Michael F. Haverluck (OneNewsNow.com) Saturday, November 15, 2014
After President Barack Obama announced his plan to give additional job protections to homosexuals employed by federal contractors, many Christian organizations became wary of government encroachment when it came to who they can and can’t hire. They were concerned that they would no longer maintain the right to hire and fire based on their religious beliefs, as faith-based charities receiving federal grants feared losing funding for not complying with Obama’s LGBT-friendly policy.
As a means of protection, Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay signed a letter along with 13 evangelical and Catholic leaders, who bombarded the White House with pleas urging the President to uphold or augment their religious exemption in lieu of the new homosexual protections. Even though Obama didn’t retract the religious exemption, life suddenly became more complicated for Christian leaders striving to uphold biblical morality within their organizations.
Not long after Lindsay’s written plea this summer to retain the moral code at his Christian higher education institution, his stand for biblical values ended up costing him dearly. Among the trials Lindsay and Gordon College would experience since the fateful letter include the pullout of a major federal grant supporter, a student protest over the ban on “homosexual practice” on campus behavior, a college accreditation review, alumni backlash on enforcing Christian standards over LGBT-friendly policies and severed ties with officials presiding over partnerships in neighboring cities.
On second thought …
Unaware of the backlash at the time of the signing, Lindsay says he might have done things differently if he had known how difficult the “gay-“ friendly policies and attitudes adopted under the Obama administration was going to make it for his college.
"I signed the letter as a way of trying to show my personal support," Lindsay reflected. "Obviously, if I had known the response that in particular Gordon College would receive, I wouldn't sign."
Before the signing, Lindsay had no idea how influential the LGBTQ community had been on his own campus, around town, across the state and throughout the nation. Never before had he witnessed such a polarizing issue that made it difficult to enforce policies that were previously unquestioned and readily followed because of their biblical authority.
Under the gun
Lindsay’s dilemma is not unique with the changing political and ethical climate found on college campuses, regardless of their public or private status. More and more, school officials taking a stand for traditional marriage and against same-sex “marriage” are chastised as bigoted, intolerant and oppressive. Even churches and Christian schools are becoming divided over the issue, and oftentimes, those sticking with biblical morality in regards to homosexuality are not only losing friendships, but partnerships with local businesses, agencies and organizations.
When the LGBT community put pressure on Eastern Mennonite University to reconsider its policy of not hiring faculty who are engaged in homosexual relationships, it succumbed to pressure to reconsider. Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, has allowed students to create homosexual advocacy groups, showing that LGBT activism is no longer just an issue at public universities. Even Christian humanitarian organizations have been caught on the fence over same-sex “marriage,” and when they adopt politically correct policies to accept homosexual behavior, there is often a backlash from supporters and conservative Christian leaders demanding a return to biblical standards.
After his earlier attempt to accommodate the LGBT community on campus and foster an antidiscrimination environment that promotes tolerance in the state (Massachusetts) that pioneered the legalization of same-sex marriage, Lindsay found himself in the middle of volatile tensions. The conflicts began soon after his request for a religious exemption from homosexual “civil rights” from the White House, as many saw this as a conflict of interest from Gordon College’s claim that it provided a safe setting for male and female homosexuals.
Surrender Christian ethics to become LGBT-friendly?
Because the college has had a longstanding code of behavior that singles out and bans immoral behavior, including all premarital sex and “homosexual practice,” it is now being pressed by a group of homosexual students and alumni called OneGordon, along with its supporters, to eradicate any exclusionary language that forbids their lifestyle.
“There should be the same sexual ethic for LGBT and heterosexual students," asserted OneGordon Co-founder Paul O. Miller, who is also a Gordon College alumnus.
Leaders in the local community voiced concern over what they consider Gordon’s inconsistent policies, which allow it to hire homosexuals, while banning them from “homosexual practice,” which, in essence, calls for them to be celibate — just like the rest of unmarried students. LGBT supporters contend that a further problem is posed when “married” homosexual couples want to express physical affection on campus.
Because of the tensions of trying to uphold a Christian campus that embraces the homosexual community, some local decision makers have blackballed Gordon College.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll ceased its contract with the college so that it no longer manages the Old Town Hall in the heart of the city. In addition, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem announced it will no longer back Gordon College’s grant request to the National Endowment for the Humanities because of the issue. The museum has also severed its academic relationship with the college. Because of the divide created over the “gay” debate, the New England Association of Schools will be reviewing the college over the next year.
Some of the confusion and retraction of ties by community leaders stems from many not knowing that Gordon is in fact an evangelical Christian academic institution.
"I had no idea that Gordon was even a Christian school," expressed School Committee member Rick Starbard, who has been a Lynn public school teacher for 14 years.
