Gay marriage ruling raises questions for Christian schools

MVNU and more than 100 other faith-based schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) have been drawn into a conflict about how to uphold their convictions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Obergfell v. Hodges case.

On June 26, the Court voted 5-4 to guarantee same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry in all 50 states. The CCCU is a higher education association of Christian institutions around the world, many of which hold to a traditional one-man-one-woman definition of marriage.

Shortly after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College (both CCCU members) added sexual orientation and gender identity to their non-discrimination hiring policies.

Many CCCU member schools called for the organization to oust EMU and Goshen. When CCCU didn’t respond immediately, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Union University left the CCCU in August, citing the organization’s “ambivalence” and “failure to respond appropriately.”

The CCCU says it delayed taking a stance to consult with member presidents about the issue.

As the CCCU considered options, MVNU and all member schools were forced to consider where they stand.

There was some question whether MVNU would remain with CCCU, although President Dr. Henry Spaulding said the school was in no hurry to leave. “I am not a grandstander,” he said.

The CCCU released a statement on Monday affirming its commitment to “the historic Christian view of marriage, defined as a union of one man and one woman.” In the statement, the CCCU said the change in EMU and Goshen’s hiring practices “placed them outside the bounds of the CCCU’s membership.”

Moving forward, CCCU says it advocates “religious freedom, which allow[s] Christian colleges to hire based on religion and only employ individuals” who adhere to Christian morals regarding sexual conduct and marriage.

Spaulding said he appreciates the CCCU’s commitment “to stand with historic Christian values.”

“MVNU will remain a part of CCCU so long as those values are front and center,” Spaulding said.

The CCCU said a survey of member colleges found that not quite 20 percent thought EMU and Goshen should retain full membership, while 75 percent agreed to change the two schools’ status to “non-member affiliates.”

However, many schools expressed confusion about exactly what “affiliate” status would mean.

During a media teleconference on Monday, CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra revealed EMU and Goshen officially withdrew membership from the CCCU on September 15 to avoid causing further controversy.

CCCU also announced the creation of a 10-member task force to “think through today’s problem and create a future vision” for the organization and clarify what membership and affiliate status mean.

The CCCU says it has never had “specific creedal or doctrinal tests” for members or affiliates.

Spaulding said he thinks Goshen and EMU withdrawing from CCCU was appropriate, and the taskforce to clarify the membership meaning is a wise step.

MVNU is currently seeking advice from a constitutional lawyer to prepare for potential conflict between discrimination concerns and traditional Christian convictions about marriage.

Spaulding has identified seven policies related to the issue, which he will discuss with the Board of Trustees in November. Spaulding says he wants people to talk openly about these things, “knowing where the fence is.”

While Obergefell v. Hodges only directly addresses marriage, Spaulding said, “We all know it won’t stop there. These policies are to address where it might go.”

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