(By Emily Enders Odom, Presbyterian News Service). Higher education is the oldest form of Presbyterian Church mission beyond the congregation. And true to the Reformed tradition’s spirit of free inquiry, the Presbyterian Church never prescribed what any of its related schools had to be or do.
Today, 56 colleges and universities continue to emphasize their historical relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA) through membership in the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU).
As of 2016, Montreat College was no longer one of them. Montreat College—with its scenic campus nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina—chose not to renew its membership in the organization effective with the 2016-2017 dues cycle. The college is a separate entity from the PC(USA)-related Montreat Conference Center.
“I had a conversation with [Montreat College president] Paul Maurer last summer, in which he explained their reasons for not wanting to be a part of our association,” said Jeffrey E. Arnold, executive director of the APCU. “He expressed the feeling that being associated with APCU, which is in covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), would not be compatible with the college’s mission.”
Most recently, the college’s Board of Trustees took additional steps to define the school’s mission by finalizing a “Community Life Covenant” designed for trustees and employees at its January 2017 meeting. The covenant is one of several documents included in a new handbook that the college’s faculty and staff are now required to sign.
Citing the infallibility of scripture, the covenant asks college employees to affirm “chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.” It also requires that the school’s faculty and staff concur with a statement in opposition to abortion.
Since the covenant was introduced, several faculty members have resigned.
“The word on the street is that [the Council for] Christian Colleges and Universities, which has had an internal conflict regarding the hiring of married gay people, is encouraging its member colleges and universities to narrow their focus and language to create a legal firewall for their hiring and benefit policies based on their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs,’” wrote Marylyn Huff in a recent letter to the editor published by the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Huff, who has worked in the field of management training and leadership development since 1980, is a ruling elder in the PCUSA, a member of the Montreat Presbyterian Church, and a former college and church educator.