the Bible.

I wholeheartedly agree.  Ultimately this ends up being about hermeneutics and about whether or not Christians can differ in how they interpret the Bible.  Interestingly, the way this is playing out for gay Christians has been encouraging me to slowly consider truly embracing the Baptist tradition, which emphasizes freedom of conscience.  I think it’s a shame many Christians will not allow more freedom of opinion on this and other controversial matters, but that seems unlikely to happen as long as they refuse to believe anyone might legitimately interpret the Bible differently than they do.  It is true that certain interpretations may eventually prove to be untenable, but allowing someone to make their case and still be recognized as a Christian who values what Scripture says is a very important thing.

Evangelical groups are prodigious producers of elaborate “statements of faith” that seem to spell out their core sectarian identity in extensive, lawyerly detail. But those statements of faith don’t include the tribal markers that provide the short-hand litmus tests for all of the theological-sounding mumbo-jumbo they enumerate in detail.

My, haven’t we seen this lately with all the firings at evangelical academic institutions?  And really, to me, this is what’s most unfair.  The fact is, at least some Christians will always hold to more conservative positions about certain issues.  We can disagree with them all we want, but they will exist, and we should recognize that they’re trying even when we think they’re utterly failing.  We can try to persuade them God is leading all of us in a different direction, but we should respect the fact that they, too, are desiring to listen to the Holy Spirit.  However, I think it’s completely legitimate, appropriate, and perhaps even a moral obligation for us to ask them to be polite by sharing their convictions openly—not necessarily forcefully and rudely but honestly and in broad daylight—so that we don’t have to have Christian professors losing tenure because they don’t believe in the historical Adam or 20-year-old college ministry leaders being pushed out of their spiritual community because they interpret Romans 1 differently than someone else.

I know exactly what it feels like to have your position made invisible as a Christian option.  I have experienced it a great deal as a Christian who is also a feminist, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.  We all need to learn to acknowledge someone’s good-faith attempt to read the Bible rightly, even when we disagree with their conclusions.  While some organizations may want to organize themselves more narrowly according to their particular theological stances, they must remain ecumenically engaged with those on the “other side.”  If there is any, “You can’t be with us anymore,” it needs to be followed immediately with, “But we have friends over here who think a bit more like you, and we are excited to see your ministry with them.  We recognize that we are all still Christians trying to live out the gospel as best we know how.”  It still may not be a solution that satisfies everyone, but it’s a step towards unity in the midst of diversity.  I will always feel sad when Christians don’t support gender equality because it feels personal, but it does dampen the blow a bit when I know my position is considered “incorrect” in more of the sense that Calvinists and Arminians see each other as “wrong” rather than in the sense that deserves excommunication from Christian circles entirely.

Ultimately, Clark sees using LGBT people as an orthodoxy test is dehumanizing, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.

So here’s my plea to the tribal trustees and the evangelical gatekeepers: You’re free, in good faith, to not find my hermeneutic acceptable or persuasive. You’re free, in good faith, to believe that the clobber verses require you to condemn same-sex attraction. And you’re even free, in good faith, to believe that every other possible interpretation of those clobber verses is tantamount to a rejection of “the authority of the Bible.”

But stop treating people — flesh-and-blood children of God — as nothing more than symbols for your tribal loyalty quizzes. That’s evil. Knock it off.

I think Clark is right what when we take a deeply personal issue like this and make it into our litmus test for who’s in and who’s out, we completely disregard the seriousness of how this debate in the church impacts their lives.  We’re all free to our own opinions, whether or not others like them.  But mere compassion and sensitivity to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ should change the tone of this conversation.

Anyway, you ought to go read all of the post for yourself!

 

Justice, Generosity, and the Vanishing Middle Class ($$$, Pt. 1)

A few days ago I watched a viral video which has been going around about the ridiculous income gap in the United States, and since then, I’ve been continuing to ponder something I’ve been considering for the last few years: the issue of generosity and justice. I’ve been slow to speak out publicly about this because I don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction of my previous leanings, but I’m starting to think that the way I thought about wealth, justice, and giving during my college years was out of balance.

I started caring about social justice circa 2005, just before Shane Claiborne was mega-cool, and right around the time justice issues were just starting to build a bit of momentum in evangelical circles. I felt I was part of the vanguard, drawing on the wisdom of an older generation of leaders like John Perkins, telling my peers they needed to care more and leave their safe middle-class neighborhoods. I put a lot of pressure on myself to give generously, not only monetarily but also by doing things like summer urban projects while other college students were getting internships to build their resumes or jobs to build up savings. For example, I gave up a really great summer job with my orthodontist—making more money per hour than I have ever made in the nearly ten years since—to do a service-learning experience in the inner city. This was a valuable experience and I wouldn’t say I regret it, but it was definitely a sacrifice.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I realized until long after college just what a sacrifice some of these things were. I thought of myself as being part of an upper-middle class elite and needing to divest myself of my privilege. In some sense this was very valid for the daughter of a doctor who attended a private prep school. What I failed to realize, however, and what I feel other justice-minded Christians (many of them only known to me through the books they wrote) neglected to mention was that things would change when I wasn’t a college student supported by my parents. It is easy to give up a summer of earning money or gaining experience when you don’t have any real financial obligations. And while it was possible and valuable in the short-term, I sometimes find myself questioning its value in the long-term.

