By / Jul 19

In a unanimous decision, the federal court for the 8th Circuit held that administrators at the University of Iowa are violating the First Amendment by removing Christian, Muslim, and Sikh student organizations for choosing student leaders who share the group’s mission and values. The court’s ruling of InterVarsity v. University of Iowa follows a series of recent decisions that uphold the First Amendment’s free exercise clause and specifically rejects skewed applications of anti-discrimination policies based on a leader’s viewpoints. 

What is this case about?

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has thrived on the University of Iowa’s campus for 25 years with the mission of “courageously proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, engaging in discipleship around Scripture, and loving people of every ethnicity and culture.” The University of Iowa chapter of InterVarsity has been recognized for its excellence in community service and student engagement, but on June 1, 2018, the university threatened deregistration for violating nondiscrimination policies. 

It is only logical for an organization’s leaders to share its beliefs and priorities, and the process of determining a leader’s position based on his or her ability to further a group’s mission has never been deemed “discriminatory,” at least not under the law. After InterVarsity responded with a reasonable appeal and explanation, the university deregistered the group and barred it from operating on campus. The university went as far as to say the group was engaging in discriminatory activity by simply “encouraging” students to live by a shared mission. Thirty-eight other student groups, mostly religious, were deregistered that summer for noncompliant leadership requirements. Becket sued the university on behalf of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on Aug. 6, 2018, and InterVarsity v. University of Iowa was decided unanimously in favor of InterVarsity on July 16, 2021.

What is the significance of this case?

This case protects students and organizations from differential treatment based on university officials’ viewpoints. Universities are spaces for the competition of ideas, but at the University of Iowa, administrators imposed their own opposing views on religious groups. Political and ideological groups, sororities and fraternities, and sports clubs, who used similar vetting processes for leaders, were left untouched. The 8th Circuit left no room for discussion about the constitutionality of this oppressive strategy. Hopefully, the uncontested decision sends a clear message to other university, college, and high school administrators that a public institution must remain a place where students learn and share ideas independent from a leader’s preferential control. If educators at the University of Iowa want a closed environment, they should look for a job at a private institution. 

What does this mean moving forward?

According to Becket, this the third case of its kind in recent months (InterVarsity v. Wayne State and BLinC v. University of Iowa). The increase in religious freedom cases communicates a couple of important messages. First, constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religious exercise, and freedom of association are being challenged frequently, especially on college campuses. Secondly, lower courts are following the lead of the current Supreme Court and hearing cases related to these foundational freedoms in an effort to clear up any gray areas with increasing enforcement of antidiscrimination policies in public institutions and municipalities. 

Ultimately, today’s decision affirms students’ First Amendment rights while attending public universities and denies leaders of any public institution the ability to define discrimination based on personal views. According to Becket, “the Court communicated the extremity if the University’s overreach, saying it would be “hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination.” Nondiscrimination policies are meant to protect, not to create a new form of oppression based on who the person in power wants to accommodate.

The ERLC continues to stand for the religious liberty of all in the U.S. and throughout the world and will continue working to ensure that religious liberty is honored and protected.

ERLC intern Anna Claire Noblitt contributed to this article.

By / Apr 28

On Easter, rapper Andy Mineo tweeted a thoughtful thread capturing a significant mood in the American Church. In the thread, he noted:

I feel myself & many others are in a spiritual ‘Saturday’-the day after Jesus died & the day before he rose. The in-between. Still saddened by the loss of what they thought Jesus was going to be…To parallel, I still feel like I am grieving the loss of a version of Christianity & “Jesus” that didn’t turn out as I hoped.

For believers who share this disillusionment with their experience of Christianity, abandoning faith altogether can seem like the only viable option.

Burdened for those wrestling through doubt and deconstruction, The Gospel Coalition released a collection of essays called Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in The Church. The book features chapters from regular contributors to the organization’s blog and ministry. The essays are written with the hope they will “give perspective, answer questions, or at least help you understand that you’re not alone” in wrestling with deconstruction.

Facing the issues behind deconstruction

The last few years have featured many forces contributing to doubt, spiritual weariness, and reconsideration of personal faith: disappointment in Christian leaders and the Church, social isolation, political and cultural division, and a competition of grand ideas fighting to frame a societal narrative forward. Each chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith addresses a question or social issue common to the current deconstruction conversations within American Protestantism. The essays also include encouragement and guidance rooted in confessional Christian belief. 

The first section of the book is titled “Deconstruct Deconstruction.” It features essays that ask critical questions of deconstruction narratives, parsing out the beliefs and assumptions that drive doubt and deconversion. The second section, “Deconstruct the Issues,” examines social and theological issues often at the crux of faith deconstruction. The final section, “Reconstruct Faith,” offers guidance and suggestions for a healthy reconstruction of Christian faith and practice.

Inviting thoughtful reflection through critical questions

Traditional faith communities often lack room for questions, nuance, and complexity, driving congregants elsewhere to answer their questions. Yet, deconstruction dialogue can simplify and reduce complex issues in a similar way. Before You Lose Your Faith engages with doubt and faith with a refreshingly thoughtful approach. The authors recognize the fruitful impulses and questions behind deconstruction. They also carefully highlight the contradictions within popular deconversion narratives.

Hunter Beaumont’s chapter “Don’t Deconstruct—Disenculturate Instead” affirms that there will always be elements of religious culture that need to be analyzed and culturally deconstructed and that the Bible provides a framework for “disenculturating” belief while holding firm to the gospel. In another chapter titled “Deconversion Is Not As Countercultural As You Think,” McCracken notes that while contemporary deconstruction is often framed as a subversive act, it is deeply rooted in consumerist, Western individualist, and “bourgeois” cultural assumptions. The chapters raise new questions that may be challenging to both orthodox believers and those walking away from traditional faith. Those questions invite thoughtful reflection that will edify readers.

Understanding doubt

While much of belief formation can be unconscious and fragmented, deconstruction stories tend to emphasize a journey of conscious choices an individual makes to abandon faith. Before You Lose Your Faith brings unstated influences like culture, affections, and philosophical assumptions to the foreground of understanding the deconstruction process. As such, readers will gain clarity on the unstated assertions of deconstruction and acquire vocabulary to reflect on their experience. Readers may also walk away realizing that deconversion is not a mere rational dismissal of faith but rather an exchange of one set of faith claims for another. 

A helpful resource within relationships

Deconstruction and doubt may manifest in intellectual or social ways. Still, they are often triggered by church hurt, personal trials, or broken relationships. Even those philosophical or social issues surrounding doubt can cut to the core of a person in painful and confounding ways. Before You Lose Your Faith focuses almost exclusively on intellectual and social issues. Some follow-up resources on how to process the more personal and emotional aspects of deconstruction would help those struggling with their faith and others responsible for their care.

Because the content is primarily intellectual, the resource might be most useful within established relationships and spaces where it can be processed with others. Individuals walking alongside those wrestling with deep doubt will find the book a helpful resource and reference for common themes at the center of contemporary deconstruction.

The issues the Church faces at this moment are challenging, but not without hope. Andy Mineo concluded his tweet thread:

As I read of the resurrection today – I was assured that there was a real resurrection. And that there will be a spiritual resurrection coming. One that I won’t expect. One that will be far greater than my original idea of faith in Jesus. One that I desperately need. 

Doubt and deconstruction can feel dark and frightening. But the gospel has proven to be a reliable resource for our most profound challenges and questions. Many will walk out of this challenging season with a renewed and refined understanding of their faith. It wouldn’t be surprising if Before You Lose Your Faith plays a role in that.