How Gay-Friendly Does Gordon College Have to Be?

One Christian college in Massachusetts is having a hard time trying to address homosexuality today. The problem is the school’s accreditation. According to an article in the Boston Business Journal:

The higher education commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges met last week and “considered whether Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity” runs afoul of the commission’s standards for accreditation, according to a joint statement from NEASC and Gordon College.

The commission asked Gordon College to submit a report next September. The report should describe the process by which the college has approached its review of the policy “to ensure that the College’s policies and procedures are non-discriminatory,” the statement said.

This is a really hard thing for a Christian college to address. Granted, any “discrimination” that occurs at a place like Gordon would be slightly different from homophobic discrimination in society at large. Attending Gordon is voluntary, and it’s not really the sort of decision most gay people would be likely to make.

But it’s complicated. Gordon College is conservative, for sure, but it’s not conservative in the manner of other evangelical Christian colleges like Liberty University or Bob Jones University. No, Gordon, along with Wheaton College, Houghton College, and a few others, represents an exclusive club of Christian schools.

They are serious liberal arts colleges attended by serious, inquisitive Christians. There is no “Ivy League” of Christian colleges (the actual Ivy League, in fact, is mostly made up of colleges with nominal Christian affiliations) but if Liberty is evangelical Christianity’s Iowa State, Gordon is its Amherst.

And the school isn’t, well, horribly reactionary or anything. As Rob Dreher put it at the American Conservative:

Here is Gordon College’s policy on homosexuality. It specifies that sexual orientation isn’t a problem, but sex outside of Christian marriage is. All people, straight and gay, are expected to refrain from sex outside of marriage. The policy also acknowledges that gay students on campus may have felt threatened in the past, and commits the school to making things safe for them.

LesbianDate

Well yes. But straight people at Gordon can get married and engage in sex inside marriage. And gay people can’t (or at least not have that marriage accepted by Gordon). Furthermore, and this is perhaps most important in terms of assessing how general discrimination really works in academic institutions, straight students at Gordon can date, because they’re expected to marry eventually. That’s certainly not how it would work for any gay or lesbian student at Gordon.

Dreher argues that the Gordon is in trouble because its sexual orientation policy “isn’t good enough for the accrediting agency. They mean to force Gordon to abandon its Christian beliefs, or else.” And later, “this is not about quality education; this is about driving traditional Christians out of the public square.”

Well, not really. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is a membership organization. Gordon, along with other Christian colleges in New England, is a part of NEASC. The school has every opportunity to argue as to why it should be allowed to retain its policy, but in becoming a member of NEASC, Gordon has to agree to operate within a group made up of many secular colleges.

But as we saw from the decisions the Supreme Court rendered (or refused to render) earlier this week with regard to gay marriage, the world changes. Colleges have to decide how they want to operate in that world. It’s often a very difficult decision, figuring out how important it is to keep pushing back.

Churches have a way of figuring this stuff out eventually. Baptist minister Adoniram Judson Gordon founded Gordon as the Boston Missionary Training Institute at the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in 1889. The Baptist Church had split in 1845 into separate institutions over slavery. The Southern Baptists wanted to preserve their “traditional” right to own slaves. But while Southern Baptists remain separate from the American Baptists, they’ve long since given up their support for slavery. That’s not because they had some revelation from God; it’s just that times changed and their original stance ceased to matter or be appropriate, either culturally or religiously.

Sometimes that’s just how it works.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer