Cairn University is located in Langhorne, Pa., outside of Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Christian College Ends Program Citing Gender, Sex Guidelines

By Associated Press

A small Christian university outside Philadelphia shuttered its highly regarded social work program partly because school officials say the accrediting agency was attempting to impose sexuality and gender values that don’t align with the university’s religious mission.

According to those officials, the decision by the Cairn University Board of Trustees on May 24 had been under consideration for almost a year because of funding and enrollment concerns. They say the accreditation language was only one factor.

But representatives from the accrediting body – the Council on Social Work Education – said its sexuality and gender language had not changed substantially in a recent draft accreditation, although the language addressing race and inclusion was updated. Council leaders said in a written statement they were concerned Cairn officials had misinterpreted the language, or had based the closure decision on a growing tide of conservative voices opposed to teaching theories reframing the history of race and racism.

The group’s response took issue with Cairn President Todd Williams’ statements alleging the council was trying to force programs to teach “a set of critical theory and intersectionality assumptions and values inconsistent with our biblical view of humanity, human nature, and the world.”

Cairn’s mission is to “educate students to serve Christ in the church, society, and the world as biblically minded, well-educated, and professionally competent men and women of character,” according to its website. The university in Langhorne, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Philadelphia, has about 1,500 students.

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The Council called Williams’ statements about the language “false” and noted the draft highlighted the importance of equity and inclusion in the forming of someone’s identity.

Williams rejected the idea that the closing was based on the guidelines for race, saying racism and discrimination are inconsistent with his and the greater university’s faith.

“It is unfortunate that that was put out there that way because it is absolutely not who we are,” Williams said.

“We identify as an evangelical institution, and we have standards of conduct that are based upon our beliefs. That is part of our understanding of our own faith but also on religious liberty. We don’t believe that it’s right to be engaged or to be involved in anything that is hateful or hurtful toward that (LGBTQ) community, or in any discrimination. But, we are a religious institution,” he said.

Williams’ initial letter to students said he believed previous versions of the guidelines had language allowing for exceptions when a university’s religious mission did not align with the document.

CSWE officials said there has never been an exception in its ethical guidelines. But they do allow universities to supplement the requirements with additional curriculum.

Cairn students and alumni who spoke to The Associated Press said they felt blindsided by the decision. The university had moved quickly, even removing the website to the social work school, they said.

The closure allows for a “teach-out” of the currently enrolled undergraduate students, meaning the about 50 students will finish the program with an accredited bachelor’s degree. But the recently started master’s program was immediately shuttered, leaving about two dozen students having to transfer to other universities.

Many of those students and alumni said they didn’t believe Williams’ statements were related to race. They also said they didn’t see an issue separating their theological beliefs on sexuality and gender with the call to be social workers.

“If you are a well-trained social worker, you don’t need to let your theology get in the way of your social work or helping any population that you might disagree with on a theological level,” said Lizzie Walker, who graduated from the program in 2018. “I think my faith lines up really well with the mission to be a social worker, to meet people where they are.”

Johanna Byrd, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, condemned the closure, saying the university seemed to be sending an incorrect message that social workers can’t have or maintain their faith and do their jobs.

“There are a lot of Christian colleges that have social work programs, and this is the first one that has reacted to this by saying we’re going to close our social work school. We of course have concerns that could be part of a trend,” Byrd said, noting a failed push in Texas last year to allow social workers and others to decline to treat people based on their religious convictions about gender and sexuality.

“It would be really horrible if the profession of social work falls victim to this whole conversation about critical race theory, or to the misconception that you can’t be Christian and do this job. That’s absolutely untrue,” she added.

Student Melanie Crosscombe, who has another year before she graduates, said after the initial closure email citing the language on sexuality, she compared the draft with previous accreditation documents and found little difference.

“That section of the document has previously existed, and it doesn’t say you have to subscribe to these beliefs but you have to understand them to be able to treat the whole person,” she said. “It’s saying when a person comes to you they deserve to be understood and treated with human dignity and respect… that aligns very beautifully for me with the concept that people are made in the image of God and the worth someone has just from being human.”

