Student groups in the California State University system that identify as Christian are being labeled discriminatory for requiring leaders to be Christian and are beginning to be stripped of official recognition.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which identifies as an “evangelical campus mission,” recently lost recognition at 23 schools across the state over the decision, which is based on the system’s anti-discrimination policies.
“Loss of recognition means we lose three things: free access to rooms (this will cost our chapters $13k-30k/year to reserve a 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,” spokesperson Greg Jao told reporters.
The de-recognition of InterVarsity comes as a result of an executive order that was put into effect in 2011, which states, “No campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society or other student organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation or disability.” It also outlines that the ban on discrimination extends to leadership positions.
“For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy,” Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the California State University system, additionally explained to the Washington Post. “We have engaged with [InterVarsity] for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not.”
But Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research says that the policy won’t only effect InterVarsity—it can have repercussions on all faith-based groups, and even secular organizations as well.
“It’s not just InterVarsity that will be impacted,” he recently wrote in a blog post. “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.”
Jao says that although InterVarsity has lost recognition in the California State University System, the group will continue to reach out for Christ on campus.
“For student leaders, confidence in God’s sovereignty means that even though they don’t have official recognition and permission, they’re going to be bold in their witness,” he told Mission Network News. “The Spirit of God is not attracted by having a room or having a building, but in fact the Holy Spirit will continue to propel God’s people into new places of witness.”
Jao said that the situation might cause Christians on campus to learn how to evangelize individually.
“So in part, our campus access challenge is actually forcing us, or inviting us, to fully release the ministry into the hands of college students to say the best way students are going to hear the gospel is not by drawing them to a large group meeting—which we may or may not have access to—but in your dorm rooms, in your cafeterias, in your laboratories,” he said. “I think, most importantly, we’re mobilizing students to be missionaries. I’m convinced college students are there to be good students, absolutely, but also to be missionaries wherever they are.”