Christian college to review policy on 'homosexual conduct' amid accreditation flap

by Leigh Jones
Posted 10/02/14, 07:22 am

Gordon College, a small Christian university in Wenham, Mass., has agreed to review its conduct policy after the state’s accreditation body said the prohibition of “homosexual practice” might violate its diversity standards.

The college announced a yearlong policy review process in a joint statement issued with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). According to the statement, the agency requested the review “to ensure that the college’s policies and processes are non-discriminatory and that it ensures its ability to foster an atmosphere that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds, consistent with the commission’s standards for accreditation.”

The review will include a working group of 20 trustees, faculty, administrators, staff, and students, according to the statement. Gordon must submit a report of the group’s conclusions at the NEASC meeting in September 2015.

Gordon’s current conduct policy states, “Those acts which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.” The NEASC didn’t have a problem with the policy when it reviewed the school’s accreditation status in 2012. Gordon isn’t due for another review until 2022.

But the agency decided to take another look at Gordon after the school’s president, Michael Lindsay, signed a letter sent by a group of faith leaders to President Barack Obama earlier this year. The letter asked for an exception for religious organizations to a new policy requiring federal contractors to hire homosexuals. Lindsay’s participation ignited a firestorm of criticism, including opposition from some alumni and current students. In a response posted on the school’s website, Lindsay said his decision to sign reflected the school’s belief in religious liberty.

“Signing the letter was in keeping with our decades-old conviction that, as an explicitly Christian institution, Gordon should set the conduct expectations for members of our community,” he wrote. “Nothing has changed in our position. … Our longstanding positions on matters of Christian faith and community standards are conveyed in our statements of faith and of life and conduct. These form the foundation upon which the Gordon community has for many years articulated a common framework for our life together.”

Lindsay went on to say Gordon had never barred “categories of individuals” from the college and did not intend to start. Members of the working group will include at least one gay student, and some of the faculty participating in the process have been vocal in their opposition to Gordon’s conduct policy, school spokesman Rick Sweeney told the Boston Business Journal. The working group could recommend eliminating the conduct policy altogether, Sweeney said, but that’s just one possible option. The school's board of trustees would have to approve any proposed changes.

Sweeney told me the college remains committed to its distinctly Christian mission.

“As a liberal arts institution, we encourage critical thinking and are open to conversation on issues; we are not open to compromise on our core values,” he said in an email. “As a Christian college, we strive to be a place of grace and truth—showing compassion for all people while we uphold biblical teaching. Gordon College affirms the historic, orthodox Christian position that homosexual practice is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture.”

Although the NEASC has asked for a report on Gordon’s conduct policy, the college’s accreditation is not necessarily at risk, Sweeney said, noting the school passed its accreditation review just two years ago. The policy was in place then, and the school’s religious mission has been the same throughout the time the NEASC has been in charge of accreditation in Massachusetts.

But Christian colleges have faced pressure in recent years to drop conduct policies that include prohibitions of homosexuality. Keeping the policy could be costly for Gordon. If the NEASC revokes the college’s accreditation, it could lose access to federal funds.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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