ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities has adopted new guidelines to address evolving differences among member schools on the definition of marriage.
“We believe that this document rightly articulates both the core and the breadth of the CCCU in a way that will make us the most effective witness and advocate for Christian higher education,” board chairman Charles Pollard, president of John Brown University, wrote to CCCU presidents in a letter dated Sept. 22.
The new policy proposed by a membership task force includes six criteria the council will use to align institutions in one of three associational categories: governing membership, associate membership, or collaborative partnership. All three require CCCU executive and board endorsements for acceptance.
Governing members, the only ones who can vote, must meet all six criteria: Christian mission, institutional type and accreditation, cooperation and participation (dues), institutional integrity (financial ethics), employment policies, and Christian distinctives and advocacy.
The sixth criterion has four sub-points, including a required belief in God as Earth’s creator (and a sustainability mandate), marriage as between a man and a woman, the worth of every human being, and the need for racial reconciliation.
The council will require associate members to meet all requirements except for the second one — meaning the category is for seminaries, Bible colleges, non-accredited schools, and undergraduate institutions without a full curriculum in the arts or sciences.
Collaborative partnerships will include institutions that meet the first four criteria but not the last two — meaning, among other things, the category applies to schools that may change their hiring policies to include persons in same-sex marriages.
The new associational categories form the latest chapter in a controversy that began in July 2015. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College changed their hiring policies to include gay and lesbian employees — then signaled intent to remain as full CCCU members.
Eastern Mennonite, Goshen, and Bluffton University eventually withdrew from the council over their new hiring policies. Five others left citing concern over adherence to biblical orthodoxy: Union University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, The Master’s College, Cedarville University, and Shorter University.
The new policy creates space for Eastern Mennonite, Goshen, and Bluffton to return to the council as collaborative partners. But based on prior public statements, it seems unlikely the five conservative schools would return under this arrangement. According to the CCCU’s statement announcing the membership task force last September, nearly 25 percent of its membership “did not support either member or affiliate status” for the three schools that changed their employment policies.
The task force, chaired by Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, and Barry Corey, president of Biola University, submitted its report in July, following nine months of deliberations. The board voted unanimously to accept the report after making unspecified “minor changes,” according to Pollard’s letter.
Pollard said CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra would contact each member president in the next three months to discuss which associational category is appropriate for each school. He said the vast majority should be self-evident and would not require dues changes. Hoogstra will present any unresolved questions to the board’s membership committee when it meets in January.
The CCCU expects full implementation to take effect at the beginning of the next membership year, beginning July 1, 2017.
A small group of schools founded the CCCU four decades ago in common commitment to Christ-centered education and to preserve their right to hire only professing Christians. It has since grown to 182 member and affiliate institutions serving more than 450,000 students and 1.8 million alumni around the world.