Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What is Going on at Union University?

I have friends and acquaintances who teach at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  These folks are serious Christian thinkers and educators.  I have never visited Union, but I have always respected its work from afar.

This is why I was disappointed to hear that Union has left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.  Inside Higher Education reports:

Union University, in Tennessee, has quit the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, saying it cannot remain in a Christian group in which some member institutions will hire people in same-sex marriages.
Union may not be the last college to leave the council, and its action is creating division in a group that has been proud of representing Christian colleges from many denominations and viewpoints. But while there is a diversity of views about many issues among CCCU institutions, the issue of same-sex marriage has been elevated by some institutions to one on which no compromise is possible.
The action by Union follows the announcements last month by Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College that they were willing to hire faculty members in same-sex marriages. The two universities, until then, had said they would hire faculty members who were celibate (gay or straight) or married in heterosexual relationships. The new policy means that gay and straight applicants for faculty positions will be judged in the same way. The two colleges are the first CCCU members to be willing to hire gay and lesbian faculty members who are married to other gay or lesbian people.
Union President Samuel W. Oliver released a letter he sent to the CCCU in which he explained that while Union is a member of higher education groups with a range of views, it could not be a member of a Christian higher education group that deviated from the university's views on marriage. Eastern Mennonite and Goshen “abandoned fidelity to God’s word when they endorsed same-sex marriage,” Oliver wrote.
“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. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture," Oliver wrote.
Want to learn more? I strongly suggest reading the following commentators:
1.  Chris Gehrz, aka "The Pietist Schoolman."  Chris is the chair of the history department at
Chris Gehrz
evangelical Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education.  Read his posts on this issue here.  
2.  Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar and author of the Jesus Creed blog.  Scot is a supporter of traditional marriage, but he challenges Union's belief that marriage is somehow "at the heart of the Gospel." Read his post here.  A taste:
Let me register this: I disagree with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, and often do on their progressive courage fronts, and Union and others can do what they want, but this is culture war stuff being used theologically to create division...
I do have a couple of observations/thoughts:
First, Union's decision to separate from the CCCU seems a bit hasty.  The CCCU has not made any decision about the status of Eastern Mennonite's or Goshen's membership yet.
Second, when it comes to marriage being the "heart of the gospel," I am convinced by McKnight.
Perhaps I am biased--McKnight taught me Greek and New Testament at Trinity Evangelical School, the divinity school where former Union president David Dockery now serves as president.
Third, I am very curious to hear from members of the Union University faculty.  What does the faculty think about Oliver's decision to pull the university out of the CCCU? (I am guessing that faculty who disagree with Oliver's decision might be hesitant to speak up out of fear of consequences from Oliver and his inner circle).  I would be very surprised if Oliver has universal support for this move among the faculty. 
Only time will tell how the issue of gay marriage will divide the CCCU.  At the moment I see three groups.  First, some institutions are willing to leave the CCCU over this issue before any official decision about Eastern Mennonite's and Goshen's membership has been made.  They are practicing what might be called "second-degree separation."  They will not associate with Eastern Mennonite or Goshen (and any other CCCU school that might affirm gay marriage) and they will not associate with Christian colleges who believe in traditional marriage but are unwilling to kick these Mennonite schools out of the CCCU.  Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan (so far) fall into this category.
The second group is made up of institutions that privilege traditional marriage and are willing to be part of a CCCU that permits schools that affirm gay marriage  
Eastern Mennonite University
The third group is made up of institutions that will wait to see how the CCCU responds to Goshen and Eastern Mennonite and decide to leave the CCCU if it allows these Mennonite schools to maintain membership in the organization.
The CCCU makes its decision about Goshen and Eastern Mennonite on August 31.
And what about the Lilly Fellows National Network of colleges and universities? Union University is a member of this organization.  Will they leave this fellowship of church-related schools because many of the schools in the network hire homosexuals?

ADDENDUM:  I also encourage you to check out John Hawthorne's post: Dis-Union in the CCCU