Crosscombe said her biggest worry is for the classes below her and that they will miss out on the experience that has shaped so many people into social workers willing to take on hard and important work.

“That’s what is keeping me up at night,” she said.



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11 thoughts on “Christian College Ends Program Citing Gender, Sex Guidelines”

  1. Just because the actual language of an accreditation statement hasn’t changed doesn’t mean its interpretation hasn’t. It may say that you can’t discriminate based on gender, the school interprets that to mean biological gender, but the Council now takes it to mean whatever gender the person identifies as being. We don’t know what has been said in back channels.

    1. Dr. Peter J Oehler

      Unless I missed it, I think it would have been quite helpful to have included the actual statements from the curriculum that is causing the problem. Both the original and the “changes”.

  2. Praise God some schools are refusing to be bullied. We obey God, not man. Don’t teach the doctrines of men or demons as doctrines of God. 🙏 Stand strong Christian institutions!

    1. Orlando Velez

      Amen! This so-called “progressive Christian’ (?) movement; these so-called “Emergent” churches (?) – it’s all straight from the very pit of hell! Messengers of Satan! They form the bridge over which the world of corruption and immorality crosses over!!! And these timid, spineless souls that pretend to be “Christian SOLDIERS” when gathered together in their safe places … while staying silent in the public square while God’s Truths are viciously attacked: SHAME ON THE LOT OF YOU!

  3. I need to be able to see what the documents actually stated and what the changes were. I found the arguments impossible to understand because they were referencing statements/documents that were not given in the article. State the facts and define the terms, then we can have a framework for understanding the problem.

    1. Jacqueline London

      Very true. It is all fuzzy. What is the contention about? Is it race or is it gender identity?

  4. It really is the only course for the school to take. I salute them for having the courage to do it.

    What I have found particularly appalling is the hypocrisy of social work and counseling professional schools in pretending they don’t realize that students may have an aversion to working with various kinds of people and problems. All graduates navigate the field after training by seeking positions that align with their dispositions, morals, interests, and temperament. For instance, I know psychologists, particularly rape and abuse victims, who hate working with sex offenders and won’t take their referrals. I know female counselors who won’t work with men. These folks will find a lot of empathy in their training from staff. Social workers will often choose working within their broad field in a niche that enables them to work with clientele with whom they feel most comfortable. If a counselor or social worker can’t work with someone well due to bias or negative feelings, they refer them. It happens all the time. I’d much rather have a counselor who understands herself well enough and refers me than who pretends to be able to work with me over fears of being drummed out of his or her job–all to my detriment.

    The idea that one must be utterly and completely in moral agreement with a client’s lifestyle or view on life is a completely unreasonable prerequisite to working in the counseling or social work field. It is idiocy of the first order. No one would qualify. It verges on disqualification by thought crime. Part of the training program ought to be to find one’s personal limits in the field and the area in which he or she can be most effective. I guarantee you every social worker and counselor harbors biases of one sort or another that hinder care. Better to identify them, deal with them if you can, or identify them, and learn to refer.

    It reminds me of a Mark Zuckerberg video I saw recently in which he talked about the importance of “terminating” (firing) employees who leak information about their internal censorship policies in order to maintain an “open culture.” What doubletalk! It seems some counseling and social work programs think punishing “authentic” sharing, process, and resolution will promote “authentic” counselors. It’s much more likely they will produce KGB political officers.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      @Tom I agree with your post HOWEVER I’d like to provide another view point on the post about terminating those who leak information being “double talk”. Having dealt with this, I understand Mark’s viewpoint. When information is publicly leaked, it becomes open to being taken out of context. I have worked on various human capital and diversity/inclusion strategies and learnings that “leaked” and were twisted into being something that they weren’t. (It’s easy to take one page out of a 52 page document and make it say what you want.) This creates a PR nightmare based on partial or outright false information; and companies spend more resources and time “explaining” and “defending” to the public, to a point that disgruntled employees begin to use “leaking” as a way of bullying their employers. That shuts down conversation.

