Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?

Religious liberty and Gordon College

What does all of this mean? It is but the latest assault on religious liberty in the name of sexual liberty. Nevermind that religious liberty is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights. There are people who are willing to use whatever means necessary to force religious institutions to conform to the new sexual morality. Any individual or institution that refuses to comply will have to face the consequences. In this case, the consequences are potentially existential for Gordon College.

 

Are Christian colleges still free to be Christian in this country? You may think that an unserious question, but if you’ve been paying attention to recent events surrounding Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, you know it’s a very pressing question indeed.

Last month, Gordon College President Michael Lindsay added his signature to anopen letter asking President Obama to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming executive order. The executive order will bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Thus any group receiving federal funds would be subject to this order. Those who signed the letter—including Rick Warren, Gabe Lyons, and several others—are concerned that the president’s executive order would prevent some religious organizations from requiring employees to hold to a Christian sexual ethic.

I don’t think anyone at Gordon College anticipated the backlash that would result from President Lindsay’s signature on the letter. Today, an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe says Gordon College is “dressed in a cloak of bigotry they refer to as religious freedom.” Some of Gordon’s own students and alumni are unhappy, and there is now an online petition calling on President Lindsay to remove his signature from the letter. The school’s accrediting agency has announced its intention to investigate whether Gordon College meets requirements for diversity and non-discrimination. The mayor of Salem has terminated a contract with Gordon College now that the college “advocates for discrimination against the LGBT community” (see video below).

Both President Lindsay and Gordon’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees have written letters responding to the furor. The letters clarify that Gordon College has not and does not wish to bar “categories of individuals” from their campus. Rather, Gordon simply wishes to continue its long-standing Christian behavioral standards, which forbid sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.

Despite the clarifications from President Lindsay and the Board Chairman, press reports and commentary continue to mischaracterize Gordon’s position. The online petition, for example, alleges that Gordon wishes “to refuse employment to people of LGBT sexual orientation.” Some press reports imply that Gordon wants permission to do what it has never done before—discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet neither of these allegations is accurate.

Gordon is not asking for permission to discriminate against people with a certain sexual orientation. Rather, they are asking President Obama for permission to require employees to live according to the school’s behavioral standards. And contrary to press reports, this is not a new policy on Gordon’s part. It’s simply a request to continue with the same behavioral standards that they have always had in place.

What does all of this mean? It is but the latest assault on religious liberty in the name of sexual liberty. Nevermind that religious liberty is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights. There are people who are willing to use whatever means necessary to force religious institutions to conform to the new sexual morality. Any individual or institution that refuses to comply will have to face the consequences. In this case, the consequences are potentially existential for Gordon College.

Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar. He blogs on matters concerning politics, theology and culture. This article is used with his permission.