It’s not that I don’t want people to be committed to social justice. But I was already convinced justice was important. I just felt that because I was committed to justice that I owed God this sort of sacrifice. And that’s the part I now question. I question it, in particular, with the knowledge that the economy in the United States has been increasingly harsh towards those with college degrees, so that having grown up well-off and having an education no longer means you can avoid unemployment or underemployment. I also question it with that viral video in mind. As the income and wealth disparities in the United States continue to grow, I wonder if pressuring the bulk of Americans to divest themselves of significant amounts money is really ethical or wise.

As I write this, my past self screams at me that I’m an evil rich American who doesn’t understand anything about the gospel… but I have enough questions about this currently that I think it would be worth exploring in a blog series. I’d love to get some of your initial thoughts on this!

InterVarsity, Lawsuits, and Leadership

I was a bit puzzled by InterVarsity’s latest blog post, “Selecting the Right Leader,” by Gordon Govier.  The post insinuates that InterVarsity chapters around the country are being pressured by universities to let non-Christians lead chapters.  I am not as informed about the situation as some people on InterVarsity staff, I’m sure, but my understanding is that this is what is happening at a handful of campuses… but at an equal number of campuses, the issue is InterVarsity’s objection to “practicing” gay Christian leaders.  In fact, from what I’ve read, at many of these campuses these issues are really the same.  The conversation goes something like this:

IV: “Susie, you are gay and think that’s ok, so you can’t be a leader anymore.”

Univ.: “That’s discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation!”

IV: “No, it’s not!  It’s ok with us that Susie is gay.  She just shouldn’t think that’s ok.”

Univ: “Oh.  Well that’s discrimination on the basis of religion!”

IV: “So, we’re a Christian group?”

Then instead of objecting and saying something like, “Well, not all Christians agree with you” (which to me is a logical response), many universities are saying, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t let you discriminate on the basis of religion at all then.”  Which then, of course gets presented as, “They want us to put Wiccan and Muslim students in charge of our Christian group!”  Perhaps some universities would really push for that, but that’s not exactly where the conversation got started in the first place at many of these schools.  At many of them this is starting as a conflict about sexuality.

Sidenote: I put “practicing” in quotes because InterVarsity, like many Christian organizations which come down most conservatively on the issue of homosexuality in the church doesn’t clearly define what “practicing” means.  Does it mean having sex?  Does that mean it’s ok to be in a relationship where you’re not having sex?  I would think they’d have a problem with that, too, but where precisely is the line drawn and why?  I have some thoughts on this topic from my time at Fuller, but that is a discussion for another day…

Back to the main point here: I’m not certain why this was left out of the article.  InterVarsity students, parents, and financial supporters should know what is actually going on.  If InterVarsity feels confident about its position on homosexuality, this shouldn’t be a problem.  Quite honestly, I think it will gain them more donors than it will cost them.  Problems tend to come to organizations moving in the opposite direction.

So why not be honest?  I’m not certain this post was meant to be deceitful—really I rather doubt it—but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  I wonder if this is because historically InterVarsity hasn’t seemed to want to push this issue and highlight it the way many evangelical organizations do.  There’s something honorable about that: not wanting to make a fuss and draw too much attention to what is seen as a more peripheral issue, especially one that most evangelicals engage with rather poorly whenever attention is drawn to it.  At the same time, it would be good to be upfront about their position.

I agree that student groups should be allowed to “discriminate” based on beliefs, but I question the wisdom of InterVarsity’s making their stance on homosexuality an orthodoxy test while leaving similarly controversial issues such as women in ministry open for disagreement.  Is this really a line-in-the-sand sort of issue?  Are the ancient ecumenical creeds not enough?  Is a profession of Christian faith not enough?  Is a heartfelt desire to follow Jesus not enough?  Why is this the only issue on which many “interdenominational” organizations can have no diversity?  Some InterVarsity alumni and friends will disagree with this move, and they should have the information they need to make decisions about their financial support.

Only a handful of other donors may feel this way, but even so, I wish this article had been more thorough.  If nothing else, doesn’t journalism demand a higher standard?  Doesn’t a Christian love of truth?  Let’s be clear about what is going on here.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012