Two schools leave CCCU--for opposite reasons

Higher Education | Departures highlight growing divide in Christian higher ed
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 12/11/15, 04:05 pm

WASHINGTON—Two more schools have left the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) over same-sex marriage, but for completely different reasons.

This week Inside Higher Ed reported Bluffton University, a Mennonite school in Ohio, withdrew from the CCCU after changing its hiring policy to include persons in same-sex marriages. Bluffton’s move follows two other Mennonite schools, Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University, which both took the same path earlier this year.

Goshen and Eastern Mennonite had originally expressed a desire to stay in the council, sparking a policy review process that prompted two conservative schools to resign. In late September, the CCCU board announced Goshen and Eastern Mennonite had withdrawn and a special task force would evaluate how to handle such situations in the future.

The board said any member schools that opted to change their hiring policies would be moved to a “pending” status and referred to the task force for special review. Bluffton did not want its status changed or reviewed, according to a CCCU statement that added the council had been in “collegial conversations” with the school throughout the fall.

“Bluffton knew that clarifications in their nondiscrimination statement would result in a change of membership status while the CCCU task force on membership finished their work,” the statement said. “Bluffton preferred not to accept a change of membership status in the interim and so withdrew. We wish Bluffton the best as they offer their excellent educational opportunities to the world.”

The Bluffton departure comes just over a month after The Master’s College resigned from the council over what it called “increasing concerns about the direction of the CCCU.” In a press release, college President John MacArthur said the vast majority of council schools do not accept the Genesis account of creation or the inerrancy of the Bible and noted 75 percent wanted to retain Goshen and Eastern Mennonite as affiliate schools.

“We’ve watched them demonstrate indifference toward what Scripture clearly teaches,” MacArthur told me in a phone interview, calling the same-sex marriage issue the last straw. “This was a blatant demonstration that they can define Christianity in a way that is clearly unchristian and in direct defiance of what the Bible explicitly teaches. The bigger question is: What’s next?”

The opposite reasons Bluffton and The Master’s College gave for their withdrawals illustrates the growing tension in Christian higher education regarding same-sex marriage. Nowhere is that tension more evident than at the CCCU, which relies on membership dues and student participation in shared programs for a large part of its funding.

The council and its president, Shirley Hoogstra, have affirmed their adherence to the historic Christian view of marriage as only between a man and a woman. The council has reiterated the ongoing process is focused on better defining membership categories in this new era, not reconsidering the group’s position on marriage.

MacArthur said he’s been approached about starting a new association of Christian institutions, but he wasn’t interested in being involved “on the front end.” The Master’s College was a founding member of the CCCU in 1976, making its withdrawal even more significant.

A core part of the CCCU’s work is advocating for Christian higher education on Capitol Hill, but MacArthur said he doesn’t think his school gave up anything when it left the council. He said any backlash against Christian institutions for traditional marriage views likely will affect The Master’s College anyway.

“All we have is the Word of God. We can’t be dependent on people who play fast and loose with the Scripture,” said MacArthur, host of the radio Bible teaching program Grace to You. “We’ll rest in the Lord and not in the power of a coalition.”

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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