WASHINGTON (BP) — The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities announced resignations Monday (Sept. 21) of two schools that have sparked dissension — and prompted other schools to withdraw from the council — after expanding their hiring and benefits policies to embrace same-sex marriage.
The CCCU Board of Directors announced the resignations of Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., after a CCCU board meeting. The board also appointed a task force to review CCCU categories of association to accommodate the changing face of religious liberty, CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra said in a press teleconference following the board’s announcement.
“What we know is we need new categories of collaboration,” Hoogstra said. “We’re looking to 2015 and beyond, looking around issues of religious liberty, and we think having strong collaborations is the way forward. … What we found is the affiliate category is widely confusing for our association.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention affiliate Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, Okla., weeks ago cancelled their CCCU membership in protest of EMU and Goshen being allowed to retain their membership in CCCU as Christian colleges that allow the employment of homosexuals engaged in same-sex marriages.
While there was no immediate indication whether the resignation of EMU and Goshen would entice Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan to return to the council, Hoogstra said she would welcome such a move.
“We are in conversation with anybody,” Hoogstra said. “We’re a voluntary membership, so we would of course be in conversation with them again,” she said of Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan.
A statement on the CCCU website further clarifies the need for new categories of collaboration.
“It has become evident that a lack of clarity, purpose and common understanding exists about the various associational categories within the CCCU,” the statement reads. “Therefore, the Board appointed a task force … 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.”
EMU and Goshen submitted resignation letters Sept. 15 in the midst of CCCU board discussions to consider downgrading the two schools’ status to affiliate membership and robbing them of CCCU voting rights. In contacting the presidents of more than 120 CCCU membership schools, the CCCU found that 25 percent of its members did not support EMU and Goshen having CCCU membership of any kind.
Hoogstra said the two schools were “sacrificial” in resigning to avoid confusion within the CCCU membership.
“EMU and Goshen said we don’t want to be the cause of 25 percent feeling this sort of disease. … We are going to withdraw. So it was a very generous sacrificial move on EMU and Goshen’s part,” Hoogstra said. “It allows our task force now to look at categories that might actually fit better for 2015 and beyond.”
The CCCU clarified its purpose in the statement posted on its website, specifying its advocacy “for the right of each member school to practice its sincerely held religious beliefs in the public square.”
The 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 statement reads. “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.”
The CCCU also affirmed its biblical stance on marriage.
“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,” the group said. “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.”
Barry H. Corey, president of Biola University, and Phil G. Ryken, president of Wheaten College, are task force co-chairs, joined by members of the CCCU board, and presidents of member and non-member affiliate schools.
The board is expected to submit its recommendation regarding the task force’s review at CCCU’s January 2016 meeting.