As outlined in the document Confessional Commitment and Academic Freedom and in the Faculty Handbook (3.5.1, 3.5.4), the university situates its understanding of academic freedom in the context of teachings of scripture and the confessions. The Committee on Confessional Commitment and Academic Freedom (CCAF) is composed of faculty, administrators, and trustees and meets to anticipate complex issues where these two principles exist in tension with one another.
In October 2020, a committee appointed by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), which founded Calvin 145 years ago and continues to support the university in its mission, completed a study of human sexuality and delivered its report, Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality, to congregations and classes. This report has recommendations in it, and the committee is in the process of soliciting feedback on this report from CRC congregations and their members. As an institution of the CRCNA, Calvin University must consider this as well.
The goal of this webpage is three-fold:
- To clarify Calvin University’s specific role in this process
- To provide an overview of the process Calvin University will engage in working with the CRCNA
- To provide a global understanding of how Calvin University engages with controversial topics and the freedoms it affords its individual members of the faculty to do the same.
It is the church’s prerogative to examine key questions of concern to the church. Calvin University’s role as an accredited Christian higher education institution in a covenant relationship with the CRCNA is to identify items for consideration and concern, to raise key questions, and to foresee the implications of the report as they relate to the university’s mission. The university’s role is not to endorse or dispute the study committee’s report.
Overview of Calvin University’s internal process
The university has well-established policies and processes in place that guide the university in this work. A subcommittee of the Professional Status Committee (PSC), whose role is to serve the faculty and the Calvin University Board of Trustees (BOT) on matters of academic freedom and confessional commitment, has been charged by the PSC, the president, and the executive committee of the BOT to shepherd the university’s exploration of the study committee’s report.
This group, the CCAF, is in the process of gathering campus input, and will do so into March 2021. The CCAF will provide this information to the BOT and create a summary document that may be used by the board as it engages Synod’s Council of Delegates and relevant synodical committees about the human sexuality report.
Given the role the university is asked to play by the executive committee of the BOT, this report will include:
- Considerations for synodical committees in terms of the CRCNA’s relationship with Calvin
- Key questions to ask of synodical committees and synod as a whole
- Possible implications of the human sexuality report on Calvin operations and on Calvin’s approach to living out its mission.
The CCAF hopes this summary document serves to inform, educate, and equip the Calvin community and the BOT to think well with the CRCNA about the study committee’s report and its current recommendations.
Posture for engagement
As the university engages this work over the next few months, it is guided by the community’s shared commitments articulated in the guiding documents section below. These commitments include the following:
- That confessional integrity, due process, mutual trust, humility, and constructive and collegial engagement govern discussions with staff, faculty, administrators, and the BOT.
- That discussion of difficult issues is not a judicial process but an opportunity for communal teaching and learning.
- That proactive reflection with broad consultation and peer review and consultation is expected and welcomed.
- That all parties engage discussions within established university processes.
- That God’s truth is discerned in a shared and communal way; no individual faculty member, administrator, or trustee is free to decide for oneself or for the church what is and what is not a doctrine confessed in the standards of the church.
This work is done with the knowledge that the issues addressed in the human sexuality report go deep into theological and biblical scholarship, intersect with shared commitments to do justice and love mercy, and also speak very personally to many in the Calvin community and their loved ones. Members of the university do well to remember the words of James 1:7: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
The CCAF will continue to meet with university divisional leadership teams and existing committees (e.g., Faculty Senate, PSC, Educational Policy Committee) through mid-March to discuss considerations, questions, and implications if Synod were to accept, or not, the recommendations of the human sexuality report.
The CCAF also welcomes written communications from individuals and groups in the Calvin community that will help inform the CCAF’s communication to the board in May. Please send communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.