Eastern U on hold at Christian council over LGBTQ stance

Eastern University’s membership in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities is suspended, following changes in Eastern’s stance on hiring LGBTQ employees.

The university, located in Pennsylvania and affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, used to prohibit hiring or retaining LGBTQ employees. It reversed this policy in May, out of consideration for the interdenominational community on campus and its varied theological positions on these issues. The university added sexual orientation to its employment nondiscrimination policy at the same time, for the same reasons.

This put the university at odds with the CCCU, which has said hiring policies must align with “the historic Christian view of marriage.” (religion news service first reported this week that Eastern’s CCCU membership is on hiatus).

Eastern said in a statement that its policy adjustments “reflect that Eastern is a broad academic community, including the broad spectrum of Christian churches, faith communities, and traditions that have come to different conclusions regarding the issues of marriage and sexuality. human”.

Regarding the CCCU, Eastern said its membership is “on hiatus for the current academic year. The CCCU is considering our state to move forward. We respect CCCU’s right to determine which institutions are members of the organization.”

Making it clear that he was speaking only for himself, Eric G. Flett, a professor of theology and culture at Eastern, said Tuesday that he supported the policy changes, as “I have friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, both in academia like in the Church. I have benefited beyond measure from their gifts, and I consider policies that exclude, punish and silence them discriminatory and unfair. I’m glad for them when those policies are scrapped, and I’m glad they identify with an institution whose commitment to justice has led to this decision.”

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Amanda Staggenborg, a spokeswoman for the CCCU, said by email that the council is a “member-based association. Our members represent more than 35 different denominations. The CCCU supports the institutions and their denominational heritage. While Eastern University is on a membership hiatus for this current academic year, we respect their decisions made for the mission and values ​​they represent.”

Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College were the first CCCU member institutions in change your policies to allow the hiring of gay and lesbian teachers who are married or celibate (as sex outside of marriage is prohibited regardless of sexual orientation), in 2015. This caused a rift within the CCCU, with some other member institutions who left or threatened to leave. do it Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, both affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, ended up leaving CCCU voluntarily to avoid splitting the council. Bluffton University, another Mennonite institution, left the CCCU later in 2015 when said that it would begin hiring gay and lesbian employees.

Following these departures, the CCCU said that other institutions that similarly changed their hiring policies would change their membership status to “pending” and referred it to a working group for review. The CCCU eventually also launched different levels of membership, with voting “ruling” member status reserved for institutions that define marriage between a man and a woman.

The CCCU website no longer lists Eastern University as a member.

Eastern still requires faculty and administrators to sign a lengthy doctrinal statement affirming their Christian beliefs annually. (Non-Baptists are only exempt from witnessing to a section on water baptism.)

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calvin university said this fall that faculty members can dissent from a required confession of faith clause that deems heterosexual sex outside of marriage sinful. Calvin, located in Michigan and affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, remains a governing member of the CCCU.

In recent months, Whitworth and Seattle Pacific Universities have faced the pressure from campus groups to support recruitment of openly gay employees. Both are “collaborating partner” institutions within the CCCU, which allows them some flexibility in LGBTQ hiring policies.

When asked if Eastern and Calvin signal an upcoming trend, Chris Gehrz, a professor of history at Bethel University (another CCCU institution), who write on Christianity and Christian education, he joked that historians are “terrible at predicting the future.” And even if he felt “more qualified as a forecaster,” he said, he would “hesitate to project anything based on the Eastern and Calvin cases.” Why? Like the Mennonite institutions that left the CCCU in 2015, Eastern and Calvin “are connected to denominations that do not fit comfortably within white American evangelicalism. Eastern is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, a theologically diverse parent body. Calvin is the flagship university of the Christian Reformed Church, a historically Dutch group whose members do not all identify with evangelicalism.

It’s also hard for Gehrz to imagine that CCCU members “find it easy to resolve LGBTQ debates, since their constituents are not of the same opinion. If Christian colleges try to reassure older constituents that they are not deviating from their theological convictions, they could alienate students and young alumni who are increasingly affirming same-sex marriage, and become the next generation. of donors and parents on whom these schools depend. .”

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Similarly, he said, CCCU members “often want to maintain connections with denominations, but that may require them to take positions contrary to the values ​​of potential partners in the corporate, nonprofit and public sectors.”