Colleges’ decisions shake up their peers

Nondiscrimination policy changes at Goshen, EMU are a first for Christian council

Aug 27, 2015 by and

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Decisions by two Mennonite Church USA colleges to expand their nondiscrimination policies to include employees in same-sex marriages have caused a stir in Christian higher education.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and Goshen (Ind.) College are the first members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to make such a change.

The CCCU board said it would respond in a “deliberate and consultative” manner, which has included calling the president of each CCCU member.

Union University in Jackson, Tenn., announced Aug. 12 the school of 4,000 students is withdrawing from CCCU.

Christianity Today reported that Samuel W. Oliver, president of the Southern Baptist institution, said the CCCU board knew Goshen and EMU were considering such a change and did nothing.

Oliver has warned that as many as 40 CCCU institutions could leave if EMU and Goshen remain as members.

CCCU is a group of 181 higher- education institutions around the world, coming from dozens of Protestant and Catholic denominations.

Although there are about 900 religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the U.S., CCCU says only 122 “intentionally Christ-centered institutions of higher education” qualify for full membership.

According to the CCCU website, members must hire Christians for all full-time faculty and administrative positions. There is no specific ban against recognizing gay marriage.

EMU desires to remain in dialogue and in CCCU but does not want to be a cause for division.

“At this point, we are respectful of the review process being undertaken by CCCU leadership and will take action regarding our membership based on the finding of that process as articulated by CCCU leadership,” said Andrea Wenger, EMU director of marketing and communications.

She said the university is open to affiliate membership status if that is what CCCU leaders want.

“No CCCU president has contacted me directly to express a concern about our action,” said EMU President Loren Swartzendruber. “A small number have communicated brief messages of prayers for us and CCCU.”

At Goshen College, director of communications Jodi Beyeler said the college is open to a different relationship or membership status if that is what CCCU leadership recommends.

President James Brenneman’s “interactions with presidents of other member colleges and CCCU leadership — even among those in fundamental disagreement — have been very congenial,” she said.

CCCU vice president for government relations and executive programs Shapri LoMaglio said the board is assessing how the two colleges’ policy changes — announced July 20 — fit within the mission and purpose of CCCU. She said the board has spoken with more than two-thirds of member institution presidents.

“Currently all but one president has indicated that they appreciate that the board is making an effort to speak to all of the member presidents and are willing to allow the board to conclude its process,” she said.

In addition to EMU and Go­shen, other Mennonite members of CCCU are Bluffton (Ohio) University, Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University and Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan.

Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., and Hesston (Kan.) College are not members.

Unchanging values

FPU President Richard Kriegbaum wrote in a July 8 blog post about the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage ruling that CCCU members “must be the body of Christ in a secular culture that often does not understand or value what the church seeks to be and do.”

Speaking for FPU and referring to the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith, Kriegbaum said no beliefs or values are changing.

“What has changed is the assurance of respectful governmental protection of our right to maintain a Christ-centered community of faith and practice and receive the same benefits and protections under the law that secular institutions enjoy,” he wrote. “But if we cannot receive equal treatment, then we shall obey God rather than man and trust the providence of our Heavenly Father.”

Comments to the blog were a mix of affirmation and criticism. William Knezovich, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Fresno and an FPU adjunct faculty member teaching bassoon, announced his resignation and cited embarrassment to be associated with the president’s views.


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