      Also, internal information is often confidential and proprietary, and therefore, against company policy to leak. Termination is a frequent disciplinary action for doing so.

  5. Christian Twombly

    My wife and I are alumni of Cairn – she of the program in question. When we got the communication from Cairn, we reviewed both the previous CSWE and current CSWE guidelines and the new draft – these can be found on google after a simple search. There are no changes with regard to sexuality or identity within the new draft from what was said in the previous draft Cairn University was accredited under 2018/19, and for the MSW in 2020. The language of the document states that the social worker needs to understand how different people of different orientations perceive themselves and how their experiences shape self-perception. There has been a lot of addition regarding race and racism. It has been extremely difficult to discern the University’s reasoning in this decision. Their communications to alumni and students have been far from consistent on the issue.

    Some alumni and students believe this is a purely financial decision, that Cairn dissolved the program to use the departmental funding for large building projects, like their new sports complex, that they have been struggling to pay for and finish [Cairn has a consistent recent history of struggling with building projects]. Others, faculty and alumni circles, think it has to do with race and racism and the current political climate. Some say it is meant to make a “statement” about sexuality, as those in the report above claim. It is very hard to know.

    As a recent alumni, the most difficult part about all of this has been disinformation coming from the Cairn’s upper administration. Much of the information provided to us, even beyond the CSWE document claims, is clearly false – which casts everything else said in a doubtful light. Just as an example, concerning there being “enrollment issues” in the BSW, the BSW was one of the largest programs at Cairn University as of 2019. The MSW was brand new, had just been accredited by the CSWE (in which no such concerns were raised) and it had roughly 20 enrolled students for the fall. For context, I currently work at an Academic department at a University; if we had 20 enrollees in one of our established Master’s programs, we would be over the moon with joy. 5 new enrollees is considered a great year for a program. And perhaps more significantly, “financial” and “enrollment” related problems were not a part of the original communication to students or alumni – but were sent along to “clarify” after significant backlash over attributing the change to CSWE’s stance on sexuality changing. No matter your views on the “issues” attributed to these changes – whether it be identity, sexuality or race – this is not transparent communication.

    There is so much more that could be said about all of this, especially about the use of spiritual language to quiet dissenters. Regardless, I get praying for Cairn University – but please be praying specifically for students, staff and faculty, many who have no concrete or semi-believable reason to attribute to the cataclysmic shift taking place. Keep faculty especially in prayer, as there are jobs and families to think about for those who are now being edged out.

  6. Jeremiah Ames

    Williams comment “we are a religious institution” says it all.
    Religion and especially religious institutions and God, don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

  7. Beth Price-Almeida

    I am not commenting directly about the school situation as much as I am to the section about theology where it said, “Many of those students and alumni said they didn’t believe Williams’ statements were related to race. They also said they didn’t see an issue separating their theological beliefs on sexuality and gender with the call to be social workers.
    “If you are a well-trained social worker, you don’t need to let your theology get in the way of your social work or helping any population that you might disagree with on a theological level,” said Lizzie Walker, who graduated from the program in 2018. “I think my faith lines up really well with the mission to be a social worker, to meet people where they are.”
    The Bible says EVERYTHING you do should be done as if to the Lord. Theology is a sytematic way of organizing your beliefs. So You get your education at a Christian college and then say “I don’t see a problem with kicking my beliefs to the curb in place of my job, I’ll just swing by and pick them up off the clock.”? If you live that way, then what makes you the ‘salt of the earth’? It isn’t meant to be a debatable subject or even a topic of conversation that would warrant justification of whether it lines up well with your job. You live in such a way that people see your heart for Jesus. The End. And there will probably be more Christian colleges that do this same thing when gender is mentioned because nobody has the foggiest idea what ‘gender’ includes anymore. I’m glad they chose to stick with their beliefs rather than trade them off for money. That’s awesome.

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