“If gay and lesbian community activists have been treated 10 years ago the way that Gordon College has been treated in the last 9 months, they would have been significantly silenced, not have had any of their opportunities. So some of the very people who were at one time, by their own sort of perspective, oppressed, now have become the oppressors.” – Gordon College President Lindsay from The Blaze.
Oh dear. Yes that is the very oppressed, white, straight, well-off, privileged, male president of my alma mater. Before I get into everything else, let me talk about the oppression of Christians. I know that Christians are being oppressed, persecuted, and martyred for their faith around the world. Take a look at what ISIS does to Christians for just an example. But having people say mean things about you while you are still the majority religion in the richest country in the world is not being oppressed. Yes, I am a Christian and I have had people tease for it or think I’m odd and that’s fine. I don’t feel oppressed. Can it be hard? Sometimes, but I have not felt silenced for being a Christian or felt that I haven’t had any of the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m not at any great risk of hate crimes in the U.S. for being a Christian, or being fired from my job, or denied many of the same basic rights as others, like what happens to LGBTQ people. It’s not the same.
It’s not the same, President Lindsay. Criticism does not equal oppression.
Anyway, the actual point of this post is to update people about what’s been going on with Gordon College since last summer. A lot of things happened in the last week, so I wanted to update you. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see my letter to the president here. Since the summer, OneGordon – a group not affiliated with Gordon but made up of friends and alum of Gordon – has had a number of events for students and alumni. Basically the goals have been to support current students, to create dialogue and discussion, and in a sort of unspoken goal, to get Gordon to change it’s Life and Conduct statement, and maybe even it’s stance of homosexuality. The Life and Conduct Statement is something students have to sign every year. The problematic phrase has to do with students promising not to engage in “homosexuality activity.” There is not a promise not to engage in “heterosexual activity” but rather just not premarital sex. Fine, many of us think. We know it’s a Christian college so premarital sex is out. But can’t premarital sex just include heterosexuality and homosexuality. (Plus, what does “homosexual activity” really mean? Gay hand holding? Lesbian hugging?!) Making a separate point for LGBTQ students is unfair.
The college convened a “working group” in the fall to work out some of these issues and you can read the one of sole LGBTQ student’s view of the working group here. Jesse says in his letter of resignation from the group, “The individuals in charge of this working group are the very Trustees who will take all the dialogue material into account during their retreat as they consider the current stance of Gordon College’s policies and procedures. Within the group are four trustees who are tasked to take their firsthand experience onto the retreat with them. While I find it extremely valuable to have personal conversations with those in charge I have noticed power-biases within conversations. I have been disregarded for my claims even though they have been rooted in fact or objective experiences, however this has not been respected.”
And finally, which I find very telling, “More importantly, the student body, faculty, staff and any other individual with connection to Gordon College has not been given the full picture of the situation. Following each meeting emails were distributed to the “community” (I use this word as a grouping sense and not to provide any portrayal of the interpersonal feelings) that were extremely positive, even though there were rarely any meetings that I did not cry at.”
The whole working group seemed disingenuous to me from the start; a way to make it seem like they were thinking about it all when the conclusion was set from the beginning. So it came as little surprise to me when President Lindsay sent an email to the Gordon alumni. My interpretation of this is: we “thought” about it and we’re going to stay the same, but I guess we’ll make sure any LGBTQ isn’t bullied. But bullied by the students, teachers? From what I hear it’s not the students or professors that are the problem. I’m also not against more training for bullying prevention and care, but I don’t think that’s the problem here.
Then there was the news that Gordon is planning on selling part of it’s rare book collection which was donated to the college. Generally, you aren’t supposed to sell those things and it’s embarrassing when the relatives of the donor call you up and ask why. Then finally, amidst all this, we find out President Lindsay – who many of us hoped would not continue as the president of our college – got his contract extended.
But there has been some bright spots. David Gushee, a prominent evangelical ethicist, spoke at Gordon yesterday about changing his mind about LGBTQ people in and out of the church. I wasn’t able to attend the lecture – but I did attend the after party because I’m that kind of person – but I heard it was very affirming and amazing. My friend Hannah who is on the OneGordon board made a recording and if it becomes available I’ll let you know.
Also, Jesse Steele, who is quoted above is publishing a zine and holding an art show responding to the events at Gordon over the last year. I love this idea and am so happy that students, alumni, and community members are using art to express themselves. These are the types of things that make me proud to have attended Gordon. If you’re in the Northshore area, the show will be at the Salem Old Town Hall on Friday. Or you can donate to Jesse’s zine and project here.
Finally, I just want to say, if you’re not where I am in regards to LGBTQ people in the church, in life, in marriage in whatever, I don’t hate you. I know and love many people who disagree with me about this. One of the wonderful things about being complex human beings with opinions and also compassion is that we get to disagree and discuss. I have close friends and family who take the more traditional and evangelical view of LGBTQ people. I still love them and hang out with them. I hope that they come around to my view, but I’m sure that they hope that I come around to their view. What’s important to me in those situations is that we are in respectful discussion and dialogue, that we are both putting in the work to understand each other.
I remember once at Gordon we had a speaker come talk to us about Ignatius of Loyola. Now, I am not a philosopher or a theologian so I may be butchering this interpretation but I’m also kind of a pluralist Episcopalian, so what the hell here I go… He was talking about when you are in an argument with someone or in dialogue, your role is to try and understand the other person’s point of view so much that you are actually defending their point of view. That is the only way that we can ensure we are being kind and the most understanding of other people. I think I found the quote that he was talking about from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, the Presupposition:
In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it.
I don’t think that this applies to just “good Christians,” or Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, I think it applies to everyone who has ever had an argument or disagreement. I know that I need to work on this myself. To me, it says that we need to listen so intently and carefully to the ‘other side’ that we strive towards compassion and full understanding. That is the only way that we can have discussions; once we are working towards that we can start to decide.