World magazine reports that several other members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) have threatened to quit the organization if, at the end of August, its membership still includes Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) — the two Mennonite schools that announced last month that they would hire faculty and staff in same-sex marriages.
Only Oklahoma Wesleyan president Everett Piper went on the record with World reporter J. C. Derrick, but he intimated in a statement that several others have given the CCCU the same deadline:
I will hold off on announcing our decision until then only because I gave my word to do so… The CCCU’s bewildering desire for a drawn-out ‘conversation’ has led everyone (including me) to conclude they think the Church’s engagement in illicit sexual behavior is open for debate. Unfortunately, now, even if they ultimately do the right thing and remove EMU and Goshen from membership, the damage is done.
(Oklahoma Wesleyan is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, but it’s not clear whether or not the other CCCU members affiliated with that denomination — Houghton College, Indiana Wesleyan, and Southern Wesleyan — are on the Aug. 31st list. Two other presidents of conservative institutions, Cedarville and Colorado Christian, told World that they would wait for a final CCCU decision.)
All this just a day after Union University president “Dub” Oliver went ahead and announced his institution’s departure from the CCCU, claiming that “The fact that this [view of marriage] is not unanimous [within the CCCU] damages our witness… marriage is at the heart of the Gospel….”
I’ve already made clear my belief that no view of marriage is truly “at the heart of the Gospel,” making the truly damaging witness here the willingness of leaders like Oliver and Piper to break Christian unity so quickly, with barely any of the needed conversation that Piper dismissed so derisively. Not for the first time this summer, I’ve found myself rereading the Epistle of James today:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20, NIV)
It’s also problematic that this is happening in the summer, when faculty and students are scattered. While the CCCU leadership is showing admirable patience in continuing its work of consulting with member-institution presidents, this conversation ought not to be limited to those 120-some men and women. If I were such a leader, I’d want to have plenty of time to consult with my own trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, lawyers, and community partners. That can’t possibly happen when a right-wing minority is trying to force a decision by the end of August, not even six weeks after the Goshen and EMU announcements and in the middle of a new academic year starting.
So I would ask my faculty and other colleagues who serve at Christian colleges to join me in standing with the CCCU as it seeks to make a prudent decision, one that will have important implications not only for Christian higher education but for our witness to a world accustomed to seeing polarization, fragmentation, and institutional implosion:
Write to your own institution’s president, chief academic officer, board chair, etc. and express your opinion. Pray that they would respond to the CCCU with wisdom and discernment.
- Encourage your faculty president or moderator to put this discussion on the agenda.
- Pray for the Goshen and Eastern Mennonite communities, and extend them your support. Even if you disagree with their institution’s change in hiring policy, those communities are peopled by sisters and brothers in Christ who share your passions and your hopes and have dedicated themselves to Christian higher education.
- Pray for Union, Oklahoma Wesleyan, and other schools that have left or are threatening to leave the CCCU. While I’ve already heard versions of “Good riddance” from some Christian college peers on Facebook, I’m still convinced that our fellowship is stronger and our conversation richer if it includes more perspectives.
- Pray for CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra and her staff, that even in such trying times, they will continue “to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.”
Finally, if you have a social media presence yourself, help spread this news. (I’m always astonished how few professors follow larger news and trends in higher education; I fear that’s true even of the relatively small world of Christian higher ed, and many of our colleagues won’t hear anything about what’s happening until we start reconvening in the next two weeks.) Unfortunately, as Spring Arbor’s John Hawthorne pointed out yesterday on Facebook, the CCCU itself has a pretty weak social media presence, so I’m not sure how best to marshal a collective response. Hashtag suggestions, anyone?