“Crisis Averted”: Christianity Today on the CCCU Debate over Sexuality

CCCU signIf you’ve been reading this blog in recent months, you probably are familiar with the debate within evangelical higher education over the decision of Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite to hire LGBT faculty — and then those schools’ late September decision to withdraw from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) rather than cause more of its conservative members to follow Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU) in leaving the group.

But if you want to be brought up to speed, the November issue of Christianity Today offers a concise summary. It’s behind the CT paywall, but let me note three things:

1. Entitled “Crisis Averted,” the article begins with reporter Sarah Zylstra’s observation that the CCCU “escaped a predicament” when Goshen and EMU left the organization.

I think “Crisis Deferred” is probably more accurate. We’ll see what the task force of presidents produces by January — it’s possible the CCCU will adopt a kind of affiliate membership that would allow other Christian colleges and universities to embrace policies like Goshen and EMU’s without having to part company with peer institutions in the CCCU. But given that 25% of CCCU presidents surveyed weren’t willing to accept the continued membership of the two Mennonite institutions even as affiliates, it’s hard to believe that we’ve seen the last of this crisis.

2. Friends of this blog are well represented in an article that also quotes CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra and Trinity International president David Dockery.

Jared BurkholderJared Burkholder, our frequent guest-blogger from Grace College, is paraphrased as providing context for how Mennonites and other Anabaptists understand separation from the world:

While progressive Mennonites see inclusion, hospitality, and compassion as ways to separate from a brutal and oppressive world, conservative evangelicals assume Mennonites and other Anabaptists are giving in to worldly pressure to tolerate sin, [Burkholder] said. So it’s not surprising that the schools to include noncelibate gay employees were Mennonite, and the schools to object were Baptist, a denomination where autonomy is important, and Wesleyan, a tradition that values holiness.

(For further development of this idea, see Jared’s most recent post here at Pietist Schoolman.)

By contrast, here’s John Hawthorne, a sociology professor at Spring Arbor University featured this summer in an episode of The Pietist Schoolman Podcast, on the rationale for Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan preemptively quitting the CCCU:

In this context, for Union and OKWU, being a Christian university means you have to have a strong stance in separation from the broad cultural trends…. This is how people know you’re a Christian school.

3. What do we mean by secularization?

I’m struck how quickly the language of secularization or “cultural accommodation” has come up in reference to the CCCU crisis. In the CT article, theologian Rod Sider observes that Christian colleges neither “want to repeat the old fundamental withdrawal” nor be less than “faithful to what we believe is the biblical teaching.” Tomorrow I’ll share some of my thoughts on this notion that debates over sexuality raise the specter of a new wave of secularization in Christian higher education…

Click here for the full CT article. (again, subscription required)

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