Friday, July 11, 2014

Why I Won't Sign the Gordon College Petition

Gordon College president
D. Michael Lindsay.
This past week my Facebook feed erupted with status and comments about the recent letter sent to the White House by Christian leaders requesting religious exemption in regards to hiring GLBT individuals. The reason it was so prominent on my feed was due to the fact that my alma mater was front and center in the letter, as Gordon College's President, D. Michael Lindsay was one of the signees. Numerous students took to Facebook to share their opinions, and soon enough an online petition surfaced that asks Lindsay to rescind his name from the letter. Around the same time, Lindsay responded himself to the criticism with a letter on Gordon's website. (Updated 7/14/14: The Trustees of Gordon College have also since sent a letter to the student body.)

With all of this, I have been silent on my thoughts so far other than private conversations with my wife (also a Gordon alum). However, as I have wrestled with my own thoughts and gone back and forth, I can't fight the nagging push to throw my two cents into the conversation.

One of my first observations, is that (at least in my Facebook feed) all of the comments concerning this issue have been posted along with an article that was in The Boston Globe and I haven't seen one person post a link to the actual letter written by Lindsay and the other Christian leaders. Which leads me to a question: if you haven't read the actual letter in it's entirety and are solely basing your response from a skewed article pushing an agenda, how is that responsible? If you sent an email to a friend, and then that friend took two lines out of your email and wrote a blog about it presenting you in a certain light, and then others started painting you in a certain light based on those two lines being taken out of the context of the whole, you'd be pissed! And you should be!!

I am not for one second saying that everyone has to agree with Lindsay's decision to include his name on the letter, however I am suggesting that if you haven't even read the original letter to the White House, to go and read that before saying anything else. Perhaps you will find that your response actually doesn't fit with the original text and instead is responding to something out of context and skewed by a media outlet with an agenda. And you know what, perhaps you will read the full letter and still feel the exact same way, which is fine and leads me to me next observation.

One of the things that I love about the religious freedom in this country is the ability to disagree with one another. For those of you who know me or have my Facebook statuses pop un in their feeds will know that I love debating and discussing theology. I just wrote an entire curriculum for students based around the idea of helping them explore their faith and come to their own conclusions about theology. And at the core of it, is the idea that I think it is more healthy for faith development to have a student disagree with me on a theological opinion, but be able to articulate and defend their position. This opposed to being able to regurgitate the "correct" answer that I have taught them out of my own opinions.

This same thing is one of the things that I loved about my time at Gordon. I loved the fact that Gordon didn't just accept students from the exact denominational background. Heck, it would have made things a lot easier to put everyone with the exact same beliefs on the same Christian campus, but it wouldn't have been better. A very large part of cementing my faith and current views was the debate that took place during meals, in classes and during late night conversations in Gillies about baptism, GLBT, communion, dancing, swearing, men bouncing their eyes versus women covering up, and more. And, again, I loved that people (for the most part in my experience) were able to disagree with one another on certain issues, sometimes very loudly, and yet not lose their friendship over it.

While I was a student at Gordon, I had the amazing privilege of spending a few days with John Perkins, a civil rights leader and racial reconciliation activist who worked hand in hand with Martin Luther King Jr. The biggest takeaway I took from our time was how he viewed the issue of tolerance. Numerous times he told me, "True tolerance is: you believe what you believe, I'll believe what I believe and we won't kill each other." Now keep in mind the context that is coming from. It is from the heart of racial discrimination, of African Americans being treated as less than human. I was blown away that here was a core leader, who watched (not literally as far as I know) his friend be assassinated for his beliefs, take this strong position of saying that segregation and racial prejudice was wrong, yet at the time allow for people to have a differing opinion on it.

It is with this in mind why I won't be signing the petition going around and I would strongly consider others to think through what their signature really means. In my opinion (and you are free to disagree), when you read the original letter, and you read Lindsay's response, the intention isn't about taking away GLBT rights or asking for permission to discriminate. Yes, it does impact that discussion about the school hiring GLBT staff or allowing openly GLBT students to attend. But I think that is an entirely different debate, one that I am all in favor of people fighting if that is what you believe. 

However, what I hear in the letter is a petition for religious freedom, asking for the allowance and freedom to interpret Scriptures, to determine how those Scriptures dictate right and wrong, which then impacts how we live. I hear a letter asking the President of the United States, to allow for the religious freedom to disagree with others. The mere fact that you have the freedom to sign the petition in the first place and to speak your mind about your theological conclusions concerning GLBT issues, again in my opinion, is the exact thing that Lindsay and the others are going after.

And let's please keep that in mind too: there are others who signed this letter. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and author of Purpose Driven Life. Gabe Lyons of Q Ideas, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, and Jenny Yang of World Relief. So if you do decide to take a strong stance of Lindsay's decision to sign this letter, please make sure your response is consistent. Boycott your local bookstore to get rid of copies of Purpose Driven Life. Cancel your subscription to Christianity Today. Stop giving money to World Relief. By all means you have the right do do all those things and disagree with how all of these organizations interpret Scripture.

However, by signing the petition, again it is my opinion, that you are fighting to have your right to disagree taken away. This time, you may find yourself on the winning side and feel you have gained a victory in freedom of expression. However what happens when the issue tomorrow is the right to believe that Christ is the only way to God (as he says in John 14:6)? Or the week after when the issue is about the freedom to worship openly? Or next month when a Christian church's right to deny hiring a Muslim Imam as their pastor is legally questioned?

Yes, I know there are so many other facets of the GLBT debate and conversation...however, again in my opinion, that is that is exactly the debate that Lindsay and these other leaders are trying to protect. They want and welcome you to have different opinions, however they are asking for the same liberty and freedom they are fighting for you to have. To disagree with your opinion.

And that's something I can't help but agree with.

6 comments:

  1. Spot on. I wish more people thought this way. It is a relief to see rationality, thoughtfulness, and compassion amidst the rapidly erupting chaos.

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  2. Love this. Thank you for writing. For a while, I thought I was the only one who thought this way. Wish I spoke up sooner... Religious liberty must be protected, and you hit the nail on the head in defending that.

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  3. Thank you for writing this- I am a Gordon alum and am grateful to hear such a thoughtful reflection on the value, and importance, of religious freedom.

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  4. I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I'm a current Gordon student and I hope more individuals are open to listening to your words. You're spot on - this petition restrains religious freedom more than it grants LGBT rights.

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  5. As a current junior at Gordon I'm glad to see an alumnus defending Lindsay and his choices. I was one of the few who shared the letter's full text, but it pained me to see so many looking only at that skewed Boston Globe article. Thank you for putting focus on the real issues at hand...I especially liked your plea for consistency at the end; that's a very important point.

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