Jul 14

Stand With Gordon College, Against Gordon College, or Stand With Christ?

I have been quietly watching from the sidelines as my Alma Mater, Gordon College has been thrown into the political arena over President Michael Lindsay’s signature on a letter to President Obama requesting an exemption in an executive order concerning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  The letter has sparked quite a blaze with students and alumni taking to the social media waves to stand in support with those who have similar beliefs on the issue.  While I have not been immersed in the issue too much, I have read all of the communication from Gordon officials, as well as many articles from newspaper columnists, and blog posts from those who disagree with Gordon’s decision to sign the letter to Obama.  I have also done a fair amount of reading posts and thoughts from those on several Facebook groups that have been created, as well as comments and posts left by individuals who want their voice heard.

Obviously there is a lot to process, but I find myself in full support with those who signed the letter, and support Gordon College as they move forward.  While I’m firm in my position on the issue, I want to be sure I lead with grace and truth as I discuss and dialogue with others.  Regardless of the outcome, I don’t want to see the Church damaged over this, either by disunity in the Church or by a damaged witness of Christ outside the Church.

It’s not easy to maintain a conviction or belief of any issue while being able to engage in healthy dialogue with those who disagree with you, but it is critical that we do so if we want to have a voice, and to lead well.   Here are a few things I’m continuing to strive for in my leadership in the context of this particular issue:

Know What You Are Supporting and Fighting For

From what I can tell each side is addressing two very different issues that seems to have caused a lot of confusion.  What began as a Religious Freedom issue has been turned into a Civil Rights issue.  It seems to me that the original purpose of the letter was for religious institutions to be able to choose to function within their religious beliefs.  Those who disagree with the letter see it as discrimination, so they view it as a civil rights issue.  The exemption in the religious freedom act doesn’t promote discrimination, it protects all institutions as they continue to comply with federal regulations, while being able to hold and maintain their values based on religious beliefs.  I may be wrong here, and willing to listen if someone disagrees with me, but as I sift through all of the information, this seems to be the underlying root of the problem.

Know the Facts

Gordon’s position doesn’t seem to be lobbying anything new for their institution, neither is it a personal agenda that Lindsay is trying to push through.  Gordon College was founded and maintains its commitment to Christ and his teachings.  Upon acceptance of admission for education or hire, one has the freedom to decide whether or not they will agree with, support, and will follow Gordon’s statement of faith and life of conduct policy.  Those foundational documents have been in existence for decades. Thanks to our religious freedom, anyone can choose to accept those standards or they can study or work elsewhere.  Some might say, “well, that’s the problem right there!”  But in reality that is not the case.  By not choosing to accept the standards and policy, while advocating for a non-exemption clause, one is ultimately saying that we should not have religious freedom.  In essence one is saying they want to be told by the government not just what we should, but what we will and will not believe.  While it may seem advantageous to agree with the government on this particular issue, it would be a mistake to risk religious freedom being dictated by the government.

I can’t list all of the facts here, but I would encourage you to do some homework.  Here are some links that are helpful in understanding Gordon’s position.

The Original Letter Michael Lindsay Signed

Questions Regarding the Letter to President Obama

Chairmen of Gordon’s Board of Trustees Letter to the Gordon Community

Gordon’s statement of faith

Gordon’s life of conduct policy 

Watch Actions & Tone

While critical thinking is important, and dialogue and debate is encouraged, keep it healthy.  If we don’t agree with someone, it doesn’t make them less of a person, neither does it suggest they are a bigot, racist, fool or uneducated (talk about discrimination!).  It simply means that one sees it from a different perspective.  Avoid lowering your value in the discussion by elevating your tone and actions to a level that is loud, arrogant or closed off to hearing or learning from anyone else.  Remember, pride comes before the fall.

Stand With Christ

Religious freedom is a historical debate.  In the Bible, we read about Philippi, a small region of about 2000 people, that was considered part of the roman empire.  Being a Roman citizen was extremely important to the Philippians.  The believers in Philippi were in conflict with the community over worship.  Would they do their civic duty and worship the emperor or were they free to worship God?  As that conflict heated up those who didn’t worship the emperor were facing persecution, which included physical harm, prison, and even death.

Paul’s words to the Philippians was,  “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” Philippians 1:27-28

Those words ring true for us today as it did back then.  In essence, Paul was saying that if we handle conflict well, we would not be defeated.  While there may be a short-term set back being unified will result in spreading the gospel, not diminish it.  In the midst of temporary suffering and conflict, Paul chose to focus on the mission of the gospel, rather than be distracted from it.

Ultimately the issue doesn’t require us to stand with or against Gordon, but it does comes down to standing with Christ.

It will be interesting to see how this issue resolves.  It will be more interesting to see how those who follow Jesus will respond.  Paul’s words talk about about standing firm in the one Spirit.  I wonder what that can, should and will look like for the Church moving forward?  From what history has taught us, those who hold firm to the gospel will prevail.