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Calvin’s Board Votes to Retain Faculty Members Dissenting From Synodical Decisions

Calvin University sign

Calvin University’s board of trustees voted at an Oct. 28 board meeting to “retain faculty members who expressed disagreement with part of the CRCNA position on human sexuality that was formalized by the CRC’s Synod 2022,” the university’s director of communications reported Nov. 2. “The board decision requires faculty to honor the church’s position and strengthens guidelines for teaching, scholarship, and personal conduct that align with CRCNA doctrine,” Tim Ellens wrote. 

Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the denomination that founded Calvin University and remains in ecclesiastical partnership with the school. Calvin trustees and faculty sign the Covenant for Faculty Members, a document akin to the denomination’s Covenant for Officebearers, which signifies affirmation of “three confessions—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort … whose doctrines fully agree with the Word of God. These confessions continue to define the way we understand Scripture (and) direct the way we live in response to the gospel” (Calvin University’s Covenant for Faculty Members as found in the university’s Handbook for Teaching Faculty, p. 43).

Synod 2022’s interpretation of a piece of one of those confessions, “that ‘unchastity’ in Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 108 encompasses adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex, all of which violate the Seventh Commandment,” was concluded by synod to have confessional status (Acts of Synod 2022, p. 922). That prompted Calvin to pull together a task force to determine implications for the institution, including for those who signed the covenant and who do not agree with the interpretation now determined to be confessional. (Calvin publicly announced this in a June 17 Facebook post.) 

Ellens’ article quoted Calvin board chair Bruce Los: “For more than 150 years, the Calvin University community has benefited from having diverse viewpoints among its faculty while remaining committed to upholding the confessional standards of the CRC.” Los said synod “has historically recognized the value of viewpoint diversity among Calvin faculty and endorsed the university’s approach to confessional commitment and academic freedom.”

Ellens wrote that “several faculty … submitted a formal expression of their difficulty with this particular CRCNA doctrine,” a process provided for in Calvin’s Handbook for Teaching Faculty. Chimes, Calvin’s student newspaper, reported Nov. 1 that “about a dozen faculty” filed such statements of confessional difficulty, known as gravamina, “according to English and gender studies professor Linda Naranjo-Huebl, who was not among those who signed.” Chimes also quoted Naranjo-Huebl as saying, “I don’t intend to file a gravamen because I believe that doing so would acknowledge synod’s authority to interpret the seventh commandment the way they have. I believe their actions were out of order within their own traditions and rules of order.”

Ellens wrote that the Calvin University board’s decision “allows disagreeing faculty members to continue to serve at the university and requires them to abide by university guidelines consistent with its commitment to CRCNA standards. Based on Calvin’s existing positions and policies on human sexuality, which have not changed, those guidelines establish requirements for faculty members related to teaching, scholarship, and personal conduct, which apply regardless of a faculty member’s personal perspective on an issue.”

Chimes reported that “the board delivered a set of expectations for scholarship, teaching, and personal conduct to involved faculty” and quoted university provost Noah Toly as saying those expectations will be made available to all faculty within a couple of weeks. Toly also made note in an Oct. 28 email, quoted by Chimes, that informational meetings would be forthcoming for faculty to learn more about the board’s decision.

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