In 1989, I was invited to a conference outside of Philadelphia with about 120 other sociologists from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). We had gathered to discuss the then-new monograph, Sociology Through The Eyes of Faith, written by Tony Campolo and David Frazier of Eastern University. It was remarkable for three reasons.
- It was amazing to discover my affinity with other scholars who shared my dual calling to sociology and Christian faith. It’s not that there weren’t Christians elsewhere, but this was a real fraternity. We shared an ethos and to see that fraternity embodied in a conference room was moving. We were from a wide variety of faith traditions and taught at very different kinds of Christian schools but we shared something significant in terms of identity.
- It was an exercise in humility. Tony and David had sent advanced copies of the manuscript to each of us and the authors came to us in small groups to hear our feedback. It was a level of collegiality I’ve rarely seen in the academy.
- I heard one of the most important speeches I’d ever heard. Given by Ray DeVries (then of Saint Olaf and now of the University of Michigan), it spoke of structural evil. Not in terms of the big issues of poverty and racism but of the small everyday issues in which power is demonstrated in ways that cause real harm. Maybe it was in a classroom. Maybe it was what constituted “appropriate scholarship”. Maybe it was in a faculty meeting. But it was a powerful reminder that has stayed with me ever since.
This meeting has been on my mind this week given the turmoil within the CCCU. Last month, two Mennonite schools (Goshen and Eastern Mennonite) changed their discrimination statements to allow hiring of monogamous same-sex married faculty and staff. This was done after the Mennonite Church adopted a resolution recognizing that their fellowship was divided on the question of same-sex marriage. The resolution, which they called a “forebearance resolution” stated the following (according to a story in The Mennonite):
The proposed forbearance resolution “acknowledges that there is not currently a consensus” on matters related to same-sex covenanted relationships. It “calls those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance towards conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters relating to same-sex covenanted unions.”
While it may be surprising that the recognition of difference led the schools to take a more “progressive” choice of allowing same-sex marriage, it is consistent with some New Testament passages where the early Church was navigating differences.
Following the change in policy from the two schools, questions arose as to whether these two schools should be allowed to remain within the CCCU. Stories in Christian media seemed to set the stage that expulsion was the only reasonable course. The CCCU has been studying the issue and is expected to make a determination by the end of this month.
But the central rationale for CCCU membership is that faculty members have to be practicing Christians. This has been true since the founding of the pre-cursor of the current organization. This, as David McKenna pointed out in a history two years ago, was a means of distinguishing “Christ-Centered” colleges from the merely “church affiliated”. It overcame denominational distinctions because it set the center on the right thing–the place former CCCU president Paul Corts called “keeping the main thing the main thing”.
The crisis came to a head this week when Union University suddenly announced that they were not waiting for the Board review but were leaving the CCCU effective immediately. The tweet from Christianity Today claimed (a self-fulfilling prophecy if I ever heard one) that “Union University was the first school to bolt the CCCU.” Others are now talking about leaving if Goshen and Eastern Mennonite are allowed to remain.
I don’t think I know faculty members personally at Goshen and Eastern Mennonite, although I’ve had colleagues who’ve been in both and Howard Zehr at EMU is the world’s expert on restorative justice. And yet those faculty members are my colleagues. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. The faculty at Goshen and EMU are my fellow-laborers, working alongside Christian young people striving to be what God designed them to be. For that matter, faculty members at Union are my colleagues and fellow-laborers as well.
To suggest that they aren’t “real Christians” because their school has made a policy decision is the kind of exclusion Ray DeVries was describing all those years ago. We haven’t excluded people for their school’s stance on the ordination of women, on the inerrancy of scripture (we all affirm authority), or on the nature of creation.
Some may suggest that we aren’t making such determinations but that schools like Union are simply holding the line on Christian Orthodoxy. But they are clearly stating that they do not believe that Goshen and Eastern Mennonite are “Christian” institutions. In truth, they are Christian schools as long as they’ve put Christ first in their classroom interactions and have “kept the main thing the main thing”.
One of these days, we will need to acknowledge that there are people of deep Christian faith who have come to believe that affirming same-sex marriage is consistent with their faith. According to nearly all the polls, many of those people are the undergraduates coming to our classes.
The CCCU is a key place where faithful Christians will find the space to work through the social changes that surround us. The diversity in the CCCU is its greatest strength and needs to be protected.