After two Christian colleges voted last month to change their policies on marriage, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) promised to respond in a “deliberate and consultative” manner.
That approach is not good enough, says Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
Union, a Southern Baptist school with 4,000 students, announced on Wednesday that it is withdrawing from 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.”
Oliver has warned in the past that as many as 40 CCCU members could leave if Eastern Mennonite and Goshen are allowed to remain as members. Prior to Union’s departure, the CCCU had 121 member campuses in North America.
No other member schools have withdrawn so far, said Shapri D. LoMaglio, CCCU’s vice president for government and external relations.
The CCCU board discussed the situation at Eastern Mennonite and Goshen at their regular meeting in July. After that board meeting, the CCCU board “reaffirmed its commitment to a deliberative and consultative process,” which included calling the presidents of all CCCU member schools to discuss the issue.
The “vast majority” of them affirm traditional Christian teaching on marriage, the umbrella organization said in a July release.
“The board and member presidents have made these phone calls a top priority,” LoMaglio told CT. “In the two weeks since they met, the board has already called nearly half of our presidents.”
CCCU was saddened by Union’s decision but wished the school well, said president Shirley V. Hoogstra in a statement.
Hoogstra also defended the organization’s handling of the issues raised by Eastern Mennonite and Goshen.
“Following a good and respectful process does not mean that we do not recognize the importance of this issue in our current cultural climate,” Hoogstra said. “[W]e do, and as such, CCCU is advocating vigorously on behalf of schools that hold the orthodox view of marriage, and we will continue to do so both for our members and for others who hold that view but are no longer members.”
But Oliver believes the CCCU and Union no longer share a common commitment to Christian teaching.
“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.”
Oliver is also worried that the CCCU’s lack of action could have legal implications. He and other Christian college leaders fear that their schools could be at odds with the federal government over their policies on sexuality. Because of that concern, Union wants to “maintain a consistency and unanimity with their faith family’s commitment on issues like same-sex marriage.”
The issue of whether Christian colleges could lose their tax-exempt status was raised during the Supreme Court’s deliberations over legalizing same-sex marriage. During Senate hearings last month, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a Senate subcommittee that the agency has no plans to address the tax-exempt status of religious schools.