CCCU and Dissenters

Evidently, the decision by Eastern Mennonite and Goshen — two (progressive, if I may) Mennonite faith-based colleges/universities — have opened the door to same-sex marriages and this has led to some schools bolting from the CCCU:

(Update) July 14: More member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) may bolt if the status of Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College is not resolved soon.

Last month, the two Mennonite schools changed their policies on marriage. Both now allow faculty and staff to be in same-sex marriages. The CCCU board is consulting with the presidents of all member schools on what to do next.

Earlier this week, Union University withdrew from the CCCU, saying the decision-making process is taking too long. World magazine reports that several other schools, including Oklahoma Wesleyan University, may do the same.

Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan, told World he will announce a decision on whether to leave by August 31.

Piper told called the CCCU process “bewildering.”

“Unfortunately, now,” he told World, “even if they ultimately do the right thing and remove EMU and Goshen from membership, the damage is done.”

Chris Gehrz, a fine church historian at Bethel, whose college is part of the CCCU, offered some timely comments, including pressing home the point that some are connecting marriage to the heart of the gospel — ramping up what’s at stake to the faith itself.

Here is Oliver from Gehrz’s article:

The fact that this [view of marriage] is not unanimous damages our witness… The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue—marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.

So Union — anyone can see the irony here — is cutting loose from the CCCU. Why?

Part of Union’s decision, said Oliver, reflected the Southern Baptist school’s desire to “maintain a consistency and unanimity with their faith family’s commitment on issues like same-sex marriage.” Indeed, Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler was quick to trumpet Union’s decision…

Technically, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) doesn’t sponsor colleges and universities, but in their 2013 study of denominational identity in the CCCU (published in the journal Christian Higher Education), Perry Glanzer, Jesse Rine, and Phil Davignon noted that 75% of trustees at SBC-related institutions were usually appointed by the denomination or state Baptist convention.

So I wouldn’t be surprised to see most of the other Southern Baptist members of the CCCU follow Union out the door. As far as I can tell, none has been in the CCCU for more than twenty-five years. (Union joined in 1993.) Campbellsville was, I think, a founding member, but last year it dropped its funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention in order to allow for greater academic freedom and denominational diversity on its board….

While many of the Southern Baptist schools may imitate Union, I hope that Oliver speaks for no more than a small minority of CCCU presidents, given the way he uses the terms “witness” and “gospel”:

The fact that this [view of marriage] is not unanimous damages our witness… The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue—marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.

Just to make this clear, and I have written on this at length in a number of places, most especially in King Jesus Gospel, the gospel is defined in passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which I quote to drive home the point that the apostle Paul defined the gospel as the fulfillment of the story of Israel in the story of Jesus, that is, he defined it as Jesus is Lord — so the gospel is about Jesus:

1Cor. 15:3   For what I received  I passed on to you  as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins  according to the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried,  that he was raised  on the third day  according to the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Cephas,   and then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James,  then to all the apostles,  8 and last of all he appeared to me also,  as to one abnormally born.

I have to be honest here: I see this connecting-to-the-gospel argument far too often. It is a borrowing of authority — the colonizing of authority if you will — from one thing to another to give the new thing the authority it would not otherwise have.

Gehrz continues about CCCU doctrinal stuff:

No doubt this is why the criteria for membership in the CCCU include no doctrinal tests more stringent than the following: that members “must have a public, board approved institutional mission or purpose statement that is Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith,” that they commit “to integrating Biblical faith with educational programs,” and that they “hire as full-time faculty members and administrators (non-hourly staff) only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ.”

(And that hiring standard has produced a theologically diverse faculty for the consortium. The Glanzer/Rine/Davignon study found that the single biggest group of CCCU faculty is Southern Baptist, and they account for only 13.5% of the sample. No other denomination claimed more than 8%, with the 4% who are Roman Catholics making up the sixth biggest group.)…

For that matter, Union University — like Goshen, Eastern Mennonite, and several other CCCU members — belongs to the National Network of the Lilly Fellows Program, sharing its even broader mission with more progressive Catholic and mainline Protestant schools. Feminist theologian Caryn Riswold, a former Lilly fellow, reflected on the diversity of that network earlier this summer. While she praised EMU and Goshen for their policy changes, she noted that Lilly’s network includes CCCU schools like Gordon, Messiah, Azusa Pacific, and Westmont that have pointedly refused to make such changes:

Let me register this: I disagree with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, and often do on their progressive courage fronts, and Union and others can do what they want, but this is culture war stuff being used theologically to create division where a kind of unity and bland disregard of differences, some quite at the heart of what many of these schools actually make central, in the past.

For the SBC and schools like Union I have this question: Will you now break fellowship with all Presbyterian schools over baptism? Isn’t it far easier to tie baptism to gospel (e.g., Colossians 2)? Union and others need to face the issue if they want to be single-denomination unions or, if not, what kind of logics will be used for division or union. Where’s the union at Union?

No one who teaches or administrates at these schools is asked if he or she can join the CCCU. The CCCU is a cooperative fellowship of Christian colleges across the spectrum on issues that concern Christian colleges.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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