By Bob Allen
Baptist-affiliated Union University announced Aug. 13 it is withdrawing from an association of Christian schools after two member institutions changed policies to permit the hiring of faculty members who are in same-sex marriages.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention-affiliated school issued a press release criticizing the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities for “failure to respond appropriately” to the first two members to adopt such a rule.
Union President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said in a letter to CCCU that member institutions Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University “abandoned fidelity to God’s Word when they endorsed same-sex marriage.”
Oliver said he is “even more” grieved that the CCCU board decided not to take any immediate action on the two schools’ membership status, opting instead for a “deliberative and consultative process” including phone calls to college and university presidents.
Oliver, former president of East Texas Baptist University who succeeded David Dockery as Union’s president last year, said the fact that the council’s members are “not unanimous” on same-sex marriage “damages our witness” as distinctly Christian schools.
“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,” Oliver said. “To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.”
CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra said in a statement quoted by World Magazine, the first media outlet to report the story, that “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.
Hoogstra, former vice president for student life at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., who took over as president of CCCU last September, said the organization “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.”
The dispute over the CCCU’s handling of the matter prompted talk of forming a new association, which could include Christian institutions that don’t meet the council’s liberal-arts criteria and schools like Liberty University and Patrick Henry College that have chosen not to join.
Oliver said in the news release that he is not seeking to draw others away from CCCU membership and that Union is not moving to an alternate organization at this time. He said the school “would be open to being a part of a new coalition of like-minded institutions,” but for now “will continue to rely on the strong and effective advocacy work of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as well as a growing partnership with the Family Research Council as we seek to advance our mission and vision.”
The actions by Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University came after the Mennonite Church USA rejected a proposal to authorize same-sex marriages but adopted a resolution urging “forbearance” among members who view the issue in different ways.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., described the two schools’ policy change in a podcast Aug. 13 as the “rather inevitable result that comes about when a denomination or church says we’re not going to bless same-sex unions but we’re not going to take any action against a congregation, a member of the ministry or an institution of the church” that does.