“The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) could be set to lose several of its 122 members. The reason: what critics are calling the CCCU’s lack of commitment to biblical marriage [one man, one woman].” J. C. Derrick
One university has already left. Officials at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., sent shock waves through Christian higher education when they announced the school’s withdrawal from the CCCU in early August.
Union, the oldest Southern Baptist university in the country, left the CCCU less than a month after two member schools, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College, changed their hiring policies to include persons in same-sex marriages—then expressed their intent to remain in the CCCU.
“Marriage is at the heart of the gospel,” Union president Samuel Oliver wrote in a letter to CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra and board chair Charles Pollard, the president of John Brown University. “To be identified with an organization that fails to address [marriage-related] issues with a unanimous voice weakens our argument for a fundamental principle.”
Oliver’s letter came after the CCCU board declined Union’s request to convene a special member meeting to vote on the matter. Union wasn’t the only school to request a group meeting, but the CCCU board instead began a lengthy process of contacting each member president individually. As of mid-August the board was only about halfway through that process, and several member presidents told me they were unhappy with the delay.
“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,” said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Piper said he and several other presidents agreed they would withdraw at the end of August if the CCCU failed to act.
Hoogstra expressed her belief in marriage as between a man and a woman and said the deliberative process is not a theological poll. She defended it as necessary “to see how EMU and Goshen’s policy change fits within the mission and purpose of the CCCU.”
According to member presidents, the CCCU board is not asking for input as much as it is asking them to support moving EMU and Goshen from full members to affiliates—schools that pay no membership dues and have no voting privileges. That action may satisfy many CCCU members, but some presidents said they would immediately withdraw.
The CCCU is the only association advocating for Christian higher education, but not all Christian schools are members: Some institutions don’t meet the council’s liberal arts criteria, and others, such as Grove City College and Patrick Henry College, have chosen not to become members for their own reasons. As the controversy passed the one-month mark, some presidents began discussing the formation of a new organization.
Meanwhile, David Dockery, a former Union president and CCCU board chair, began privately circulating among presidents a statement of belief and pledge to pray for the ongoing process. “The board is carefully considering many important issues that will have short term and longer term impact related to the CCCU,” Dockery, now the president of Trinity International University, told me in an email. “We will continue to pray for God’s wisdom and guidance for our friends who have been given this important stewardship.”
Oliver, in his withdrawal letter, noted EMU officially began re-evaluating its hiring policy in 2013 and the council has since had numerous opportunities to clarify its position and expectations of member institutions: “I am grieved that the board of the CCCU was not ready to deal with this issue.”