Even though Starbard voted to keep the partnership with Gordon College going, the committee voted to sever its 11-year relationship with the school in late August by a 4-3 vote. The decision came in spite of the fact that Gordon had sent thousands of volunteers to teach refugees English, given out Christmas toys and gift cards, assisted students with their homework and provided art for public elementary schools. Its community involvement didn’t end there, as it even had a downtown Wenham office focusing on community relations, where its director was a member of several boards of different service agencies throughout the area.
Starbard believes that Christian organizations give up their right to be Christian whenever they come in contact with public education or other state-run institutions.
"Anybody can have the personal beliefs that they want, but it does become different when you play in a public school," Starbard contended, seeing his colleagues’ point of view. "I think there was a knee-jerk reaction to this and people didn't think out the long-term implications."
Not your typical Christian college
Even though Gordon College strives to maintain its traditional Christian values, it rests in the epicenter of this nation’s liberalism, just 25 miles north of the state capital of Boston, where same-sex marriage became a reality for the first time in any U.S. state back in 2003. Even though the college president at the time (Judson Carlberg) did not address how the decision would affect campus life at Gordon, the school has maintained an environment that is quite liberal by most Christian college standards.
Some evangelicals find it problematic that Gordon professes to keep the Bible as the authoritative Word of God while, at the same time, it affords students the “freedom to offer constructive criticism of this tradition.” Other academic policies and curricula also stand more on the left than the right, as many would be surprised to see draped nude models posing for art students drawing the human anatomy, or the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the school’s standard science curriculum. Many would also be surprised to find that Gordon does not enforce an all-out ban on alcohol, as it is only forbidden at campus and school events — adopting the policy for its 1,700 undergrads that they should respect divergent views of what it means to be a Christian.
"Unity does not mean sameness," declared Sharon Ketcham, a professor at Gordon College who expressed this view during a recent fall semester chapel service. "No one here is asking you to be the same."
Despite a prominently displayed placard emblazoned with the words “Christian character” as the cornerstone of Gordon’s mission, many are confused about Lindsay’s contention that the college is rooted in conservative Christian values, while at the same time seeking to embrace liberal governmental policies regarding the LGBT community that don’t necessarily coincide with biblical principles.
"I'm OK in civil society for there to be civil unions, insurance rights, domestic partnerships, all those kinds of things," Lindsay conceded. "But the difference here I think we need to pay attention to — this is a religious institution that presumably might be asked to betray one of its core convictions."
Going it alone
Instead of taking the legal route and accepting legal representation from a number of Christian legal groups pressing for Gordon’s free speech rights, Lindsay has decided to take the path of least resistance in an attempt to make the controversy subside without drawing any “us vs. them” battle lines. To bring all groups together, Lindsay brought homosexual students and alumni together with faculty and staff in order to come to a middle ground and appease all parties involved. He maintains that he will not resort to legal action to resolve the issue.
In an attempt at damage control, Lindsay even took things into his own hands and traveled to Georgetown, where he convinced a teachers’ union to not end hosting its student-teacher program for Gordon College. Intensifying his efforts to maintain local relationships, Lindsay also wrote letters to public school superintendents so that they would still agree to train Gordon students in their teacher education programs.
In the spirit of unity, Lindsay also personally visited Gordon’s dorms for two nights at the beginning of this fall semester and opened up for question and answer sessions. Saying he wanted to fully address all the issues and concerns homosexual students had on campus, Lindsay had administrators, faculty and trustees come together with students. The discussion groups will meet again in February to specifically discuss the “life and conduct statement” that is currently in place on campus.
Having had enough over the controversy, which has sapped much of his time and taken him away from other duties on campus, Lindsay says that this was the last time he will take a public stand on issues that can be political in nature.
Sitting down or standing up?
Eleven-year Gordon College sociology professor James Trent agrees with Lindsay that he made the wrong decision by signing the letter requesting religious exemptions; he also argues that the college’s ban on “homosexual practice” was a mistake.
"He made a mistake in signing it," Trent proclaimed. ''The middle ground begins to wear when you're oppressing people. How do you slightly oppress someone?"
But Line of Fire radio host Dr. Michael L. Brown does not see Gordon’s ban on “homosexual practice” as being oppressive — or even discriminatory. He believes that Christians should not come together with the secular world when it means leaving their faith and values at the door.
“I welcome the coming separation over this issue,” Brown declared. “And as painful as the division will be within churches, denominations, ministries, and even families, it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable.”
Brown believes that Christians on campuses across the nation should still be loving and respectful toward the LGBTQ community, but he stresses that this should not come at the expense of sacrificing one’s Christian convictions.
“That doesn't mean that we attack each other or speak and act in ways that would dishonor the Lord,” Brown concludes. “But it does mean that we hold firmly to our convictions before Him, regardless of cost or consequences, knowing that God's ways will be vindicated in the end.”