President Lindsay of Gordon College is a great guy and Gordon is an important evangelical institution of higher learning. I'm delighted that the Administration and Board of Gordon College has not eliminated a prohibition of “homosexual practice” from its Life and Conduct Statement in the face of an unwarranted accreditation attack.
Nevertheless, the present situation does not appear to me to be as rosy as David French (a lawyer who has advised President Lindsay and Gordon College) depicted it in his May 1 National Review online article, “Gordon College Keeps Its Faith and Its Accreditation.”
French declares that:
Gordon prevailed against a dangerous threat and secured an important victory for religious liberty and academic freedom. . . . In its moment of crisis, Gordon doubled down on faith. May other Christians under cultural fire do the same.
I wish I could be as sanguine. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) may have left Gordon alone for the time being but only because they are satisfied that advocates for homosexual relations have (so to speak) secured the beachhead and are advancing inland. After reading the College’s own “Questions about Gordon's Working Group” I felt some sadness for a college I love (my wife is an alum of Gordon; I took a transfer term there in Spring 1979 while a Dartmouth student).
Yes, the Board “unanimously reaffirmed the College’s historic, theological conviction regarding biblical teaching around human sexuality and behavior, and is not making any change at this time to the College’s Life and Conduct Statement” (my emphasis). Yet why add “at this time”? The qualifier sounds ominous. Better to hear that Gordon College has no intention of ever changing the core scriptural teaching that God designed sex solely between a man and a woman.
I am concerned that the Administration and Board may have made too many concessions to an “LGBTQ” agenda, presumably under duress and some wishful thinking. They are therefore in need of our support and prayer. These concessions include the following:
(1) Deferential recognition of advocates of sexual heresy at Gordon. I had thought that only a tiny minority of Gordon's faculty, staff, and students were supporting a change in the sexuality standard. So I had hoped that the governing authorities at Gordon would have rejected advocacy of homosexual unions as being every bit as inconsistent with continued association with the College as advocacy of consensual incest, polyamory, adultery, and fornication.
Instead, we only read: “The Board . . . clearly recognizes that the campus and Gordon’s constituents are not of one mind on this topic.” Why are proponents of homosexuality being given such legitimacy? Has the train already left the station?
(2) Destigmatizing “being LGBTQ.” Gordon's website highlights as “perhaps the greatest accomplishment over the last nine months . . . the decreased stigma on the Gordon campus associated with being LGBTQ . . .We are also committed to determining how to maintain this decreased stigma during future periods.”
As the Athenian stranger notes in Plato’s Laws (838A-C), stigmatizing sexually immoral conduct is a vital means of dissuading a community from acting on impure sexual desires. What’s next? Destigmatizing desires for adult-committed forms of polyamory and incest?
Part of the problem is the obscurity of the phrase “being LGBTQ,” which does not make clear the difference between a non-affirmed attraction (for which an individual is not culpable) and a self-affirmed attraction that may be acted upon (for which an individual is culpable). Indeed, the buying into a “gay” or “transgender” label (so-called) is already an unwise concession.
If the goal is to instruct the Gordon community to not blame persons for the mere experience of same-sex attractions (ssa), then fine and dandy. If the goal is also to reduce the stigma attached to homosexual practice, then this is troubling.
The stigma ought to be great because homosexual practice is a particularly severe violation of the very foundation of creation, “male and female he [God] made them.” I am concerned that some at Gordon are laboring under the misconception that all sin is equal in all respects. (Against this unbiblical notion, see my online article “Is Homosexual Practice No Worse Than Any Other Sin?”) My question to such persons would be: Which “equal sin” is homosexual practice more like: gluttony or adult-committed forms of incest and polyamory?
(3) Establishment of platforms for self-identified “LGBTQ” students. The administration at Gordon has implemented a series of measures that have elsewhere been used to enshrine affirmation of homosexual acts.
These measures, designed to address “concerns of LGBTQ students” and “issues of diversity and sexuality,” include mandatory sensitivity “trainings,” official “support groups,” “weekly student-led campus dinners,” “focus weeks organized around sexuality,” “more curricular offerings where LGBTQ matters are explored,” “protocols for handling when a student comes out as gay on campus,” and “an expanded anti-bullying policy with stronger disciplinary sanctions for bullying.”
Let us not be naïve here. The usual effect (if not purpose) of such measures is to inhibit vigorous critique of homosexual practice. They generally replace calls to repentance (now deemed insensitive at best, bullying at worst) with “dialogue” until such time as the new view can enforce intolerance. A steady stream of personal “LGBTQ” storytelling of loneliness, of inability to change, and of discrimination and bullying at the hands of “homophobic” Christians (often with analogies to racism) builds empathy for homosexual relationships.
Another cause for concern is “the establishment of a ‘Life Together’ task force” that calls the Gordon community “to unity, even across difference.” This sounds dangerously like an agree-to-disagree approach over matters of relative indifference when in fact these are matters of significance that do (and ought to) affect unity.
If the practice of the Working Group is a model for what is to come, we can expect more invitations to speakers whose sole purpose will be to undermine the College’s sexuality standard. The only biblical scholars, theologians, or ethicists published on the Bible and homosexuality whom the Working Group invited on campus were two professors who are strong supporters of homosexual unions: New Testament scholar James Brownson on February 10 (albeit in a discussion with orthodox Gordon Old Testament professor Elaine Philips) and ethicist David Gushee on March 23.
I mention these concerns not to have faithful evangelical Christians write off Gordon but rather to encourage people to continue to pray for President Lindsay, Gordon’s Board of Trustees, and the sizeable majority of faithful faculty, staff, and students. I don’t believe that President Lindsay has any desire to abandon Jesus’s standard for marriage as a union between male and female upon which other sexuality prescripts are predicated.
I would also like to think that some of the online descriptions of the changes at Gordon are ambiguously worded in order to avoid the ire of the NEASC. However, the danger is that advocates of homosexual acts are skilled at using vague language and loopholes to advance their agenda against orthodox interests. They now also have a “big brother” to whom they may appeal.
The Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, NEASC, “will look forward to receiving an update on the initiatives we outlined in the report” as “part of the College’s Spring 2017 fifth year interim report.” Undoubtedly, the NEASC will be checking to see if Gordon is “progressing” in allowing ever greater inroads to a homosexualist ideology. May the NEASC be thwarted in its efforts to pressure the leadership at Gordon College.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press).