The Idea of a Christian College

December 2, 2011

Yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed had an article about Shorter University in Georgia, an institution affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.  The article concerned a new personal lifestyle statement that all Shorter employees are required to sign next year.

The statement requires affirmation that the employee rejects “as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.”  The statement also says that Shorter University will hire only “persons who are committed Bible believing Christians, who are dedicated to integrating biblical faith in their classes and who are in agreement with the University Statement of Faith. Moreover, employees are expected to be active members of a local church.”

Is this what it means to be a Baptist College?  It depends.  The IHE story also makes reference to Averett University an institution affiliated with the Baptist General Assembly of Virginia, which requires no such faith or personal lifestyle statement.  Baptists are divided into a number of separate denominations that disagree about what it means to be a Baptist.  The same could be said, of course, about Quakers or Presbyterians or Methodists — or almost any Protestant denomination.

Shorter (but not Averett) is one of 113 colleges and universities that belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  Membership in CCCU requires adherence to five principles including these two:

2. Christ-centered Mission – Member campuses have a public, board approved institutional mission or purpose statement that is Christ centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith. Their curricular and extra curricular programs reflect the integration of scholarship, biblical faith and service.
3. Employment Policy – Member campuses have a continuing institutional policy and practice, effective throughout the time they are members, to hire as full time faculty members and administrators (non-hourly staff) only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Shorter’s personal lifestyle statement, therefore, simply affirms what Shorter must affirm to be a member of CCCU. For others (including me) such statements are an intolerable restriction on truth-seeking, which must be core to any college or university (not to mention any serious religious life).

The list of 113 CCCU members is interesting from three linked viewpoints.  On the one hand, CCCU membership includes institutions from a  variety of Protestant denominations — denominations that cannot agree about what it means to be Christian.  On the second hand, pick a Protestant denomination (Presbyterian, Quaker, etc.) and you’re likely to find colleges that belong to CCCU and those that do not.  And finally, there are some denominations from which you might expect to find institutions in CCCU that have no member colleges:  there are no Methodist colleges in CCCU, for example, and no Roman Catholic ones.

The phrase “Christian College” takes on some interesting wrinkles.

Earlier, I’ve written about Being a Quaker College, Why Are We a Quaker College? and The Idea of a Catholic University.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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