The presidents of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College (GC) announced their voluntary withdrawals from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) in a joint release today.
The presidents respectfully submitted separate letters of withdrawal on Sept. 14, 2015. The withdrawals come in response to several CCCU institutions’ concerns following the July 2015 decisions by EMU and GC to update their non-discrimination policies and allow the hiring of married gay and lesbian faculty. Those concerns were expressed during a listening process held by CCCU leadership. The leadership of the CCCU requested that all member institutions, including EMU and GC, hold off on withdrawing from the council until the conclusion of the process.
The CCCU is a consortium of 120-plus universities, of which EMU was a founding member and GC a long-time member.
Both institutions withdrew with regret and appreciation for the valuable relationships formed as a result of their memberships. “We value the many years of partnership with other CCCU colleges committed to a Christ-centered mission,” wrote President Loren Swartzendruber in his letter to Chip Pollard, CCCU chair and president of John Brown University. With the letter, Swartzendruber also resigned from his position as a member of the CCCU board of directors.
“EMU remains fully committed to our Christian mission and will do so as an institution rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition which attempts to reflect Jesus’ call to peacemaking and justice,” Swartzendruber added.
Goshen College President Jim Brenneman wrote, “Our Christian commitments and values have not changed, 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.”
The departure comes following extensive processing between both institutions and CCCU leadership. “We affirm such a deliberative and careful approach to decision-making — especially around issues of profound difference among faithful believers — as a glorious witness to Christian charity,” wrote Brenneman.
EMU and GC presidents noted deep respect for the leadership of both Chairman Pollard and Shirley Hoogstra, CCCU president.
“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 closing.
A background statement and answers to frequently asked questions related to the announcement of EMU’s updating of its nondiscrimination policy on July 16, 2015, can be found at emu.edu/president/policy/
Q: Does the September 21, 2015 announcement that EMU is withdrawing from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities mean that EMU is abandoning its Christian mission and values?
A: EMU remains strongly committed to its identity, mission, vision and values of offering Christ-centered education from a Mennonite-Anabaptist perspective.
Q: What is the scriptural foundation for inclusion of those in same-sex marriages?
A: The following response to this question is offered by Michael A. King, MDiv., PhD, vice president and dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, in consultation with the President’s Cabinet.
The EMU decision to implement a hiring policy enabling employees in same-sex covenanted relationships (marriage) to work for EMU is intended to be a turning toward and not against the Way of Jesus. We recognize that Christians are bitterly divided regarding what faithful interpretations of Scripture call us to. Amid that division, which may take generations to work out, EMU aims to turn to the life, teachings, and saving power of Jesus in multiple ways. These include—
- Love of enemies. We dare believe that the love Jesus calls us to offer enemies can extend even to “viewpoint” enemies who hold such sharp disagreements in relation to same-sex relationships (Matt. 5:43-48).
- The reconciling peace of Christ. Ephesians 2:14 says of Christ, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . .” We dare envision the dividing wall as including even the ways we separate ourselves from each other’s same-sex understandings.
- The Pentecost languages miracle. As Acts 2 records, during the first Pentecost, winds gusting and flames falling, those gathered so trembled in the Holy Spirit that they were thought drunk with wine as a miracle unfolded: tribes from countless nations understood each other across so many divisions in culture and thought and language. EMU prays for the winds and flames of the Spirit similarly to fall on us amid the very different languages and dialects we speak in relation to our theologies of same-sex relationships.
- Christ’s banquet table. In Luke 14, Jesus tells us that those who feel most welcome at the table should take the lowest place, and those who feel least welcome at the table are in fact invited first. Jesus likely told this parable to persons who thought only their own people belonged at God’s table. In contrast, Jesus stressed that those thought in their culture not to belong at the table deserved pride of place. We seek at EMU to operate within the Spirit of Jesus’ parable as we welcome employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity while calling all to a high ethic of holy sexuality.
- Jesus’ “high priestly” prayer for unity and its echoes in 1 John. In John 17:20-21, as he prepares his disciples for his departure with a core blessing, Jesus highlights his desire for them to be one not only for their own sake but so that a watching world might believe in him: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Echoing this, the writer of 1 John 4:20 strikingly tells us that “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Q: What about the fact that the Mennonite Education Agency has said that EMU is at variance with their supporting denomination, Mennonite Church USA?
We understand that our hiring policy is viewed by some as “at variance” from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. We would respectfully note 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. 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 “forbearance” resolution passed in Kansas City in July 2015 is understood to apply to institutions of the church as well as to pastors, congregations and conferences.
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.