Yesterday Union University announced it will be withdrawing its membership from the CCCU (Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities). This move is precipitated by the announcement in July that two member schools (Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College) were adopting LGBTQ inclusive hiring policies.
The quickness of the decision contrasts with the CCCU’s determination to undergo a process of soliciting input from member schools’ presidents over a period of time this year, before making any determinations with respect the membership status of EMU and Goshen.
Furthermore, the CCCU had vocalized their commitment to continue to vigorously advocate for the religious freedom of all CCCU member schools, in accordance with their mission.
But such assurances were not enough and Union was apparently in no mood to await any deliberations.
Christianity Today, reported on the development and on Union president Dub Oliver’s announcement to the CCCU:
By dropping their non-discrimination policies on sexual orientation, CCCU member schools Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College “abandoned fidelity to God’s Word,” Oliver wrote in a letter.
The CCCU board, said Oliver, knew the two schools were considering allowing same-sex married employee for years. Still they did not act, he said.
“There have been several gatherings where the Council could have been clear about our expectations of membership,” he said in a statement. “The Council could have even deliberated and voted on such matters. We did not. As a result, we appear unprepared to state our commitments, much less take action.”
From president Dub Oliver’s perspective, there is no need to deliberate. The issue is settled. “Traditional” heterosexual marriage is the only “biblical” kind (putting aside that nagging problem of the prevalence of polygamy in the Bible). In fact, Oliver went on to say that marriage is at the “heart of the gospel”:
The fact that this is not unanimous damages our witness,” Oliver wrote to the CCCU. “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.”
This morning Chris Gehrz posted a reflection on this development and on Union’s (and other SBC schools) history with the CCCU. There he also asked the very important question whether marriage is really the “heart of the gospel.”
The conservative Christian rhetoric about “biblical marriage” has, for quite a while now, struck me as close to idolatrous if not exactly that. If marriage is “the heart of the gospel” why didn’t Jesus marry? If you want to answer that Jesus did marry, because he is the husband of the church (his bride), then well…that’s hardly anything like “traditional heterosexual marriage.” Or, why didn’t Paul marry? If you want to answer that he did marry (as some scholars suggest), why didn’t he talk about his marriage and uphold it as a model to follow?
In any case, as wonderful as marriage can be (and setting aside the issue of same-sex marriage–I have made my own position clear), it seems to me that unity–as Chris also suggests in his post–among and across differences of secondary importance is actually quite closer to reflecting the “heart of the gospel” than is any particular moral stance on marriage (Jn 17:21). We might also say that love is closer to the heart of the gospel than any particular moral stance of marriage. And love, Paul tells us, is patient…(1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Now, the Union leadership (and Southern Baptist leadership in general) would no doubt reply that one’s view of LGBTQ inclusion and marriage is not a secondary issue–it is a matter in their view of first importance, with eternal consequences at stake. It is a matter of obedience to the holy God.
Furthermore, they seem to view the decisions by EMU and Goshen to not just be disobedience to the “Word of God,” but to amount to “chinks in the armor” which could weaken their own freedom to practice discriminatory hiring policies in accordance with their theological convictions. They see it as weakening the stance of the Coalition.
In a statement back in late July that foreshadowed this recent development, Dub Oliver said, “I just need to know who we’ll be standing with.”
The future of Christian higher education is very much at a crossroads here. Union’s withdrawal from the CCCU (however one views it) put a stake in the ground. It will be very interesting to see how things shake out from here.
I hope that, for the sake of the future vitality of Christian higher education and for the sake of the gospel many more CCCU schools will side with EMU and Goshen (even if they don’t follow their lead) than with Union.
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