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Calvin Board Responds to Synod 2022

November 2, 2022

The Calvin University Board of Trustees voted last week 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 board decision requires faculty to honor the church’s position and strengthens guidelines for teaching, scholarship, and personal conduct that align with CRCNA doctrine.

“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,” said Calvin University Board Chair Bruce Los. “The university has pursued both of these priorities with the support of synod, which has historically recognized the value of viewpoint diversity among Calvin faculty and endorsed the university’s approach to confessional commitment and academic freedom.”

The Calvin University Board’s decision ended a nearly four-month process that began after Synod 2022 affirmed that “‘unchastity’ in Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 108 encompasses adultery, premarital sex, extramarital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex, all of which violate the seventh commandment,” and declared “this affirmation ‘an interpretation of [a] confession’” (see Acts of Synod 2022, p. 911).

Several faculty objected to this decision and wondered how this would impact their positions at Calvin University, which was founded by the CRCNA and retains a special relationship with the denomination. They submitted a formal expression of their difficulty with this particular CRCNA doctrine.

The principles and procedures for reviewing faculty disagreements are approved by Calvin’s Faculty Senate, the Board of Trustees, and in some cases, synod. Honoring the Covenant for Faculty Members, closely following a process outlined in Calvin’s Handbook for Teaching Faculty, and mirroring provisions of the CRC Church Order, the formal expressions of difficulty with CRCNA doctrine create an opportunity for administrators and faculty members to weigh whether and how differences in perspective can be accommodated.

The Calvin University Board’s decision last week 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.

The board also endorsed recommendations from a task force the board commissioned to explore the implications of Synod 2022’s decision for the university community. Those recommendations call for Calvin to clarify its position, reinforce the authority of existing policies, and apply those policies consistently while also caring well for its LGBTQ+ community members and leaning into research that synod has identified as necessary moving forward.

In its vote, the board characterized the decision to retain staff under existing guidelines as “respectful of the university’s covenantal partnership with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, consistent with confessional commitment, congruent with existing policies and procedures, supportive of academic freedom, and reflective of constructive engagement.”

Los commented that the board is hopeful that the virtues displayed during the process will serve the university well in the future.

“The administration and faculty members of Calvin University modeled gracious disagreement throughout this process, as did the board in its deliberations,” he said. “While not every member of the Calvin community agrees on every important issue, we do strive to disagree with love and respect for one another.”