Is the CCCU “Already Dead”?

Adam LaatsEarlier this fall I recommended to readers’ attention the blog I Love You, But You’re Going to Hell, by Adam Laats, a historian of education at Binghamton University. Especially if you work in Christian higher ed, ILYBYGTH is a great source of helpful insight from a scholar looking at our unusual sector from the outside-in.

I wonder what you all think of Adam’s post this morning… Reporting on The Master’s College (TMC) becoming the latest school to withdraw from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), Adam came to the following conclusion:

What is the future of the CCCU? We historians are famously bad predictors, but I will say it anyway: The CCCU is already dead, even if it doesn’t know it yet.

As I’m finding in the research for my new book about the history of evangelical higher education, evangelical colleges can survive most storms. But the current crisis is one that is familiar throughout that history, and one that has wrecked earlier efforts at unity.

I can see the logic in Adam’s prediction. After all, the CCCU has already seen six schools peel away from its left and right wings this year: Goshen, Eastern Mennonite, and (just recently) Bluffton left because they added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies; Union, Oklahoma Wesleyan, and TMC because they perceived the CCCU response to those policy changes as being too soft or indecisive. When the CCCU board surveyed its members’ presidents leading up to the Goshen/EMU decision, a quarter indicated that they would not remain in a consortium that gave even affiliate membership to schools hiring gay and lesbian faculty, so it’s easy to imagine several more schools leaving should the CCCU task force currently studying membership categories recommend some kind of compromise solution. On the other side of the debate, I’m convinced that we’ll soon see some more progressive members of the CCCU embrace LGBT hiring, which could lead to their voluntary (or involuntary) departure from the council.

Aerial view of The Master's College campus
The Master’s College campus in Santa Clarita, CA – Creative Commons (Lukasinla)

And sexuality is only one of the possible points of fracture. It’s notable (as Adam mentioned) that TMC’s stated rationale didn’t start with the LGBT debate, but an older quarrel:

We have increasing concerns about the direction of the CCCU, given that the vast majority of member schools do not accept the Genesis account of creation or the inerrancy of Scripture.

So is the CCCU, in effect, “already dead”?

CCCU signI wouldn’t go that far. Keep in mind that the council added a couple of new members (and one new affiliate) in the midst of the Goshen/Union fracas, and it’s possible that some of its current affiliate members will seek a more active role. Even if the CCCU loses all thirty-some conservative members who opposed even affiliate status for Goshen and EMU, plus a handful that follow the path of the three Mennonite schools, it would still have 70-80 members — which was its approximate size just twenty years ago.

Of course, this would likely result in significant program and staff cuts, but while the percolating crisis in higher education causes these institutions to engage in regrettable competition for scarce students, it also creates incentives for fiscally challenged organizations to work in consortium — e.g., by sharing study abroad programs.

Perhaps most importantly, I suspect that even conservative Christian colleges will be leery of weakening their collective lobbying voice — at a time when they’re waiting to see how the ripple effects of the Obergefell decision play out with courts, regulatory agencies, and accrediting bodies. Here’s how the CCCU describes this part of its mission:

We are committed to providing strong public policy advocacy focused on the unique need of our institutions to sustain religious liberty rights necessary to offer a holistic Christ-centered education. We place a high priority on our commitment to advocate for federal and state laws and policies, as well as for policies set by accreditation or regulatory bodies, that enable our institutions to function as Christ-centered institutions in areas such as behavioral expectations and our crucial right to hire as full-time faculty members and administrators (non-hourly staff) only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

So long as continued access to federal financial aid — and perhaps even tax-exempt status — is in perceived jeopardy for private, religious organizations that discriminate against LGBT individuals and couples, it’s hard to believe that such schools would want to lobby separately.

(Of course, this is why the Union, OKWU, and TMC withdrawals seem so cynical. Even as they loudly set themselves up against a supposedly “liberal” CCCU, they continue to benefit from that organization’s work in Washington.)

More interesting to me, however, is the potential for the CCCU to forge stronger connections with Christian colleges and universities beyond North America, especially in the Global South — where Christian higher ed is growing as rapidly as the church in general. CCCU academic VP Rick Ostrander hinted at this when I interviewed him in late September:

…I want the CCCU to lead the way in bringing together the Christian colleges and universities that are emerging all around the world and to play a leading role in the development of global Christian higher education.

I’m not sure how this would work so long as governmental lobbying is so central to the CCCU’s mission, but perhaps the council’s most promising future is one in which it follows the path taken by some other evangelical organizations and “de-Americanizes.”

But again, historians aren’t futurists. I’m just making semi-informed (or wishful) guesses.

What do you all think?

2 thoughts on “Is the CCCU “Already Dead”?

  1. The CCCU’s primary legal council and lobbyist — represented on their board no less — is committed to an anti-LGBT rights agenda in the US and internationally. (So are other long time financial influencers within the organization.) This group also supports — coincidentally? — student activist groups at two of the colleges that broke away from the CCCU. It is hard to reconcile your predictions, especially about greater embrace of LGBT Christians at CCCU schools, under these circumstances.

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