An Opportunity for Gordon College

In July I wrote three entries dealing with the media firestorm that Gordon College in Massachusetts had been facing. While the school is no longer making daily headlines they are still grappling with the fallout of those events. The current situation is they are taking 12 to 18 months to review their policies as relates to same-sex behavior. Despite this Gordon has said that their accreditation is not under threat and they have no plans to change their “Life and Conduct Policy.”

Depending on your view of things this may engender great hope or great despair. For me, I see it as a great opportunity for Gordon College to show to the world how a conservative Christian institute of higher education can interact with and include LGBT people in their community.

Gordon is allotting at least a year to think on these issues. To spend so much time on something and not come up with at least one good idea worth pursuing seems to me to be a waste. Some will probably say that Gordon has been unfairly depicted in this whole incident and should not be pushed into change too quickly. I agree, the media’s coverage this past summer left much to be desired in the nuance department. I think Gordon came off as a much worse school than it, in fact, is. I find that highly unfortunate. But what has happened, happened and now Gordon is taking the time to give these issues the hearing they deserve.

Many Christians are overwhelming frustrated with how many people in American society see them today. They are tired of being called bigots and hateful and homophobes. I am not trying to paint them as victims but just to highlight what people on the ground are feeling. Gordon College has an opportunity to change this, to be a beacon for engagement and inclusion towards LGBT people. If they get the next 12-18 months right they will not have to defend themselves against a society and millennial generation that has largely decided that Christianity has little good or moral to offer it. Gordon will be able to highlight that they do not hate, discriminate or stigmatize their LGBT students because they have done this and this and this. They will have set the model for every conservative Christian school to catch up to. They will become a magnet for Christian students who want strong doctrine but also reject the exclusiveness of other schools. Gordon’s long-term legacy and success will be assured. Of course some will never accept that a entity based on religion is worthwhile and no changes by Gordon will dissuade them of those feelings. Those people though are not why Gordon should be changing in the first place.

So what exactly should Gordon do? I’m not sure, I do not run a college or university. I will say this though. Gordon can institute changes that result in what I describe above without giving up their Christian identity, doctrine, and religious belief. Of this I am sure. Many commentators have argued in recent months that their is no “third way” on the issue of LGBT people. Gordon is taking the next 12-18 months to prove those commentators wrong. It is my hope and prayer that they do not waste this opportunity.

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A Disconnect

Anyone on Facebook last week surely noticed as profile pictures changed at a rapid rate to the red-tinged logo of the Human Rights Campaign. I was actually confused at first thinking that perhaps this was an anti-gay marriage move simply by virtue of the color motif. In fact it was in support of gay marriage, provoked by the Supreme Court hearing arguments on two cases related to the issue. This phenomenon got me thinking (and reading) about many of the issues surrounding this subject. I find one argument put forth by anti-gay marriage folks to be particularly striking as a teacher and a Christian and this is what I address here.

The argument relates to how the legalization of gay marriage will effect education. Conservative people (mostly Christians with a background similar to my own) are recognizing how the existence of gay people is changing and will continue to change how homosexuality is addressed and considered in the classroom. The clearest word I can use to describe their worries is “indoctrination.” That is, children will suffer indoctrination at ever younger ages about sexuality and its proper role in society. Homosexuality will be (and now is in many places) normalized and along with it, gay marriage.

This concern highlights a massive disconnect that many conservative people and Christians are facing with the rest of society. What they see as indoctrination is seen as fairness and justice to an ever growing majority of society. If Conservatives and Christians do not figure out how to properly process this disconnect quickly I see very little good coming from it.

Homosexuality needs to be taught and accepted in schools not to indoctrinate children but because it exists at the very core of many of the children that in only a few short months I will be professionally responsible to teach. Some students are gay. Some students have same-sex parents. Am I supposed to ignore, separate or disparage their existence in the classroom because other students (or their parents) find them to be morally offensive? It would be unethical, unjust and (for me personally) unconscionable to do so. For good measure it would be unconstitutional and illegal as well.

