For more than a year, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities has struggled with what to do about a split between members that affirm same-sex marriage and are willing to hire people in such marriages, and the majority of member institutions that reject that view. Some of the majority group feel strongly enough that they left the CCCU last year when the organization did not kick out Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College after those two colleges changed their policies to permit the hiring of people in same-sex marriages.
An immediate split was averted last year when Eastern Mennonite and Goshen withdrew from the CCCU, saying that they did not want to divide the group. But at the time, CCCU announced that it would appoint a committee to determine membership rules going forward. Those rules have now been adopted by the council's board, effective in July, and they deal with same-sex marriage through multiple categories of membership. Full voting membership will require that institutions take the stance that sexual relations are appropriate only in the context of a marriage of a man to a woman. Those colleges that share some of the council's beliefs, but that accept same-sex marriage, will be permitted to be nonvoting members.
Leaders of the CCCU have issued statements saying they believe this new structure will create a cohesiveness around issues on which member colleges agree, but also a space to work with colleges that have differing views on some issues but want to advance Christian higher education. The leader of a group promoting inclusiveness of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Christian colleges and organizations denounced the new membership structure as discriminatory.
The new CCCU rules outline four criteria that must be met by all members:
- A Christian mission, including "demonstrated commitment to integrating the Holy Scriptures -- divinely inspired, true and authoritative -- throughout the institution, including teaching and researching in all academic disciplines."
- Broad undergraduate educational offerings "rooted in the arts and sciences."
- Support for other Christian colleges by participating in council programs and paying dues.
- "Responsible financial operations" and "institutional practices that reflect high ethical standards."
To be voting members, institutions must also meet two other criteria:
- Policies that limit hiring of full-time faculty members and administrators to "only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ."
- Commitment to "historic Christian beliefs," including that "the Earth and the entire universe are God's good creation," that all people "without exception, are invested with inherent worth and dignity," and that "human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God to flourish in community, and, as to intimate sexual relations, they are intended for persons in a marriage between one man and one woman."
The CCCU released a series of statements from association leaders about why they favored the plan that was adopted. One from Andrew Westmoreland, president of Samford University and a member of the task force that came up with the new rules, said the committee faced "divergent views of our constituents" but worked to find "a holistic framework" for membership. Westmoreland said that the process "was long and our conversations were robust, covered in prayer before, during and after our meetings." He added that the plan would help CCCU "maintain a strong nucleus within our membership, simultaneously joining hands with others to advance commonly held interests."
Haven Herrin, executive director of Soulforce, which promotes the rights of Christians of a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities, said via email that the new regulations were unacceptable.
"The CCCU has made our queer bodies the bright line of their litmus test on faith," Herrin said. "Can you imagine what it's like for all the LGBTQI students at CCCU schools right now to understand that their spirits and beings have been placed on the outer rung? I imagine that [nonvoting membership] is a hat tip to the adage that we must remain in fellowship with those with whom we disagree. There's biblical precedent for that. But what's not in the gospel is the teaching that first we must marginalize you so that we can remain in relationship with you."
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