Are Christian Colleges free to be Christian?

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 an open 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.

—————

The video below is a recent interview with the mayor of Salem, Mass. Notice that the issue is not really about sexual orientation. It’s about the fact that Gordon College maintains Christian behavioral standards. She says that any group that maintains such behavioral standards cannot get contracts with the city.

36 Responses to Are Christian Colleges free to be Christian?

  1. pauljacobsblog July 15, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    People of faith MUST surrender their rights in order for everyone to have rights. What could go wrong?

  2. Ian Shaw July 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Denny, does Gordon College accept any federal aid from the government? (ie, federal student loans, etc.). I ask as I believe private colleges that do not accept federal aid are able to run the universities as they wish.

    A college in south central Michigan comes to mind as they have not accept federal dollars since 1985 and no state dollars since 2007 and also passed a “Resolution Against Federal Interference,” stating that both Congress and the Obama administration were. ” bent on extending federal control over American higher education and other areas of American life.”

    • Jean Askew July 29, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      Only a college with VERY wealthy donors (e.g.Hillsdale) or students who can pay dearly can exist without federal student grants and loans to its students.

  3. Kent Butterfield July 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Is it really a matter of government control due to student loans? Is accreditation the mill stone around the neck of colleges? Or is it a government that seeks to emulate Caesar’s Rome where final allegiance is due to it and to none other? Denny how far will it go in your opinion?

    • Ian Shaw July 15, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      There are rules/stipulations that private colleges/universities have to abide by as a result of acepting federal dollars. That’s a fact. Some don’t want the overreach. Whether it is as much of a stumbling block as some claim, I guess that’s a bigger question.

    • Denny Burk July 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      Hey, Kent. Great to hear from you. Hope to meet you some time.

      What Caesar funds, Caesar controls. Every Christian group or non-profit that accepts money from the government will eventually be targeted.

      After that, they’ll go after groups that do not take Caesar’s money. And I believe that means going after the tax-exempt status of churches and other groups.

      Many of our countrymen want to go all the way with this and take as much ground as possible. They are waging a culture war that will exact a terrible toll on religious liberty if they get their way.

      • Ian Shaw July 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

        Underground churches have worked for thousands of years my brother. That’s where the early church saw the biggest growth with people giving their lives to Christ. We’ll always have that backup, tax-exempt or not :)

        Not that I’m hoping for it.

      • James Stanton July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

        What you’re leaving out of this narrative is that the fact that Christian groups or non-profits are affected by this executive order is a byproduct of government policy and not necessarily the end-goal. I think it’s an important distinction for now although I can see a future in which government policy is explicitly anti-religious and punitive in nature.

        • Jean Askew July 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

          Another factor is that the Bush directive allowing religious entities to hire suitably for their mission was left in place by Obama. This may be challenged in courts but for the present means that charities, colleges etc. can do as before the EO —legally.

  4. Denny Burk July 15, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Ian, you are correct. I teach at a college that doesn’t take Caesar’s money. For now at least, we wouldn’t be affected by an executive order like this one.

    • Ian Shaw July 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      LOL. +1 to that. Sadly, my alma mater, Christian as it claims does take caesar’s money.

    • Johnny Mason July 16, 2014 at 7:29 am #

      If I am a student who obtains a student loan from the government and I attend Gordon college, then would that be considered receiving federal dollars?

      If so, I wouldn’t consider that taking Caeser’s money on the part of the college. They are taking the student’s money. Where the student got the money should not be relevant. Do government loans require college/university participation (i.e. does the college have to apply to be an approved institution for government funded student loans)?

      • Ian Shaw July 17, 2014 at 8:46 am #

        Johnnty, Yes to your first point. The school has to allow the federal dollars. Some colleges/universities do not allow federal dollars, (say accepting a Stafford loan). Denny mentioned Southern/Boyce. I know in Michigan, Hillsdale College does not take federal funds as well. Though it isn’t due to religious reasons (as it’s not a christian college), but a rather conservative school.

        I get your point, but the student really just acts as a middle man. If the loan is approved, you sign your promissory note and the government cuts the check/deposit direct to your school. You really don’t hold that money at all (unless there are leftovers).

        For colleges to receive federal aid in that form, there are stipulations/hoops to jump thought on the college’s behalf. I’m not sure on an approval/application process to be able to use that funding, but I know that if they do, there are stipulations.

      • Jean Askew July 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

        There is much confusion about this as to language used. Gordon’s web site says it is not a “federal contractor” but it does,of course, receive $$ from student loans.

  5. Gus Nelson July 15, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Seems to me we need to think like Daniel and his colleagues and prepare for either the fiery furnace or the lion’s den. Christians DO have a right to live out their religious beliefs, it’s just that the price might be getting higher. Classic economics says the higher the price, the lower the demand, but, fortunately, our God doesn’t work that way. Maybe, just maybe, if we hold fast in the face of the unremitting attempts to diminish the First Amendment, and we do it joyfully, without malice towards those who oppose Christianity, the fruit of that effort will be worth it. Maybe those of us who are on the front line might not see the results, but our children, and theirs may well. Perhaps this is actually a potential golden age of Christianity if we are willing to pay the upcoming price of persecution and ostracization?

