At 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the 1,500 or so of us students filed across the quad towards the brick A.J. Gordon chapel, which stands beacon-like at the campus’s head. We worshipped Jesus, studied the Bible, and sought to embody Gordon’s slogan: “Freedom within a framework of faith.” The college encouraged us to engage with social justice issues such as nationalism, war, poverty, and even corporate power. Yet Gordon’s framework of faith was never free for the LGBT among us. LGBT voices were so muffled at Gordon that the majority of students could spend four years at the institution and walk away with a diploma, never having been forced to question their basic assumption that homosexuality was a sin.
Not so for today’s Gordon students. This past Monday, President Obama signed the Non-Discrimination Executive Order for LGBT people, which will forbids any federal contractor from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although it’s unclear how this order will affect private colleges, Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay was one of a number of prominent evangelical leaders who sent a letter to President Obama, asking for an exemption. (Other signatories included Catholic Charities head Fr. Larry Snyder and megachurch pastor Rick Warren.) In other words, Lindsay asked Obama for permission to do what the College has always done: refrain from hiring people who engage in “homosexual behavior.”
What might have gone unnoticed at Gordon College 10 years ago received widespread coverage in national news outlets, such as The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. The public ramifications were also severe: The mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, cited concerns and canceled a longstanding building contract with Gordon. The New England agency responsible for accrediting private colleges and universities decided to review Gordon College in its upcoming meeting, even though the college had not been scheduled for review until 2022.
Even more tellingly, voices of protest also rang out within the Gordon College community. While Lindsay’s signature might have once been seen as a reflection of unity—a statement of evangelical Christianity’s opposition to homosexuality—the opinions that came forth from Gordon were diverse. Nearly 4,000 students, faculty, alumni, and supporters signed a petition urging President Lindsay to rescind his letter to the White House, and numerous instructors voiced disapproval through op-eds and blog posts.
Meanwhile, OneGordon—a student and alumni LGBT alliance founded in 2012—turned its website and Facebook page into gathering places for dialogue and clearinghouses for media reports and information related to the controversy. Paul Miller, a recent graduate who helped found OneGordon, describes the alliance as, “a handful of the many people making sure that President Lindsay is held accountable for his signature on the letter and its impact on Gordon’s reputation, academic community, and student body, which includes a number of LGBT students."