The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has decided to eliminate the requirement of colleges' belief in one man-one woman marriage as a condition for two of the three levels of membership.
The council has now classified its membership in three categories: governing, associate, and collaborative, according to a Baptist Press report.
The new rule applies to associate and collaborative members. But the governing members, who have the rights to vote, must meet all the broad criteria essential to the orthodox Christian doctrine.
The six criteria acknowledged by CCCU include Christian mission, institutional type and accreditation, cooperation and participation (dues), institutional integrity (financial ethics), employment policies, and Christian distinctives and advocacy which includes a sub-point affirming the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Colleges and universities can disagree with that marriage belief as one of their basic belief doctrines and still remain associate members of the CCCU. And the collaborative members can altogether skip the conditions laid out under both the employment policies and Christian distinctives and advocacy.
After the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriages last year, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, adopted new employment policies to permit gay and lesbian people to join the schools as staff. These institutions then voluntarily parted ways with the CCCU.
Now, these two schools can file for membership again as collaborative members under the new council rules.
However, five conservative universities including Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Union University withdrew their membership from CCCU, after EMU and Goshen changed their hiring policies.
"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. To deny the Bible's concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture," Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver, President at Union University, wrote in a letter to CCCU in August, 2015.
After EMU and Goshen withdrew from the council, CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra had indicated that they are going to make changes in the affiliate category system. The council also consulted other members over these universities' new policies and sought their opinion in this matter.
"We're looking to 2015 and beyond, looking around issues of religious liberty, and we think having strong collaborations is the way forward. ... What we found is the affiliate category is widely confusing for our association," she had said.
The council decision comes after a CCCU committee comprising a special task force mulled over membership conditions for months, aiming to "review the CCCU's categories of association, and to explore how the Council will remain rooted in historic Christianity while also fruitfully engaging with other institutions seeking to advance the cause of Christian higher education or religious freedom."