  6. Da'ud Muad'dib July 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    How is this policy different from a Catholic institution demanding that all who work for it follow catholic teachings? For years now it has been understood that Catholic colleges and universities that wish to receive federal funding could not demand allegiance to the Pope in Rome in order to be employed by or educated at these institutions how would requiring those who are legally married in the state remain celibate differ.

  7. buddyglass July 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    Two thoughts:

    1. Absolutely Christian colleges are free to be Christian. They may just have to opt out of receiving federal funds. Ian already made the same point, but it bears repeating.

    2. You write that “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.”

    Behavioral standards that disproportionately impact individuals who exclusively experience same-sex attraction. Such folks are required to remain celibate.

    Out of curiosity: does the college hire non-believers?

    IMO their position is significantly weakened if they’re trying to impose behavioral requirements (that have no relation to job performance) on non-believers.

  8. David R. Crutchfield July 15, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    In the first video the mayor states; “I think people in the Gordon community are just as outraged, frankly, as people in the Salem community. ”
    An example of how years of public school indoctrination has payed off?

  9. Ryan Davidson July 15, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    As I read this, I can’t help but think back to an article written by my fellow cranky Presbyterian, Carl Trueman, entitled “The Yuck Factor”. Trueman contrasts the zero-tolerance policy we have taken with respect to homosexuality with the rather tolerant policies we have taken toward other activities that depart from Christian ethical norms.

    I grew up two blocks from a CCCU school, where my mother taught for 25 years, and graduated from another CCCU school. Except for a few schools (e.g., Cedarville), most Christian colleges don’t work too hard to enforce the rules, so long as the violations occur off campus and the violators don’t brag too much about their violations.

    In most instances, the rules are something of a sham. They’re kept on the books to keep donors happy; they’re loosely enforced to keep students happy. In reality, most Christian colleges are Christian-themed colleges, nothing more.

  10. America Today July 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    The witch hunts continue in Salem. Now the Christian college is targeted for discrimination.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Are Christian Colleges free to be Christian? - July 16, 2014

    […] Baptist Theological Seminar. He blogs on matters concerning politics, theology and culture. This article is used with his […]

  2. View-Worthy: 7.16.14 - July 16, 2014

    […] Denny Burk. Are Christian Colleges Free to Be Christian? […]

  3. The Round-Up (July 16, 2014) | Entreating Favor - July 16, 2014

    […] Are Christian Colleges free to be Christian? – “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.” […]

  4. Are religious liberty and pluralism at odds? | Denny Burk - July 16, 2014

    […] Anti-discrimination Protections with Exemptions: It seems that this is precisely what the President of Gordon College was trying to do (albeit at the federal level). He and the other signatories were not asking for […]

  5. What's Happening To Gordon College Is Just The Beginning - July 18, 2014

    […] forced to hire people that represent the opposite of what it stands for. For that, it’s been pilloried in the press and persecuted by apparently every local public official who gets morally high from judging Gordon’s […]

  6. The executive order has an exemption after all | Denny Burk - July 21, 2014

    […] government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A group of prominent religious leaders wrote the President asking him to include religious exemptions, but a group of legal scholars wrote […]

  7. Obama’s LGBT Executive Order endangers religious liberty | News - July 21, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed the issues at hand in an essay titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?”  […]

  8. Obama's LGBT Executive Order Endangers Religious Liberty - July 21, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed the issues at hand in an essay titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?” […]

  9. Obama’s LGBT Executive Order endangers religious liberty | GLBT411 - July 21, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed the issues at hand in an essay titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?”  […]

  10. Separating Body and Soul « Thinking in Christ - July 22, 2014

    […] As an example, let’s look at a recent reaction to the plight of Gordon College, which has lost a state contract and is being threatened with loss of accreditation over it’s requirement that teachers abide by certain moral rules. As you might have guessed, the moral rule in this case is that if you aren’t married to a person of the opposite sex, the college expects you to be celibate. The rule applies whether you’re a homosexual or heterosexual, whether you’re 18 or 80. Gordon College holds to a strong Christian belief that sex be reserved for marriage, alongside a strong Christian belief that marriage is only truly possible between one man and one woman. The reaction in question is in response to the blog post linked above. […]

  11. The Apollos Project – Level-Headed Post on Gordon College and the New McCarthyism - July 22, 2014

    […] Denny Burke – helpfully summarizes the issues at the beginning of the controversy. […]

  12. How Obama’s LGBT Executive Order Endangers Religious Liberty | Christmatic Christian News - July 22, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed the issues at hand in an essay titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?” […]

  13. How Obama's LGBT executive order endangers religious liberty - Urban Family Talk - July 22, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed the issues at hand in an essay titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?” […]

  14. Obama’s LGBT Executive Order endangers religious liberty | Pally News - July 22, 2014

    […] Denny Burk, highbrow of biblical studies during Boyce College, a undergraduate arm of a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. addressed a issues during palm in an letter titled, “Are Christian Colleges Free to be Christian?”  […]

  15. What’s Happening to Gordon College is Just the Beginning - July 24, 2014

    […] be forced to hire people that represent the opposite of what it stands for. For that, it’s been pilloried in the press and persecuted by apparently every local public official who gets morally high from judging Gordon’s beliefs. […]

  16. Religion, Politics, and Policy, at College and at the Mall | Consider This! - August 18, 2014

    […] Are Christian Colleges free to be Christian? […]

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes