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Peace Church Out: Mennonite Schools Leave CCCU to Avoid Same-Sex Marriage Split

Consortium consulted more than 120 member presidents on what to do about Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College.
Peace Church Out: Mennonite Schools Leave CCCU to Avoid Same-Sex Marriage Split
Image: Courtesy of CCCU

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has again lost two member schools. This time, it's the ones which now permit faculty and staff in same-sex marriages.

Earlier this year, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies. In response, two other member schools—Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU)—quit the CCCU in protest.

The debate: Whether the CCCU could remain an effective advocate in Washington, D.C., for the rights of Christian colleges if its members were no longer united on what biblical sexuality entails.

The CCCU board of directors predicted that most of its 120 North American members would agree that EMU and Goshen's new positions on homosexuality "placed them outside the bounds of the CCCU's membership." But it also believed that a demotion to affiliate status would be a permissible level of partnership.

However, the two Mennonite schools decided to voluntarily withdraw from membership in order to spare "significant division" within the consortium. This "render[s] the question of affiliate status moot," the CCCU announced today [full statement below].

According to the CCCU, approximately 75 percent of member presidents did favor the demotion of EMU and Goshen to affiliate status. Meanwhile, approximately 20 percent favored that the schools retain full membership, and approximately 25 percent felt the schools should have no type of membership. (Some presidents favored multiple options.)

During the survey, the CCCU found that "the affiliate category was widely confusing," said CCCU president Shirley V. Hoogstra in a press conference.

Given that "lack of clarity, purpose, and common understanding" about its membership categories, the CCCU has formed a task force led by Biola University president Barry H. Corey and Wheaton College president Phil G. Ryken. The task force will "explore how the Council will remain rooted in historic Christianity while also fruitfully engaging with other institutions seeking to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom."

If any other CCCU member "changes its hiring policies relative to the historic Christian view of marriage" before the task force finishes its work in January, the school will be moved to a "pending" status of membership.

The CCCU also announced the resignation from the board of Loren Swartzendruber, president of EMU, who had recused himself from the the council's "deliberative and consultative" process.

The CCCU board is trying to balance the needs of member schools from 35 different denominations. Those denominations disagree on a wide range of issues, from baptism and communion to contraception and human origins, said Hoogstra in an earlier statement.

“Until very recently,” Hoogstra said, “there was not a divergence of opinion regarding hiring same-sex married persons. Now there is.”

At the same time, there is a desire for unity, she said today. "There's a biblical principle for unity. In John 17 Jesus prays for unity for those in the world and not of it. Our presidents are deeply faithful Christians. If there was a way for the CCCU to remain strong and advocating for the kinds of liberties we need to fulfill our mission, that was a primary goal for our presidents."

While it has "never adopted specific creedal or doctrinal tests for its members and affiliates," the CCCU stated it "only advocates for 'principles of religious freedom, which allow Christian colleges to hire based on religion and to only employ individuals who practice sexual relations within the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman.'"

“Following a good and respectful process does not mean that we do not recognize the importance of this issue in our current cultural climate,” Hoogstra stated earlier. “[W]e do, and as such, CCCU is advocating vigorously on behalf of schools that hold the orthodox view of marriage, and we will continue to do so both for our members and for others who hold that view but are no longer members.”

OKWU believes the CCCU's "deliberate and consultative process" of seeking one-on-one reactions from all member schools is harmful "ambivalence."

“We believe in missional clarity and view the defense of the biblical definition of marriage as an issue of critical importance,” said Everett Piper, president of the Bartlesville, Okla., school, in an earlier press release. “The CCCU’s reluctance to make a swift decision sends a message of confusion rather than conviction.”

“The fact that this is not unanimous damages our witness,” Union president Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver wrote earlier to the CCCU. “The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue—marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.”

CT previously noted how EMU debated and delayed its decision on hiring faculty in same-sex marriages.

Both Goshen and EMU expect celibacy of unmarried students, faculty, and staff.

“We seek forbearance and grace amidst our differences. We deeply affirm the goodness of marriage, singleness, celibacy, sexual intimacy within marriage, and a life of faithfulness before God for all people,” Goshen president James Brenneman stated in announcing the school's new policy. “... We affirm the equal value and worth of each unique member of our community as a beloved child of God, and we seek to be a hospitable community for all—including those who disagree with this decision—as Christ modeled to us.”

“This decision is in keeping with our commitment to non-discrimination and our mission as a Christ-centered, liberal arts academic institution,” EMU board chair Kay Brenneman Nussbaum stated in announcing the school's move. “Our education is grounded in Mennonite/Anabaptist values, and we believe people in same-sex covenanted relationships are valued members of our learning community with equal rights to standard benefits.”

Previously, two other Christian schools—Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee—announced that they would offer benefits to staff in same-sex marriages. Neither is a CCCU member.

Current CCCU affiliate members include Baylor University and The King's College.

In a 2001 report, a CCCU ad hoc task force on human sexuality encouraged "each member institution of the CCCU to decide its stance on this difficult issue explicitly and deliberately." The CCCU has advocated for the rights of Christian schools to only hire those who support their beliefs, including traditional Christian teaching on marriage.

CT's past coverage of the CCCU includes how it hired its first female president, as well as fired its previous president and settled his resulting lawsuit. CT also noted the death of CCCU cofounder and former Westmont College president David Winter, the loosening of denominational ties among Christian colleges, and the 11 CCCU members that offer the best chance of finding a spouse.

Statement by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU)

Board of Directors re: Membership Consultation Process and Ongoing Commitment to Mission

September 21, 2015

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has not changed in mission, purpose or commitment since its founding in 1976. For nearly four decades, the Council has encompassed distinctively Christian institutions of higher education in a common cause and commitment to Christ-centered, faith-integrating teaching, scholarship and service. The association provides a strong presence in Washington, D.C., for advocacy, strengthening academic excellence and offering students domestic and international off-campus semester programs.

