(RNS) Social media lit up this week after a biblical scholar reported that InterVarsity Press would be banned from exhibiting at the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meetings.
Michael Bird, a lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia, floated the news in response to reports earlier this month that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship plans to fire any employee who disagrees with its theological statement regarding same-sex marriage.
— mbird (@mbird12) October 18, 2016
“This is not safeguarding academic freedom, it is censorship, and turning SBL into a confessional organization,” Bird wrote in a post on Patheos’ Euangelion blog responding to a letter he said had announced the reported ban.
Not so fast, according to a joint statement released Wednesday evening (Oct. 19) by the Society of Biblical Literature and InterVarsity Press.
InterVarsity Press still will have a booth at next month’s annual meetings, Society of Biblical Literature Executive Director John F. Kutsko confirmed to RNS.
But there still is a question, if not a decision, whether InterVarsity Press will be allowed to exhibit at the 2017 conference co-hosted by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in Boston, according to the joint statement.
“That conversation is a part of a larger discussion the SBL Council will have regarding its protocols and standards for exhibitors at its events” at its next meeting, on Oct. 29-30, the statement said.
And it comes “in the context of ongoing discussions involving academic freedom and the disciplinary standards of discourse the organization fosters,” Kutsko added in the statement. InterVarsity Press will be part of those discussions, he said.
The Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion always have reserved the right to determine whether exhibitors are in keeping with the character of the annual meetings, he said.
The reference to a “suspension” came from a letter he said he had sent to InterVarsity Press staff regarding reserving exhibitor space for 2017 while at the 2016 conference.
That letter, obtained by RNS, makes clear Kutsko had requested a temporary suspension of InterVarsity Press’ booth registration for the 2017 Annual Meeting while the council discussed whether InterVarsity’s policy conflicted with the society’s core values. Those values include respect for diversity, inclusivity and tolerance.
It read in part:
“Under IVCF’s employee policy, free inquiry appears to be severely restricted. As stated above, IVCF is within its rights to do so, but SBL is equally within its rights to foster the academic and discursive environment that are at the heart of its mission as a learned society.”
The international society is the oldest and largest organization devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines, according to its website.
Its annual meeting is one of the biggest events in the fields of biblical scholarship, religious studies and theology, the website said. It claims to offer the world’s largest exhibition of books and digital resources for biblical studies.
This year’s conference will be Nov. 19-22 in San Antonio.
“For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas,” InterVarsity Press Publisher Jeff Crosby said in the joint statement.
“All of us who represent the IVP Academic program genuinely hope the Council will continue to make room for the particularity of the discourse that IVP Academic brings to the theological academy via SBL’s annual events. Indeed, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature gatherings have been an essential component for our academic program for more than three decades.”
More than 50 InterVarsity Press authors have called on InterVarsity to replace its policy with one that makes room for opposing theological views, including those that affirm same-sex marriage.
In a letter signed by Crosby to InterVarsity authors describing the council decision as “pending” that also was obtained by RNS, he reiterated the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship policy does not extend to its authors. He also referred to the policy as “a rearticulation of understandings that have been in place for decades in IVCF.”