An evangelical Christian organization and the state universities in California have reached a compromise to allow the organization to uphold its faith standards for leadership positions and retain official status on state campuses.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA's 23 chapters on 19 of California State University (CSU) campuses will be recognized student groups, the organization and Cal State officials said in a statement. InterVarsity's chapters were not recognized at CSU campuses for the 2014-2015 academic year, the group said, because it refused to open leadership roles to those who did not share the group's religious beliefs.
The conflict began in 2011, when the then-chancellor of the Cal State system issued regulations that required all student organizations to open their membership and leadership "to all currently enrolled students" to be recognized on campus. A one-year exemption was granted in 2012 to faith groups, but it wasn't renewed the following year.
InterVarsity president Jim Lundgren said membership in the group was open, but leadership roles had a specific responsibility.
"We support CSU in its commitment to serve the diversity of students on its campuses," Lundgren said. "At the same time, we maintain our commitment to provide campus communities that are clearly Christian, where all students can experience and learn more about Christian community, theology, and practice."
According to The Christian Post, the agreement between the two groups means InterVarsity "will be re-recognized as an official student group and will have access to use campus buildings and student government funding without having to compromise the organization's Christian values."
One point of contention between the CSU system and InterVarsity, media reports indicate, was how the on-campus ministry would be allowed to select chapter leaders. "Although the group can't expressly prohibit non-Christians or LGBT students from applying and being considered for leadership roles with the ministry, CSU will still give the organization the right to conduct extensive vetting to ensure that leaders are qualified to lead a Christian ministry," the Christian Post account said.
"We are going to ask questions about our mission and our message: Gospel fidelity, your commitment to share your faith, your ability to lead other students, as part of the selection process," said InterVarsity's Greg Jao, vice president of campus engagement, to Mission Network News. "The nice thing is: trouble-makers are easy to identify. I think in our conversations with CSU administrators and other things, that can be worked out."
Although the CalState agreement is important, InterVarsity said its chapters "continue to face challenges … on campuses at other locations in California, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Maine, Iowa, and Florida." At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, for example, the InterVarsity chapter's recognition was withdrawn in 2011 after the university declared all campus groups had to accept anyone as leaders, regardless of doctrinal positions.
Tish Harrison Warren, who helped lead the InterVarsity chapter at the time, recalled in Christianity Today magazine (paywall) that the school wouldn't yield to protect people of faith.
"It didn't matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes," Warren wrote. "It didn't matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it."