To be a Christian requires, at a minimum, that a person subscribe to certain beliefs (such as that Jesus is God). For an organization to be labeled Christian would therefore imply that the members (or at least the leaders) also subscribe to certain beliefs. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is, as the name implies, a Christian organization, so it isn’t surprising that it requires it leaders to subscribe to Christian beliefs.
Sadly, it’s also not surprising that some people are offended a Christian organization would expect its leaders to be Christians. That’s why it is not altogether unexpected (though still disconcerting) that California State University schools has “derecognized” IVCF. As Ed Stetzer says,
IVCF has been derecognized because they require their leaders to have Christian beliefs.
It’s not just InterVarsity that will be impacted. Following the same logic, any group that insists on requiring its leaders to follow an agreed upon set of guiding beliefs is no longer kosher (irony intended) at California’s state universities. This will impact many other faith-based organizations with actual, well, faith-based beliefs. Presumably, even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would have to allow Oscar Meyer to lead their campus chapters.
Only in a modern American university would this make any sense.
Now, it’s not persecution. Christians are not banned. People can share their faith. But, now, what we once called “equal access” has taken another hit—people of faith do not have equal access to the university community, like the environmentalist club, the LGBT organization, or the chess club.
The university system has decided that speech with beliefs that undergird it—and shape how it is organized—has to be derecognized.
Greg Jao, IVCF’s National Field Director and Campus Access Coordinator, explains what it means to be “derecognized”:
Loss of recognition means we lose 3 things: free access to rooms (this will cost our chapters $13k-30k/year to reserve room). We also lose access to student activities programs, including the new student fairs where we meet most students. We also lose standing when we engage faculty, students and administrators.
And while they still have freedom to request a meeting spot in some buildings, they no longer have the status when other officially recognized groups request the same spot—even though they are, well, fee-paying students in a facility owned by the people of California.
Losing campus privileges isn’t exactly persecution. But it makes it almost impossible for a group to carry out its intended mission. Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest whose campus Christian group at Vanderbilt University was similarly “derecognized”, explains the impact it has on Christian groups:
. . . some deregistered groups are still meeting on campus, at this point, more or less because the chaplain is letting it happen out of kindness. But in terms of policy, we have no right to meet on campus so that could be revoked anytime (because of that most ousted groups are meeting off campus.). Ministry is made more difficult there mainly because it’s harder to meet students (we can’t go to new student fairs or advertise on campus, we aren’t listed on the religious life site online and can’t use Vanderbilt’s name) and because we can’t sponsor events on campus (For instance my group worked with the Veritas forum to try to bring respected Christian academics like John Lennox or NT Wright on campus, which we can’t do under the new policy). For some groups not being able to reserve rooms is a real problem because they have 100+ students involved so they can’t really just find a spare room. But the main thing lost wasn’t particular university privileges, but an ability to be a devotional community that is part of campus life on a pluralistic campus–we don’t just want stuff from the university, we love the university and can no longer participate fully in university life or the university community. As we say on our website to explain the main reason we want to remain on campus: We love the university. We want to be citizens of the university. That’s why we are here in the first place. We believe that religious beliefs of all sorts deserve a seat at the table of ideas, and that religious orthodoxy ought not be excluded from campus. We are grateful that we’ve been able to be part of campus life—some of us for decades—and we want to continue to be part of the dialogue, joys, and challenges of university life.
(By the way, most religious groups at Vanderbilt do not receive funding from the university so this wasn’t about money…Although the 1,400 students in deregistered groups still have to pay activities fees to the university).
That last line holds the key to how Christians should respond. Colleges and universities are businesses that exist in a competitive educational market. A free market solution is to refuse to support the business’ “product.” In other words, Christians should refuse to attend schools in which their beliefs are “derecognized.” Similarly, alumni should refuse to provide donations to support a college or university that considers our faith not welcome on the campus.
This is not to say that Christians should abandon the schools entirely. We should still treat the campuses as mission fields, worthy of our charity and evangelism. And we should continue to use whatever legitimate means are at our disposal to change their anti-Christian policies. But we can and should refuse to hand over our cash to schools that consider our beliefs so repugnant as to not even be worthy of recognition.
Christians on college campuses may be required to pay a price for their beliefs. But that price doesn’t have to include tuition and student fees. If a college wants to be free of Christians beliefs, then we can accommodate them by showing what it would mean for them to be free of Christians.