Union ‘takes a stand in defense of religious liberty’

Miller Tower

Union withdrew from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) earlier this month over the Council’s reluctance to take a clear position on same-sex marriage.

President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said in an Aug. 3 letter to Shirley Hoogstra, president of the CCCU, and Charles Pollard, chairman of the CCCU Board of Directors, that the Council no longer shares the same commitments as the university.

Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University recently changed their hiring policies to allow faculty to be involved in same-sex marriages, and Oliver said the CCCU has not addressed the policy changes effectively.

“I am grieved that two of our member institutions abandoned fidelity to God’s Word when they endorsed same-sex marriage,” Oliver said in the letter. “Even more, I am grieved that the Board of the CCCU was not ready to deal with this issue.”

Since 2013, the Council has been unclear about membership expectations regarding the matter and failed to deliberate, he continued.

Union has been a member of the CCCU since 1991, and has benefited from professional development for faculty and staff, external study programs for students and advocacy for Christian higher education in Washington, D.C.

Despite these benefits, Oliver said it was important that Union maintains unanimity with their faith family’s commitment to such issues as legislation may soon threaten constitutional guarantees of religious liberty.

“Our collective voice is now weakened because the Board was not definitive,” Oliver wrote. “The fact that this is not unanimous damages our witness. 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 announced the withdrawal to faculty Wednesday, saying he and others like Board Chair Lisa Rogers and Bob Agee, vice president for institutional advancement, spent months praying over the decision.

Agee said Union has been concerned with the issue for a while, but after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, strong voices were needed to advocate for Christian liberty and to establish policy that reflects biblical values.

After the CCCU president and board failed to take a stand on same-sex marriage, Agee, who has served on the Council’s board of trustees in the past, said it was clear that separating from the Council was the right decision.

“We felt we had no choice,” Agee said. “We expect the right and privilege to speak as a Christian institution and establish policy consistent with our beliefs.”

In the meantime, organizations like the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Family Research Council have strong presences in Washington, D.C. and can advocate for Union, Agee said.

While Agee does not want Union’s decision to urge other institutions to leave the Council, he said more schools would follow in the coming months if the Council remains unwilling to address the issue.

Presidents from other schools have reached out to Union with supportive messages in recent days, he said.

“When you face a choice between being popular or responsible, you always choose responsible,” Agee said. “Obedience is more important than popular opinion.”

CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra said she was saddened by Union’s withdrawal but wishes the best for its future. The Council’s board has been calling member presidents, and according to Hoogstra, most of them appreciate the opportunity to give input on the issue.

“Following a good and respectful process does not mean that we do not recognize the importance of this issue in our current cultural climate,” she said in a statement. “We do, and as such, CCCU is advocating vigorously on behalf of schools that hold the orthodox view of marriage. We will continue to do so both for our members and for others who hold that view but are no longer members.”

About Danica Smithwick 41 Articles
Danica Smithwick, class of 2016 journalism alumna, is former Editor-in-Chief of the Cardinal & Cream. She is now a reporter for Community Impact Cy-Fair in Houston, TX. Follow her on Twitter: @danicasmithwick.