The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities announced Monday that two member schools have withdrawn their memberships in order to avoid creating significant division within the consortium over the institutions' recently adopted policies that allow for the hiring of openly gay and lesbian faculty.
In July, Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia and Goshen College in Indiana became the first members of the 120-member, 35-denomination CCCU to alter their employment nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation as a protected class, meaning that the institutions can hire professors who are married to a person of the same sex.
Two other CCCU member schools, Union College in Tennessee and Oklahoma Wesleyan University, withdrew their memberships this summer because they felt the council did not act swiftly to defend traditional marriage by revoking EMU and Goshen's memberships.
However, the CCCU board of directors spent the last few weeks consulting with all but one of the member schools' presidents about how the council should handle EMU, Goshen and any other school that should adopt policies allowing for the hiring of gays and lesbians.
According to a statement released Monday, 75 percent of the member schools agreed in principle to a CCCU recommendation that EMU and Goshen's membership statuses be demoted to non-member affiliates.
Twenty percent of member presidents felt that EMU and Goshen should be allowed to keep their member status, while just under 25 percent opposed allowing the schools to keep either membership or affiliate status (some member presidents' favored more than one option).
Considering that some CCCU members did not want EMU and Goshen to have any affiliation with the consortium following their employment policy changes, the council accepted the voluntary membership withdrawal of the two schools on Sept. 15, making the question of their affiliation moot.
Additionally, EMU President Loren Swartzendruber resigned her position on CCCU's board of directors.
"Until very recently, there was not a divergence of opinion regarding hiring same-sex married persons. Now, there is," CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra said during a Monday afternoon press call.
"On the call with presidents, there were numerous presidents who expressed appreciation for EMU and Goshen as institutions. They have always said it from the beginning, they did not want to cause any division [within the council], and EMU and Goshen had a threshold for that," Hoogstra added. "I have the highest regard for EMU and Goshen. They live out their [Mennonite] principles. That was evident."
CCCU issued a commitment to the biblical definition of marriage in its statement, but did not go as far as to make official policy changes forbidding member schools from hiring gay and lesbian employees.
"As a broad and diverse association, the CCCU has never adopted specific creedal or doctrinal tests for its members and affiliates. Nevertheless, the council has been and remains dedicated to the advancement of Christian higher education that is aligned with the historic Christian faith," the council's statement reads. "Accordingly, the CCCU has maintained the historic Christian view of marriage, defined as a union of one man and one woman, in its employment policies and student academic program conduct codes."
Hoogstra said the council would not oppose allowing Union College and Oklahoma Wesleyan University to rejoin the CCCU following EMU and Goshen's withdrawals.
Due to the lack of clarity and confusion surrounding the council's categories of association, the CCCU also created a taskforce co-chaired by Biola University President Barry Corey and Wheaton College President Philip Ryken with the purpose of reviewing the council's categories of association to explore how the CCCU can stay true to historic Christian teachings while also engaging with other institutions "to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom."
"I'm really excited [about] the task force. I'm really excited for this show of unity within the CCCU. I really am grateful for the kind of collaborative and cohesive nature of our membership," Hoogstra said. "One is never disappointed if we are thoughtful about thinking about today's problems and a future vision."
According to the council's statement, if any member school "changes its hiring policies relative to the historic Christian view of marriage" before the task force concludes in January, the institution will be given a "pending" membership status. Upon the task force's completion, the task force will recommend to the board of directors how the school should fit into the CCCU's associational categories.