Politics & Policy

Standing Up for Gordon

Gordon College class of 2013 (Image via Flickr)

Gordon College is a small Boston-area missionary-training institute turned liberal-arts college whose 1,800 undergraduates take as their motto “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” It was, then, perhaps only a matter of time before it found itself, as it does now, fighting to survive.

In July 2014, President Obama, carrying out yet another threat to act by executive fiat where the federal legislature would not, signed an order prohibiting the federal government and federal contractors from discriminating in hiring based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” However, unlike the Senate-approved Employment Non-Discrimination Act, after which it was modeled, the president’s order offered no exemption to religious organizations, raising the possibility that organizations with faith-based objections to same-sex marriage might no longer be able to qualify as federal contractors.

Enter D. Michael Lindsay. Three weeks before President Obama uncapped his pen, Lindsay, president of Gordon College, signed — as an individual, not as a representative of his school — an open letter to the president requesting the inclusion of a religious exemption. In this Lindsay was joined by 13 other religious leaders, including Rick Warren, pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, who delivered the invocation at President Obama’s first inauguration, and Michael Wear, national faith vote director for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

Unable to tear down Lindsay as it did, for example, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, the Left turned its attention to Gordon — which, they discovered, requires students and staff to abide by a “life and conduct policy” that prohibits “sexual relations outside marriage” and “homosexual practice” (that is, same-sex “sexual intercourse”). Now, for Lindsay’s simple expression of his faith — and of his First Amendment rights — his institution is paying the price.

Eight days after Lindsay’s letter, Kimberley Driscoll, mayor of nearby Salem, Mass., prohibited the school from any longer using Salem’s historic Old Town Hall, “despite a long and positive relationship.” Driscoll wrote to Lindsay that she was “disappointed” with the school’s “hurtful and offensive” stance.

In August, the nearby Lynn Public Schools board declared that it would no longer accept Gordon College students into its student-teacher program — in express violation of students’ constitutional rights to free speech, religious practice, and association.

And the next month, in the most alarming episode yet, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Gordon’s accrediting body, announced that it would have to evaluate whether “Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity” violates the organization’s accreditation standards. Then, as if to imply its conclusion foregone, the NEASC offered Gordon one year “to ensure that the College’s policies and procedures are non-discriminatory.” The NEASC is a private organization and can establish whatever accreditation criteria it likes — but it has never before considered a college’s religious identity, and an accreditation agency cannot if it wishes to receive “recognition” from the Department of Education (a de facto necessity). But surely Arne Duncan can make an exemption.

In fact, as a matter of both the Constitution and government policy, it is Gordon College that has been the victim of discrimination, and legal redress is likely available to the school in response to some of the above. It is certainly available to those students who have been snubbed (as in the case of prospective student teachers) for no reason other than their alma mater.

But this is, at root, a problem of poisonous culture, to which the law can always, given sufficient force, be made to bend. Unsatisfied with the wide (and ever-widening) space it has in American society to practice and promote its ethic of sexual liberation, the Left is waging a scorched-earth policy to ensure that its space is the only space, that its sexual ethic is the only sexual ethic. From Brendan Eich to Chick-fil-A to Hobby Lobby, any effort not even to roll back the Left’s sexual culture, but simply to carve out an exemption from it, is treated as a violation of fundamental human rights.

The aggressiveness of that leftist impulse is on particular display here, where Lindsay’s personal expression on one policy has led to the stigmatization of his institution — which was completely uninvolved in Lindsay’s original sin — on a completely unrelated matter. In the Left’s view, though, a “bigot” is like a leper; everything he touches must be unclean.

That such an instinct animates so much of the American Left, and a not insignificant number of governing officials at every level, is deeply worrisome. Rallying to the side of Gordon College, and to whatever other organizations find themselves persecuted for no offense beyond trying to maintain the right to believe something contrary to left-wing sensibilities, is crucial if such rights, or such beliefs, are to survive. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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