EMU, Goshen leave Christian college association

Sep 21, 2015 by and

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Two Mennonite colleges have withdrawn from a Christian college association to avoid causing division over their openness to hiring married gay and lesbian faculty.

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 8.15.40 AMThe presidents of Goshen (Ind.) College and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., announced the voluntary withdrawals from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities on Sept. 21.

The acts were in response to concern among CCCU members about July decisions by the two institutions to modify their non­discrimination policies.

Goshen President Jim Brenneman and EMU President Loren Swartzendruber submitted separate letters of withdrawal Sept. 14. Swartzendruber also resigned from the CCCU board of directors.

“Our Christian commitments and values have not changed,” Brenneman wrote. “And while our desire has been to remain at the table with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t want to cause further division in the CCCU. It would distract us, and the CCCU, from the other important work at hand.”

CCCU is a consortium of more than 120 education institutions that advocates for Christian education and religious freedom in Washington, D.C., and offers domestic and international semester programs.

EMU was a founding member and Goshen a longtime member.

“We have thoroughly valued the meaningful relationships we have formed as fellow presidents, and wish you and the board all of God’s blessings as you lead CCCU into the future,” wrote Swartzendruber in his letter to CCCU board chair Chip Pollard, president of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.

In a release from EMU, the university acknowledged that Mennonite Education Agency and its supporting denomination, Mennonite Church USA, has said it is at variance with the Confession of Faith. EMU “respectfully” noted that Article 19 states marriage is for life.

“The reality is that most congregations (and institutions) have found ways to include divorced and remarried individuals for many years,” says the statement. “There are numerous other examples (for example, commitment to the peace position) where the Confession of Faith expresses a clear teaching position but to which not all pastors or congregational members adhere.”

The EMU statement references a “forbearance” resolution passed at the MC USA convention in July applying to pastors, congregations, conferences and also institutions.

“Higher education institutions that hire many individuals (EMU has nearly 400 faculty and staff) face different human resource questions than congregations or district conferences, and we also deal with different legal and accreditation realities,” stated the release.

Input sought

Mennonite institutions that remain in CCCU are Bluffton (Ohio) University, Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University and Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan.

The departures followed processing by CCCU, which included conversations with all member institution presidents.

CCCU reported about 75 percent of members agreed in full or in principle with a CCCU board recommendation to consider moving EMU and Goshen to non-member, affiliate status. Nearly 20 percent within that group felt the schools should continue in full membership. The other quarter did not support any level of membership.

“There were numerous presidents who expressed appreciation for Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College as institutions,” CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra said in a Sept. 21 conference call. “They always said from the beginning they didn’t want to make division. I have the highest regard for EMU and Goshen.”

Union University, a Southern Baptist institution in Jackson, Tenn., and Oklahoma Wesleyan University indicated their concern that any process was needed and withdrew their membership. Hoogstra did not say what their plans are but said CCCU would welcome them back if they want to return.

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