(Photo: InterVarsity USA)
The University of Michigan has denied that it removed a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship from campus because the group's bylaws require religious qualifications for leadership and bar gays or lesbians from becoming members.
The Asian InterVarsity chapter did not complete its annual re-registration process by the Sept. 30 deadline, a requirement of all student organizations, university spokesperson Kelly Cunningham said in a statement, according to The Michigan Daily.
Cunningham's statement comes after the non-denominational, evangelical campus ministry said last week that its chapter was "kicked off" campus because of religious qualifications for its student leaders in the InterVarsity's Doctrinal Basis and Chapter Covenant, which do not allow the admittance of gay or lesbian members.
However, Greg Jao, an InterVarsity national field director, called the University's claim "factually inaccurate." According to him the student group has not submitted its constitution because the university will not accept it. "It's the same as approved in prior years, not an administrative failure on our end, but (the university) won't accept it."
Cunningham, however, maintains the university discussed this issue with the Asian InterVarsity chapter in December, but the group has yet to complete the process. "We value the existence of the Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Their existence and their voices add significantly to our academic community and support those students who find solace, camaraderie, and guidance in their presence."
Jao says the issue concerns other student organizations as well. "Any group that's honest about their requirements will be impacted if (the university) applies it fairly," he said. "It will affect Orthodox Jewish groups on campus, (the) Muslim Association."
The group, Jao added, is just seeking to adhere to traditional Christian values. "Every student, regardless of beliefs, is welcome to attend meetings," he said. "But we believe it makes sense for a religious group to select religious leaders."
Sara Chang, a local recruiter for InterVarsity, added that the group has worked with the university for the last two years to comply with the university's standards. "Our plans are that we would be able to work with the university and have open, honest discussion about nature of non-discrimination policy," she was quoted as saying.
This is not the only university where an InterVarsity chapter has faced legal hurdles, as the ministry requires student leaders to be in agreement with its doctrinal statement and purpose statement, and to live a life of Christian integrity.
InterVarsity has served as a campus ministry on college and university campuses for more than 71 years, and has grown to more than 890 chapters on more than 575 campuses. But on more than 40 campuses, the ministry's status has become an issue in recent years.
In 2011, the student group was accused of discrimination for requiring its leaders to affirm a set of Christian beliefs at the State University of New York at Buffalo. But the university's Student Wide Judiciary ruled last year that it is "common sense" and not discrimination for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., also derecognized the group based on the university's all-comers policy, which requires religious organizations to allow all students to run for leadership positions, even if the students do not agree with the beliefs of the group.
In Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez in 2010, the Supreme Court allowed public colleges to require that no on-campus group discriminate with students based their "beliefs."
InterVarsity, however, continues to function on some campuses without official recognition. The ministry serves students and faculty through small group Bible studies, large gatherings on campus, leadership training, discipleship and conferences and events.