EMU, Goshen voluntarily leave CCCU

Higher Education | Organization split over same-sex marriage seemingly averted
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 9/21/15, 05:25 pm

WASHINGTON—Two schools that recently changed their hiring policies to include employees in same-sex marriages have voluntarily left the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), averting a likely split in the organization.

The surprise announcement that Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) withdrew last week came during a conference call with member presidents Monday afternoon. CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra said she has the “highest regard” for the two schools making a “generous, sacrificial” decision in deference to the rest of the council.

“It worked out in a way that I think will benefit the cause of Christian higher education moving forward,” she told reporters during a press call. “I’m very grateful.”

Initial reaction from member presidents reflected surprise, relief, and gratitude. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University, told me the outcome was a direct answer to prayer.

“I made a point of saying to my colleagues on the conference call that I really commend Goshen and EMU for doing the honorable thing,” Armstrong said. “If they had not done so, they would have left the board and the membership of the council in a very difficult position.”

EMU and Goshen initially planned to remain in the council after they announced their hiring policy changes in July. The CCCU board subsequently launched a deliberative process to communicate individually with each of the 121 member presidents about how the council would respond.

The voluntary decision means the CCCU board doesn’t have to take punitive action against member schools but still sets an important precedent for other institutions who may choose to change their policies on same-sex marriage. Several member presidents told me they are not aware of any other member schools considering similar changes.

Last month, Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University both withdrew from the council citing a slow process and unsatisfactory direction in responding to EMU and Goshen. Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Oklahoma Wesleyan president Everett Piper said his school would not reconsider its decision to separate: “In light of the priorities disclosed by the CCCU during its time of deliberation on this issue, I am confident OKWU made the right decision.”

The CCCU board had recommended moving EMU and Goshen from full members to affiliates, a decision the council said 75 percent of its members supported “in full or in principle.” Almost 25 percent—roughly 30 schools—did not support either membership or affiliate status for Goshen and EMU.

Several institutions in that nearly 25 percent said a move to affiliate status would prompt them to immediately withdraw, including Cedarville University. On Monday president Thomas White said Cedarville would now remain in the council—as did Colorado Christian and College of the Ozarks.

“The real issue that remains to be dealt with is biblical authority,” White wrote in an email. “If universities have traded biblical authority for cultural relativism, a historic Adam and Eve for evolutionary theory, then they will eventually trade the biblical view of marriage for the culminating accomplishment of the sexual revolution—same-sex marriage. At this time, we need convictional clarity and not creative compromise.”

In a lengthy statement, the council reiterated its adherence to the historic Christian view of marriage as between a man and a woman, but it acknowledged a lack of “clarity, purpose, and common understanding” regarding the council’s various associational categories. In response, the board appointed a task force to review the council’s categories and examine how to remain “rooted in historic Christianity” and “fruitfully engage with other institutions seeking to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom.”

Task force member David Dockery, president of Trinity International University, said he is grateful for Hoogstra’s leadership and the opportunity to help clarify the CCCU’s commitment to biblical teaching on marriage.

“I believe that these decisions will bring renewed hopefulness to the work of the member campuses as well as to the cooperative efforts with and among the institutions related to the CCCU,” said Dockery, a former CCCU board chair.

The task force will present the board and membership a progress report at the January 2016 member meeting and will make final recommendations in July 2016. In the interim, if any school makes hiring policy changes related to marriage, the institution will move to a “pending” status and be referred to the task force for a specific recommendation. 

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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