Two Former InterVarsity Students Share Their Stories
Editor's note: These stories are from two post-grad women who were involved in InterVarsity chapters during their college years at a university on the east coast. We've kept their stories anonymous and kept their universities anonymous as well, but their stories are true. As the news of InterVarsity's "purge" of staff workers who support gay marriage broke, this is what they wanted to share:
A Story from "G"
My first year at college, I was the typical co-ed at a party school. I drank too much, blacked-out and laughed about it later, and made a lot of mistakes that needed up catching up to me in a bad way. When I decided I wanted to take a step back from the party lifestyle for my own safety and mental health, I was painfully lonely. In a school where people make friends over a keg and live off the memories of last weekend, I had no way to relate to others.
InterVarsity saved me.
I fell into InterVarsity between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I was lonely at JMU, and a friend of mine from high school, who was now going to college in another state, decided to introduce me to the friends he met in Christian elementary school - many of which were active members of InterVarsity at my college. To this day, they are the nicest, most welcoming and loving people I had ever met.
After attending a few Bible studies, I always felt welcome but I thought when I went back to school I would not see the InterVarsity kids again. My high school friend flew back to his school across the country, and I went back to school. I cried on the way back, knowing I was going somewhere that i did not fit in.
I had not been back more than a couple hours when I received a text from one of the members of InterVarsity that I had met over the summer inviting me to a back to school barbecue. I never saw myself joining the group. I was raised Catholic but had mostly left the church. I wasn’t an atheist, but it did not really matter to me whether or not God existed. But, for a lonely person that could not find a place at school without taking a couple of shots of vodka first, socializing over watermelon and soda sounded like a good idea.
I have never felt more welcomed than when I attended InterVarsity functions. The people who I had met over the summer were excited to see me and introduce me to new friends. They followed up days after and invited me to join a small group. It was in that small group that I first spoke about the abuse I had suffered the years prior and started to come out of the darkest days of my life.
I guess you could say it wasn’t actually InterVarsity that saved me, it was God.
Of course, right? As Christians we know that a relationship with God, and seeking Him is what will give us peace. It will help us become better, while still imperfect, humans. God alone can heal the brokenness that is such a part of our life on Earth.
But, I would not have accepted Jesus without first joining InterVarsity out of sheer loneliness. Once I was in the door, I looked around my small group and I could see a light in these women that had invited me to sit at the table with them. A light that I knew I did not have, and desperately wanted. I could see the goodness, the faith, and the peace that I thought would never be possible for me, and I explored the “why.” Only after did I understand that the “why” was God.
As Christians, we could accept Jesus but shun our fellow man. But that would be like lighting a candle and locking it in an opaque box. Why not share that light with others? Why not invite others to see what brings us our peace, happiness, and our many blessings on this Earth? By forcing leaders to leave because they may accept certain groups of people, we are losing leaders that could otherwise be lights to those in the InterVarsity community. And, possibly even more importantly, we are further alienating the groups that InterVarsity chooses to condemn. Why would we want to turn anyone away?
Our world so desperately needs these leaders’ light. In times like these, we could use all the light we can get.
A Story from "R"
I heard the news of this "InterVarsity purge" on Twitter this morning and my heart sank. InterVarsity (what I call IV) was my favorite part of my time in college. From my first moments on campus, IV students were the ones welcoming me with open arms, greeting me with big smiles, and inviting me to be part of something big and beautiful. IV changed my life. I never wanted to read negative news about the organization.
I tried to sit down and write about this news, how I felt about it, how IV should have handled it, how Christians should respond, and on and on... but I realized I couldn't.
I don't have the answers.
I don't have wisdom enough to say how things should be done or shouldn't be done.
I am still wrestling with much of my faith. I'm still wrestling with what the Bible says. I'm still wrestling with that that means for how I interact with the LGBTQ community and how I feel about gay marriage and so much more. I'm still wrestling with how to take these things that feel hugely exclusionary, and how I reconcile that with the accepting, good, loving God I believe in.
I cannot (and decidedly will not) write what I think IV should do or shouldn't do, or how I feel about gay rights, or anything like that. What I will do is share what my IV experience was like, and share what my hopes are for Christians of all kinds.
