InterVarsity Press faces book conference ban
Sexuality | The Society of Biblical Literature temporarily revoked the publisher’s invitation amid furor over InterVarsity’s orthodox stand on human sexuality
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 10/19/16, 02:37 pm
UPDATE (10/20/16, 10:50 a.m.): InterVarsity Press and the Society for Biblical Literature issued a joint statement late Wednesday acknowledging that during its meeting next week the society’s council will discuss the publisher’s right to exhibit at next year’s joint annual meeting of SBL and the American Academy of Religion. John F. Kutsko, SBL’s executive director, said no decision has been made yet. InterVarsity Press publisher Jeff Crosby said he hoped the council “will continue to make room for the particularity of the discourse that IVP Academic brings to the theological academy via SBL’s annual events.” Crosby has been asked to submit material relevant to the discussion but will not participate in the meeting.
OUR EARLIER REPORT: Backlash over InverVarsity Christian Fellowship’s theological summary of human sexuality has put its publishing arm, InterVarsity Press (IVP), at odds with the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which temporarily banned the publisher from selling books at its annual meeting. In a letter to IVP, the society said it would “discuss concerns” about InterVarsity’s stance later this month.
IVP has not released the letter or responded to it, but Jim West, a lecturer in Biblical and Reformation studies at Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong, published portions of it on his blog. According to West, SBL said it is evaluating its relationship with IVP in light of its “core values, including collegiality, respect for critical inquiry, inclusivity, openness to change, respect for diversity, scholarly integrity, and tolerance.”
The SBL decision follows a handful of petitions and open letters demanding the evangelical college ministry rescind its requirement that employees affirm an orthodox view of human sexuality. The issue caused a furor last week after media outlets obtained copies of a new InterVarsity policy paper discussing God’s design for human sexuality.
InterVarsity’s supporters jumped to its defense after learning about the temporary ban.
“Let me be clear, to ban IVP from the annual convention does not safeguard the academic freedom of SBL members, it amounts to censorship, which many of us are very, very sensitive about,” wrote author Michael Bird, one of IVP’s authors.
Bird said the ban flies in the face of the society’s claims of promoting diverse perspectives and critical discourse.
On his blog, West asked whether Catholic presses and other publishers who share InterVarsity's perspective on human sexuality will also be banned.
InterVarsity’s critics include 50 IVP-published authors who signed an open letter denouncing the policy, even though IVP authors are not required to share InterVarsity’s beliefs.
“The intention of our letter was a request from friends of [InterVarsity] expressing our concern for current staff members who will unwillingly be forced to transition from their place in community based on the ‘involuntary termination’ policy,” wrote author Chris Heuertz.
Although Heuertz reportedly drafted the letter to address grievances with InterVarsity, neither the college ministry nor IVP received a copy. His letter appeared instead in a column by Jonathan Merritt at the Religion News Network.
IVP publisher Jeff Crosby was not available for comment this morning. But Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s vice president and director of campus engagement, said the ministry will remain faithful to its doctrine, and the gospel will continue to advance on college campuses.
Jao expected criticism from certain sources, noting the organizations claiming to speak for LGBT Christians represent an “alternate theology” of human sexuality. But concerns raised by those with a vested interest in InterVarsity’s ministry—current and former students and staff—drew his attention.
“These are people who have a love for InterVarsity, and I am grateful that they are expressing their concerns,” Jao told me Tuesday, before the SBL ban became public. “I hope they will give us a chance to explain.”
Some InterVarsity staff members have been asked by school administrators to clarify the policy paper and its effect on employment issues. Once it was clear the policy covered InterVarsity employees and not students, administrators withdrew their concerns.
The policy paper, titled “A Theological Summary of Human Sexuality,” took four years to draft. InterVarsity staff have been given 18 months to study the 20-page document and its 28 cited texts. Employees whose convictions are at odds with the document are asked to tell their supervisors. Staff members who cannot teach and publicly support the statement will be “involuntarily terminated.”
But Jao emphasized employees are not “fired” for disagreeing with the policy. The terms of the dismissal allow employees in some states to collect unemployment benefits, something they could not do if they were fired.
Despite critics’ calls for more dialogue, Jao said an agree-to-disagree resolution is unworkable because it would require InterVarsity to act in opposition to what it believes is clearly revealed in Scripture. Jao insisted taking a clear theological stand will only help the ministry’s mission of discipleship: “Reiterating [InterVarsity doctrine] is in part a conviction that all of Scripture is good news: It is good news for everyone, even when it’s hard.”
Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.