“It’s a free country,” we say, and God be praised it is. Americans are afforded choices that most in human history simply could not imagine. So the idea of a workplace “Personnel Lifestyle Statement” may strike some people as an anachronism in these anything goes postmodern times.
But every person and nearly every organization make choices about how he or she wishes to live or how they wish their employees to behave. People intentionally or often unintentionally craft a lifestyle from the myriad decisions they make about what they do, are willing to do, would never do, or consider it immoral to do. And organizations write policy handbooks directing employee actions and sometimes attitudes they believe are in the best interests of the organization’s mission. In other words, while it’s a free country and an open culture, we all live or work with “lifestyle statements” whether they’re codified or not.
Cornerstone University has maintained a Personnel Lifestyle Statement throughout its 65 year history. The statement has changed over time. Some things once considered important are no longer identified. But the purpose of the statement remains: This Christian university desires a covenant with its personnel (faculty and staff members) that establishes a Christian community that fosters the university’s educational and spiritual goals for its students and now also for its radio listeners.
Any number of covenantal agreements could be listed. As I said, some items like “No movies” or “No piercings” or “No playing cards” or “No dancing” have been removed from Cornerstone University’s Personnel Lifestyle Statement and are now considered matters for each person’s Christian liberty.
Any number of Christian colleges and universities, mission agencies, churches, rescue missions, even publishing enterprises, have operated or are still operating with some kind of employee covenant. These covenants are all a lot alike, and they are all distinctive. Their similarities are generally rooted in basic Christian beliefs or traditional habits of the heart. Their differences are rooted in denominational heritages, cultural developments, doctrinal beliefs, unique organizational histories, or simply the personal preferences of the people who founded or who now administer the organization.
For the past eighteen months, Cornerstone University has conducted a review of its Personnel Lifestyle Statement, including our longstanding standards calling for abstaining from use of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products and for non-participation in gambling. We conducted this review because we wanted to assure that the statement we embraced was “our statement” and not just one that “we inherited” from days gone by.
Our lifestyle statement review was led by a group of faculty and staff members (as well as one student added later in the process) who I appointed and who we called the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team.
I have nothing but praise for this Team. The Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team conducted themselves with the utmost of professional excellence and spiritual maturity and constructed an open, thorough review process in which all employees were invited to participate. Most did.
The Team studied Scripture, reviewed the employee covenants of other Christian colleges and universities, conducted faculty and staff forums, invited electronic feedback, administered a survey of their colleagues, talked with members of the Alumni Board, interacted with some friends of the university, and more. The Team eventually wrote and submitted a report and the Team’s recommendations to me as the university president. The report was then read and discussed by the President’s Cabinet, a group of five vice presidents and the seminary president who work with me. Finally, I presented my recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
The Board of Trustees discussed the lifestyle statement in a meeting eighteen months ago, interacted with the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team in the Board’s January meeting, and then deliberated the matter in its May 5, 2006 Board of Trustees meeting. Trustees conducted an energetic discussion characterized by mutual respect, a desire to honor the Lord, and the absence of rancor. They truly sought the Lord’s wisdom. I have nothing but praise for the Board. Thursday, May 11, 2006, we reported the Board of Trustees’ decision, along with an explanatory paragraph:
To reaffirm Cornerstone University’s longstanding Personnel Lifestyle Statement including the historical institutional standards calling upon employees to abstain from possession and use of alcohol and tobacco products and to abstain from participation in gambling.
This Board of Trustees action reaffirms Cornerstone University’s continuing commitment to a distinctive model of Christian higher education. The university will remain a higher education alternative where we model for our students a “lifestyle for a lifetime.” In so doing we will lead our students by example away from the documented serious health problems associated with use of tobacco products, the financial and social pathologies linked to problem gambling, and the potential devastation of problem drinking.
Asking our personnel to abstain from use of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products and to abstain from participation in gambling are Cornerstone University’s institutional preferences. We’re not making comments about Christian people whose views differ from our perspective, nor are we implying anything negative about Christian organizations whose policies are different from ours. We are only saying this is who we want to be. That’s our Christian liberty. While Christian liberty allows us to be “Free from” manmade rules, Christian liberty also grants us the opportunity to choose or to be “Free to” embrace standards we think best.
The university was criticized by some for even conducting such a review, partly because some people reacted to a February 22, 2006 article in The Grand Rapids Press that was headlined with the provocative idea that CU was considering dropping its “Ban on Faculty Vices.” Some people thought the mere fact of a review indicated some lessening of spiritual commitment within the university. Some people thought the review was simply a charade, masking a behind-the-scenes person orchestrating the review to a pre-determined conclusion. I understand the criticisms, but neither view was warranted.
Actually, I think CU has provided an example or demonstrated some leadership for the Christian community. Christian organizations need to think openly about how their faith applies to contemporary life and culture. Avoiding hot potato issues simply because they are controversial does not help people understand why we believe and do as we do, nor does it help them become more adept at integrating their faith with their lives.
I believe it was right for the university to defend its “right” or “responsibility” to review its own policies. I believe the review process was good for the university’s organizational culture, and I believe the Board of Trustees’ ultimate conclusion is best for the university.
If you wish to learn more about CU’s values, see the Core Values link on the homepage of the university website at www.cornerstone.edu. If you want to learn more about the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review see our “Frequently Asked Questions” document or the guest commentary I wrote for The Grand Rapids Press.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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