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Montreat College President Maurer responds to recent criticism

Says affirmation of ‘biblical values’ is foundational to college’s education goals

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
additional reporting by Emily Enders Odom

Dr. Paul J. Maurer. (Photo from Montreat College website)

LOUISVILLE – In response to media outlets, including Presbyterian News Service, reporting Montreat College’s disaffiliation from the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU) and the resignation of three of its faculty over disagreements with a newly published set of “core documents,” the college’s president, Dr. Paul J. Maurer, has published a guest commentary in the Black Mountain News.

Saying the college “believe[s] it is essential that, in order to deliver the kind of biblically based, Christ-centered education that we promise to our students and their parents, college faculty and employees affirm and support the biblical values that are the foundation of that education,” Maurer said it was standard practice for faith-based organizations “to ask their employees to agree to a set of theological beliefs as a condition of employment.”

But the definition of “biblical values” and the nature of what the college has prioritized as “theological beliefs” are what is at stake with the staff resignations and criticisms of new guidelines in the college’s Vision Statement, Mission Statement, Statement of Faith, and Community Life Covenant for Trustees and Employees.

Calling the Bible the “infallible Word of God, completely inspired and authoritative, [which] is to govern Christians in every aspect of life and conduct,” has led some to assert the college is using proof texts to enforce a more conservative and literal reading of the Bible, resulting in exclusion of other theological views. Others pointed out the required affirmation of “chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman” could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ students and is at odds with recent decisions by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly.

“The PC(USA) allows for a diversity of practices on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ persons, a decision made after decades of wrestling with scripture and the church’s confessions,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley III, coordinator for Theology and Worship. “No congregation is forced to ordain or marry any person. We trust the wisdom of ministers and elders to made godly decisions within their own contexts.”

Marylyn Huff, in a recent letter to the editor published by the Asheville Citizen-Times, wrote, “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.’”

Huff is a ruling elder in the PC(USA), a member of the Montreat Presbyterian Church, and a former college and church educator. She also served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education during the throes of desegregation.

“What troubles me about the actions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and this whole freedom of religion thing is that it really goes against the principles of higher education,” Huff said in an interview with PNS. “This is an ‘evangelical cultural litmus test,’ in which abortion and homosexuality are the two issues that they have staked themselves out on. Now Franklin Graham [president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] has included Muslims in his — Muslim students have always been welcome at Montreat College, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them or to the gay students.”

She added that her experience with Scripture is “that you can prove anything you want to if you proof text.”

“Cherry-picking isolated verses and putting them together to prove a point may well distort Scripture,” Huff said. “The Bible can be used as a weapon, and I think that’s really unfortunate.”

Jeffrey E. Arnold, executive director of the APCU, spoke with Maurer about the college’s decision to withdraw from the association, saying, “He expressed the feeling that being associated with APCU, which is in covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), would not be compatible with the college’s mission.”

Maurer disputed claims that changes to the college’s core documents were influenced by a $100,000 gift to the college by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, saying Montreat College has long been in relationship with the Grahams, including via other charitable contributions.

Montreat College remains on the list of institutions where students are eligible for PC(USA)-administered scholarships. The college is a separate entity from PC(USA)-related Montreat Conference Center.

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Maurer’s guest commentary, which was also sent to Montreat College constituents, is available at this link.


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