Bible Thumping Below the Belt: The Case of Gordon College

This blog is designed to be controversial. I am not here to play nice. I am here to do what I have been scared to do for several years – to speak my mind, to provoke reactions, both positive, negative, and everywhere in between. I will never apologize for what I write, but I will not be dogmatic. Sometimes I will be right, and other times I will be wrong. I will probably change my mind on certain issues. If I wasn’t willing to be wrong or to be challenged in my beliefs, then I wouldn’t share them. I aim to be provocative – I want to cause arguments more than I want to win them. Why? Because I feel like leaving my mind open to change is the only way I will grow as a scholar, as a citizen, and as a person. With that being said, I view this blog as my contribution to the marketplace of ideas – for people to think about issues from my perspective as well as to react to those issues from their perspective. Therefore, this blog will only be successful if people react to it. So please, do not worry about offending me, because I’m not worried about offending you. I look forward to engaging in enlightening debates and dialogue with anyone who feels compelled to respond!
With that being said, I will go ahead and dive in head first with my first weekly theme: Contemporary Issues Concerning First Amendment Rights

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees to the U.S. people several freedoms. For today’s post, I focus on the freedom of religion in the wake of the recent Supreme Court case known popularly as the “Hobby Lobby” decision. This decision allows “closely held” faith-based companies to deny insurance coverage for contraceptive services and products to its employees on the grounds that such a requirement would infringe on that company’s religious freedom. This Supreme Court decision, which was decided along highly partisan lines, is proof that the “corporations are humans” doctrine is beginning to spiral out of control.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the implications of the Hobby Lobby decision has implications that are already starting to extend past restrictions on contraceptive coverage. In particular, Obama’s executive order that bans employers who receive federal funding from discriminating against people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community during the hiring process has come under intense scrutiny. As an educator and a former employee of a private, Christian University, I was particularly troubled when I found out that Gordon College, a private school near Boston, is seeking exemption from this executive order on the grounds that it violates the institution’s freedom of religion. Although most private institutions of higher learning do not receive federal funding and therefore are not subject to Obama’s executive order, Gordon College does receive funding due to a contract it has with federal government, and therefore would be prohibited from using a prospective employee’s sexual orientation as a basis for denying them employment.

This case obviously raises a host of issues. For starters, it has reignited the perennial debate over the separation of church and state. It also provides a locus for the ongoing debate over whether sexual orientation should be a protected population along with race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, and religion (which is ironic for reasons I will discuss in another post). While an investigation of these issues in the context of this case are certainly deserving of attention, I want to turn my focus to another aspect of this controversy: to the way that Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay responded to the understandable backlash against his petition to exempt the college from the executive order. In a statement issued earlier in July, Lindsay made the following remarks which can be found on the Gordon College website. Here, I will quote just a couple of passages that appeared in bold print:

“Signing the letter was in keeping with our decades-old conviction that, as an explicitly Christian institution, Gordon should set the conduct expectations for members of our community. Nothing has changed in our position.”

In my mind, this statement alone is hard to argue with. I disagree with the notion that people who identify as gay, lesbian, or not “straight” should be excluded from participating in Christian-sanctioned institutions, but that is a matter of opinion. As a private institution, I do have to concede that Gordon College is well within their rights to create their own criteria for hiring its employees. There is just one catch – they shouldn’t expect to receive federal funding, as that would create a situation in which the government is forced to support an institution’s religious freedom at the expense of a citizens religious freedom. The freedom of religion, I argue, also entails the freedom FROM religion, or the freedom to not be Christian if that is one’s preference. The federal government should not support institutions which force its employees to conform to the character traits that are dictated by religious doctrine.

But Lindsay doesn’t stop there. Toward the end of his letter, he makes a rather puzzling statement:

“We have never barred categories of individuals from our campus and have no intention to do so now.”

So what exactly does this mean? If the GLBTQ community represents a “category” of individuals, then why does Lindsay feel compelled to seek the right to deny them employment in the first place?
The answer to this question comes in the following sentence:

“As long as a student, a faculty member, or a staff member supports and lives by our community covenant documents, they are welcome to study or work at Gordon.”

The rhetoric here is telling, and admittedly quite clever. It implies that “categories” of people pertain to a population’s identity. However, this quote seems to suggest that homosexuality is not an identity, but rather is a chosen behavior or lifestyle. Therefore, under Lindsay’s interpretation, he is not discriminating against the way someone “is,” but rather the way they choose to be.
For my part, I find this insinuation to be problematic. Even George H.W. Bush, when asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice, responded by simply stating that he did not really know. And I don’t think there is a way to really ever answer that question. It is an issue that is between God and his people, and not for other person to decide. Christianity, to me, has always been about love and compassion – not about exclusion and discrimination.

Of course, there is much more to this case than what I have presented. For instance, why is it that homosexuality is singled out? What about unwed mothers, people who have pre-marital sex, or people who have used the Lord’s name in vain? These are issues for another day, but for now I want to conclude by exposing how Lindsay’s letter calls into question one of the major principles of the college’s mission that he set forth in his inaugural address, which is to “stretch the minds” of students. With Lindsay’s anti-gay attitude, it seems like he has already failed his own commitment.
Since the letter, the Mayor of Salem, Massachusetts ended Gordon College’s contract to manage the city’s Old Town Hall. I admire this action, but wish that Lindsay would have ended the contract himself instead of trying to have his cake and eat it too.


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