The CCCU is an effective and respected advocate for Christ-centered higher education. It provides a unified voice to highlight the contributions of its institutions to the common good. It also advocates for the right of each member school to practice its sincerely held religious beliefs in the public square. The Council encompasses 180 institutions, representing 35 Protestant denominations. These include 120 accredited member colleges and universities in North America with curricula rooted in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as 60 affiliate campuses across the U.S. and 18 other countries. Member schools control the governance, advocacy and programming of the CCCU. Non-member affiliates participate in the programs and support the CCCU in its advocacy to promote Christian higher education. CCCU institutions currently employ over 30,000 faculty and serve more than 450,000 students and 1.8 million alumni around the world.

As a broad and diverse association, the CCCU has never adopted specific creedal or doctrinal tests for its members and affiliates. Nevertheless, the Council has been and remains dedicated to the advancement of Christian higher education that is aligned with the historic Christian faith. Accordingly, the CCCU has maintained the historic Christian view of marriage, defined as a union of one man and one woman, in its employment policies and student academic program conduct codes. As it relates to this topic, therefore, the CCCU only advocates for “principles of religious freedom, which allow Christian colleges to hire based on religion and to only employ individuals who practice sexual relations within the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman” (Board Policies Manual, section 11.2.1). Until recently, there had been alignment of hiring policies within the CCCU membership.

Prompted by the public announcement that Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) had entered a period of discernment regarding changing its hiring practices, the CCCU Board of Directors, at its January 2015 annual business meeting with member presidents, made a commitment to consult with them should any member institution decide to change its employment practice with respect to hiring individuals in same-sex marriages.

In mid-July 2015, EMU, as well as Goshen College, each respectfully notified the CCCU of such changes to their hiring practices. At its semi-annual meeting the following week, the CCCU Board agreed to consult with all member presidents regarding the possibility of changing EMU and Goshen to affiliate status. The Board believed that most members would agree with its assessment that EMU and Goshen’s change in hiring practices placed them outside the bounds of the CCCU’s membership, but also that a different level of associated relationship with EMU and Goshen would be consistent with the broader mission of the CCCU. The Board established a procedure for member presidents to receive a call from a Board member, and spent the past seven weeks in individual consultations with them about this recommendation.

The Board completed its consultative process in early September, having spoken to all but one member president, due to scheduling constraints. In these conversations, many member presidents expressed their initial observations, rather than settled opinions on this issue, and many had questions about the CCCU’s different associational categories. In general, however, based on the current categories of association available, approximately 75 percent of members agreed in full or in principle with the Board’s recommendation to consider moving EMU and Goshen to non-member affiliate status. Nearly 20 percent of the member presidents felt that EMU and Goshen should continue in full membership, while less than 25 percent did not support either member or affiliate status. These numbers reflect that some presidents felt comfortable with more than one option.

Throughout this consultation period, the CCCU Board made clear that it never considered changing the CCCU’s own employment practice, student conduct policies, core advocacy position or public policy commitments. While almost all presidents expressed support for the Board’s expedited due-diligence and appreciated being consulted, two institutions, Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU), voiced concern with the process and withdrew membership.

While EMU and Goshen were supportive of the Board’s consultation and wanted time to also consider the possibility of affiliate membership, both schools have been clear from the outset that they did not want to be the cause of significant division within the membership. Following completion of the Board’s member inquiry and multiple discussions with Council leadership, both EMU and Goshen voluntarily chose to tender their withdrawals from member status with the CCCU. The Council Board acknowledged their withdrawals at its September 15 meeting rendering the question of affiliate status moot. At various points during the process, the CCCU had requested that any institution considering separation from the association delay a final decision until the Board concluded its evaluation.

The CCCU Board is grateful to all of its members for their gracious and patient participation in this process and to EMU, Goshen, Union and OKWU for their longstanding contributions to the Council. In addition, Dr. Loren Swartzendruber, president of EMU, has voluntarily resigned from the Board. The Board has accepted Dr. Swartzendruber’s resignation and thanks him for his faithful board service.

During this consultation phase, it has become evident that a lack of clarity, purpose and common understanding exists about the various associational categories within the CCCU. Therefore, the Board appointed a task force, co-chaired by President Barry H. Corey of Biola University and President Phil G. Ryken of Wheaton College, consisting of Board, member and non-member affiliate presidents. Institutional presidents who have agreed to serve, include Mark L. Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary, Andrew K. Benton of Pepperdine University, Andrea P. Cook of Warner Pacific College, David S. Dockery of Trinity International University, Sandra C. Gray of Asbury University, Michael K. Le Roy of Calvin College, Gary V. Nelson of Tyndale University College & Seminary, Carol Taylor of Evangel University, Andrew Westmoreland of Samford University, and David Wright of Indiana Wesleyan University. Others may be appointed.

The purpose of the task force will be to review the CCCU’s categories of association, and to explore how the Council will remain rooted in historic Christianity while also fruitfully engaging with other institutions seeking to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom. The group will provide the Board and membership with a progress report at its January 2016 meeting and will bring a final recommendation to the Board during its July 2016 meeting. During the task force working period, if any member institution changes its hiring policies relative to the historic Christian view of marriage, that institution will move to a “pending” status and be referred to the task force. While the task force will not decide, it will recommend to the Board how the pending institution could fit into the new categories.

The CCCU Board thanks its members for their prayers, encouragement and counsel during this consultative period, and it remains enthusiastically committed to the high calling of Christ-centered higher education.

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