Like the clichéd "pig in a python," mainstream media have been slowly digesting the story of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its newly announced policy on gays. But some news outfits aren’t digesting the chunks well.
Time.com last week broke the news that the Christian college organization asked its 1,300 employees to fess up if they disagreed with IVCF's stated beliefs on same-sex marriage -- then make plans to leave the organization.
We're now seeing the usual reaction from bloggers and columnists: everyone from Christian Today to Gay Star News to the Huffington Post.
Except for the likes of the New York Daily News. They couldn't wait for the opinion phase -- they had to add it to the news article.
The Bible states that you "shall not oppress a stranger."
But one of the largest evangelical college groups in the country appears to be doing just that, as it recently told its 1,300 staffers that they will be fired if they support gay marriage or deviate from any of the organization's strict positions on sexuality.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA recently sent out a six-page letter saying the national group will initiate "involuntary terminations" for all staff members who support LGBTQ people's right to marry.
My first reaction: "Geez, I wonder how gays feel about a lede like that? Being called strangers?"
My second reaction: It's a rank misuse of the Bible. The verse, Exodus 22:21, says, "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." The clear meaning of that verse, and a dozen others, is not to mistreat a foreigner or alien in one's land. It says nothing about people who contradict a group's beliefs about sexuality.
Third reaction: The IVCF posture isn’t about a legal right to gay marriage. It's about having staffers "affirm our beliefs about sexual identity," as its website says.
The Daily News' leanings are evident in quoting an IVCF alumnus:
Some InterVarsity members, however, think the harsh policy is disastrous.
Matthew Vines, who was a member of Harvard University's InterVarsity chapter between 2008 and 2010, told The News he finds the announcement "incredibly frustrating and disappointing."
"You can't be a justice organization when you are proudly embracing injustice and persecution of a minority group," he said.
Then, the paper actually cheers him on:
Despite harsh feelings over the decision, Vines said InterVarsity plays a huge part in many people's lives, including his own. But the problem, he said, is that the ministry's conservative administration does not seem to be able to come to grips with reality.
All told, the article gives Vines about 40 percent of its 535 words.
How does IVCF reply to all that? The Daily News doesn't care. Its sole InterVarsity source is vice president Greg Jao, and only through a text statement.
Time.com's article, at 1,600+ words, is much more thorough and allows plenty of back-and-forth, as well as extensive quoting from IVCF documents. Time notes that the group doesn't just zero in on gay marriage: It says that the only valid sexual relationships are between a husband and wife.
The Time article does have flaws, though. One is that it says the policies are in an "internal 20-page paper." Well, it must not be internal any more -- not when Time linked to it on Scribd.com.
Time adds that "critics say the biggest effect will be among younger staffers who support gay marriage — in essence, making it something of a theological purge." That may be the view of the two pro-gay activists in the article, but could they be a bit biased? Worse, neither of them said "theological purge"; that is purely Time's spin.
The Washington Post shows proper digestion of the news, saying the IVCF document has expanded from a simpler plan five years ago:
InterVarsity wrote up a guide, then decided to expand it to cover other subjects relating to sexuality. The result was a 20-page document meant for employees, not for students. It was circulated to staff in February of last year, Jao said.
At that point, according to Jao, InterVarsity offered staff a curriculum they could follow to learn about how the ministry arrived at its biblical interpretation. And it told them that if they did not agree with the beliefs in the document, they should state that by Nov. 11 of this year, and their employment would end.
Some of the largest news media do seem to be getting the point that InterVarsity is not suddenly swinging rightward. Like the Time article, the Post says accurately that IVCF wants its employees to agree with "the organization’s theological interpretation on sex: that it is only appropriate within a heterosexual marriage."
The Associated Press, too, shows remembers history, and it knows that InterVarsity has allies:
Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, was among evangelical leaders who were surprised by the uproar.
"The policy they hold on human sexuality is the exact same view that has been held by every wing of the Christian Church for 2,000 years," Moore said.
Indeed, as tmatt said on Friday, it's the historic default position of nearly all Christians: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, most Anglicans and most Protestant church bodies. The main exceptions are mainline Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ.
I would add that many secular companies -- news media, too -- have their own core values or "corporate philosophy," and they expect employees to follow them. I worked for a daily newspaper myself for years. If I had criticized it on TV or radio or other newspapers, my editors would have asked why, and my future would have been in some stage of jeopardy.
The problem is that some secular media increasingly judge news events by their own orthodoxy: an assumption that not only is gay marriage the default position, but that all organizations -- even religious ones like InterVarsity -- must toe the same line. If they don’t, out come the knives, even in alleged news reports. This is a bankrupt attitude: trashing religious groups for doing what other organizations do.