This ultimately is not a question about the Bible, or sex, or even morality. It is about what is right and just. It pains me to say it but the conservative Christian who cries “indoctrination!” is on the wrong side of this argument. Christian leaders and pastors need to take a step back and seriously consider these issues again before spouting off ever more violently incorrect and hurtful rhetoric.

Some might read this and ask loudly, “But what about OUR children?” All I can say to that is, “Indeed, what about them?”

Louie Giglio in the news.

I did not imagine that the day after I wrote an entry about Christians, family values and LGBT people that something like this Louie Giglio news event would occur but here we are. This news story is yet another example of what Christians and evangelicals (my faith) will have to deal with in coming months and years and our response is clearly vital not just for the practice of our faith but also our relationship with the greater culture as a whole.

Some background for folks who have not been following: Giglio is a well-known pastor from Georgia. His main focus has been Passion conferences and a movement to end sex trafficking. This anti-slavery work garnered an invitation from the Obama Inaugural committee to offer a prayer at the ceremony. A couple days ago a website publicized a sermon by Giglio from the 1990s that preached negatively about homosexuals. After much outcry, Giglio released a statement respectfully declining the invitation to speak.

Full disclosure: I have watched a few sermon series by Giglio and went to one of his conferences when I lived in South Africa in 2008. I have not kept up with his Passion or anti-slavery movement but by most accounts I find him to be an engaging speaker and a great and thoughtful man of God.

Unsurprisingly the battle-lines have been drawn after this event. Somewhat unexpectedly though they are calling each other out about the same thing: tolerance and inclusiveness. LGBT advocates denounced Giglio as someone who is “anti-gay” and unworthy of the inaugural stage. Evangelicals accused LGBT advocates for promoting tolerance for everyone except them and other conservative religious followers. The question has been raised, is there any space in the public square for the conservative evangelical pastor or leader? Giglio himself expressed the issue concisely in his statement backing out of the invitation saying, “…individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.”

As an evangelical christian these are tough issues to think about and navigate. I foresee these issues continuing to come up in the days and years ahead. Here are just a few thoughts on things I think both sides could be thinking about in the days ahead.

Evangelicals need to realize that the standard “Christian” response to homosexuality is largely untenable to large segments of our present society. Most LGBT people have no desire to change, do not believe it is possible and are gravely insulted when Christians tell them that they can. This does not make them “anti-christian” as much as it makes them “pro-themselves.” In a nation that values “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Christians need to accept that some will find all those things outside of the “evangelical” model. In addition, they need to accept that while they believe they are speaking “truth in love” this truth can be and has been incredibly hurtful, unhelpful, and destructive to people trying to not just live their lives but also find Jesus. Evangelicals also need to accept that the “Biblical” model of sexuality is not their own exclusive domain. There are many churches now that openly accept and affirm LGBT people and their relationships. We can debate and argue about who is right but are we willing to condemn all these other churches even as they preach Jesus as well? “…for whoever is not against us is for us.”

 

On the part of LGBT advocates I am sure it is wildly frustrating and even infuriating to hear over and over again how destructive their lives are from people who do not even know them. Realize that most have no idea how hurtful their words are and are often genuinely trying to simply follow their faith. I have no doubt in my mind that Giglio is not a bigot. He is however, trapped by his set of circumstances. If he were to disavow that sermon from the 90s he would likely have to give up his entire life’s work up to this point. He would lose his pastoral job and with it the leadership of his Passion conferences and leadership of his anti-slavery movement. Please understand I am not comparing his troubles to the myriad injustices LGBT people face simply existing in the world today but simply noting this is a tough issue that will take time. I personally feel it was unhelpful and unwise for Giglio to refer to LGBT people’s desire for acceptance as an “agenda” yet again yesterday. But I also think that labeling him a “bigot” does little to respect the great good he has done in his career or move the conversation forward.

I guess what I am calling for is a dose of humility from both sides. The more entrenched we become the less likely we will be able to meet each other going forward as citizens and Christians.