I am a straight woman. I had almost all straight friends growing up. I had no close relatives who were not straight. Every person I ever heard preach on the Word of God identified as straight... Until InterVarsity. Until we spent a semester focusing on sex and sexuality and relationships. Until brave and honest students who wrestled with their sexuality got up on stage before hundreds of students to talk about what it’s like to be gay and to be a Christian. Until I realized that what so many Christians would condemn them for, I just loved them more for.
I saw these students who were a part of my community step up and give voice to hard things they had kept hidden for so long, and I saw the rest of my community rally around them in love and support and encouragement.
I saw no condemnation. I saw no judgment. I only saw love.
Not everyone agreed with their choices or their stances, but we were united together as believers in the same God nonetheless.
Because of them, because they showed me what it looked like to be vulnerable in a safe place like IV, I started to be brave with my story, too. I started to open up about my own struggles, my own hurts, the hard things that I had gone through.
Their sexual orientation did not change their identity as a beloved child of God and a beloved member of our IV community.
As these friends of mine shared, I realized something truly beautiful and rare was happening in our IV chapter. We were discovering what it looked like to truly be the body of Christ-- different in all of our own ways, but beloved and together and united all the same. When faced with something "different" or "other," we chose love instead of hate. We chose unity over judgment and condemnation. We chose openness and honesty over secrecy and closed closet doors. We chose grace over guilt. We chose to lean into the hard places and have the difficult conversations and address the challenging questions instead of ignoring the realness of this life we're all trying to live the best we can.
It breaks my heart that a gay college student might never walk through the doors of an IV Large Group gathering because of this news and because of what they've now heard about IV.
It breaks my heart that IV staff workers who love gay people might be asked to leave their positions because they're choosing not to push those people away.
It breaks my heart that so many have already formed judgments against Christians because of these headlines, these articles, this whole mess.
It breaks my heart that so many students might never get to feel what it's like to be in a room of hundreds of other broken but seeking believers who all love God and love each other and are truly for one another regardless of differences.
It breaks my heart that lives might never be changed through IV and through so many incredible chapters of brilliantly gifted people of God serving students tirelessly.
It breaks my heart that whole groups of people might feel alienated from Christ and from Christians because of this.
I'm not in IV anymore, but even in the "real world" all these same things apply. Whether you're feeling excluded from InterVarsity or from a church, whether you've been hurt by a certain faith or a certain person, whether you've never opened a Bible or you've read it cover to cover, I just want you to know I am with you, for you, in your corner, welcoming you, loving you, and wanting you to know you are wanted.
I'm not here to make a judgment call on this decision by InterVarsity or to speak to how things should or shouldn't be handled... but I'm here to say on behalf of all Christians and all IV members, no matter who you are and what you believe and how you identify yourself and who you love, you are welcome here.
You are welcome.
We all wrestle with hard things.
We all have brokenness inside of us.
We all have things we want to hide.
We all have deeply rooted convictions and fiercely fought-for beliefs.
We all have opinions. They're probably all pretty different, too.
We also are all gifted and talented and uniquely capable of amazing things.
We all have purpose.
We all have value and worth.
We all are loved.
None is better than another.
I am not more worthy of God's love as a straight person than you might be as a gay person. (nd I'm sorry if anyone ever told you otherwise.)
I am with you.
I am not all that different from you.
I don't know how the church or how this ministry might have hurt you, but I want to genuinely apologize that they did. I want you to know we aren't all like what you've experienced before. Don't count us all out just yet.
I want you to come and see for yourself this God that I've found and seen. He's loving in ways I don't deserve. He's gracious in ways I don't understand. He heals the brokenness in me in ways I didn't know were possible. He is transforming me into a whole new person not because He didn't love me as I was, but because He has so much more for me and for my life than I ever knew could exist. He offers all of that to you, too.
No matter who you are, I love you, and God loves you, and I know my IV chapter would really love you too. They're some great people.
Come sit around the table with us, with me, with all of these Christians trying their best (and failing, we know) to live and love like Christ. We can't promise we'll get it all right, but we'll promise to give it our very best shot and we just ask you forgive us when we mess it up. We really do love you and we want you in this journey with us. I found a place I could belong here, and I'm saving you a seat right beside me. I hope you'll come and see for yourself what this Christian life is all about.
We want to hear from you: What do you think about InterVarsity's decision? Were you involved in IV? If so, what was your experience like?
Please be respectful and kind in all comments.