It is sometimes painful being the never-ending voice of doom, but in good conscience I cannot agree with David French's sunny perspective on this story. It's understandable that French would look at matters this way, since evidently he actually gave legal counsel to Gordon College in its accreditation crisis, and from his perspective as Clever Lawyer, they got the outcome they were seeking--namely, the accreditation agency dropped its ominous implication that they would lose their accreditation if they did not endorse homosexual acts.
As I noted at the time, Gordon College was already disturbingly lax and ambiguous in its response, as a Christian college, to the homosexual agenda, despite the fact that it was holding out on formally endorsing homosexual acts and homosexual "marriage." I noted the following points:
1) Gordon put dissenting faculty on its "working group," formed in response to the accreditation body's bullying. This means that it has hired and kept faculty teaching at a confessional Christian college even though they advocate the morality of homosexual acts.
2) Gordon insisted that it never excluded any student on the basis of "orientation" and included the "T" for "transgender" in the alphabet soup of "orientations" it does not exclude. Does this mean that they would house a biological male in the women's dorms, or vice versa? Does this mean that they would insist that all faculty and students play along with the "self-presentation" of a biological male identifying himself as female, a female presenting herself as male, or a person insisting on being considered "agender"?
3) Gordon used the code phrase "safe campus environment" for "students who identify as LGBTQ" and expressed sadness over their having previously felt "marginalized."
David French, while presenting the outcome as entirely positive, hints by his very description of what happened that it is exactly this sort of groveling to the homosexual/transgender agenda that has obtained a reprieve for Gordon from the furies of tolerance:
Gordon, under intense pressure, refused to compromise its core principles. After almost a full academic year of self-study, including discussion and dialogue with students, faculty, alumni, and members of the community, the college reaffirmed its commitment to Christian orthodoxy and thus to its policy against sex outside (traditional) marriage for students and faculty. At the same time, it found that it could improve its spiritual support to students who identify as LGBTQ. In other words, it held firm on its faith while being open to internal critique on the way in which it put its faith into practice.
Um, what does that mean? Well, based on Gordon's previous statements and on the past history of what is meant by such phrases as "improve spiritual support to students who identify as LGBTQ," we can make a pretty shrewd guess about what that means. We can guess that it means that Gordon does not stand firm on a "core principle" of rejecting the transgender movement and its insane public pretenses. It means that Gordon does not stand firm on a "core principle" of rejecting the notion that temptation to homosexual sin (much less utter gender confusion) is or should be a form of personal, public identity accepted by others. It means that Gordon does not stand on a "core principle" of requiring even faculty, much less students, not to seek actively to undermine Christian sexual morality. It means that Gordon does not stand on a "core principle" of asking students who struggle with sexual perversion to be discreet about these struggles rather than spreading TMI all over the campus about their "identity" as "LGBTQ persons."
If you think I am being uncharitable, these conclusions are supported by the letter, linked from French's article, that the accreditation agency wrote with Gordon, affirming the continuation of Gordon's accreditation. The smugness of the accreditation agency at Gordon's acceptance of the notion of gender identity and its support for much of the homosexual/transgender agenda is palpable. Emphasis added.
The Commission found that the report from the College describes a careful and extensive process of engagement and reflection regarding Gordon's issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is clear to the Commission that the College had taken seriously the process of examining their success in supporting LGBTQ students. The report outlines fourteen initiatives the institution plans to take to further enhance its support for LGBTQ students. About half of these initiatives have already been launched, including trainings for residential assistants and student leaders, mandatory training for senior student life staff, student initiated support group, and establishment of a 'Life Together' taskforce. Additional steps to be taken in the coming year include improved protocols for supporting students when they declare as LGBTQ, guidelines for campus programming around sexuality, the addition of a dedicated part-time staff member to support students grappling with their sexuality, stronger anti-bullying policies, and the establishment of a biennial survey on well-being as it relates to sexuality and identity. The Commission commends the College for its extensive process, the continuing focus on its mission, its candor in addressing the issues before it, and for the commitments it is making to improve student care around LGBTQ issues.
"The Commission was duly impressed with the scope of activity undertaken by Gordon's leadership and their campus community," said Barbara Brittingham, Commission President. "It is clear Gordon College has handled this important matter with serious intention and appropriate action."
We are telling ourselves lies if we try to say that all of this is consistent with a continued firm, unequivocal commitment by Gordon to Christian (which is to say normal, decent) norms of sexuality. Relevant side note: I pointed out a couple of years ago that Wheaton College's formation of a "student support group" for its "LGBTQ students" was a capitulation on the homosexual/transgender agenda and that it is telling ourselves lies to pretend otherwise. Recently some people were shocked when Wheaton students held protests over the invitation to Rosaria Butterfield to speak at Wheaton College. I was not surprised. That Gordon is going the same route as Wheaton is fairly clear.
Interestingly, French points out that there are already legal protections in place for the accreditation of religious colleges.
Despite a legal obligation to “respect the stated mission of the institution,” including its “religious mission,” NEASC announced that it had met to consider whether “Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity” violated NEASC’s standards for accreditation. NEASC gave Gordon one year “to ensure that the College’s policies and procedures are non-discriminatory.”
Raising the accreditation issue, however, took the story national. No longer was this merely the tale of local bullies making petty political statements. Instead, NEASC’s statement signaled potential intent to violate federal law to punish orthodox Christianity.
No doubt French urged Gordon to point out these legal obligations to the NEASC.
But if the "stated religious mission of the institution" must be respected by the accreditation body, why does the institution's religious mission have to stop at a surface-level condemnation of homosexual acts, while welcoming and supporting faculty and students who reject this principle and other biblical principles of sexuality?
If there is, as French is implying, a religious exemption for religious institutions from accreditation agencies' "non-discrimination" requirements regarding homosexuality, then Christian colleges can and should make use of this exemption to refuse entirely to cooperate with the homosexual/transgender agenda. Here is what they should have said:
It is part of the religious mission of our college that we affirm that God created mankind as male and female. We thus utterly reject all ideologies of gender-bending and transgenderism. No student or faculty member is permitted to participate at this college who deliberately and publically identifies as the opposite sex to the known biological sex of his birth. Such a public identification is, on our religious view, a public rejection of the divine plan and a sign of serious mental confusion. We refuse utterly to cooperate with any "agender" self-identification or with any self-identification that differs from the birth sex of the student or employee.
Moreover, our religious commitment to the exclusivity of sexual gender complementarity and sexual purity means that we reject completely the notion that anyone should identify himself with his inclinations to sexual sin. In keeping with this aspect of our mission, we refuse to permit any student club that appears in any way to accept the notion that the identity of persons is bound up with their inclinations to sinful behavior. We will not have any homosexual or lesbian student groups, just as we will not have any heterosexual fornicators' student groups.
We have placed into our student and faculty covenant and into the statement of faith and practice which faculty must sign a clear prohibition on endorsing or encouraging sexual sin. This means that any student or faculty member who endorses homosexual sin or any sexual activity outside of marriage, where marriage of course is understood biblically to be that of one man with one woman, will be subject to dismissal. This is an important outworking of our core principles, our mission, and our responsibility to keep faith with the parents and students who work hard to obtain an authentically Christian education at our college.
We ask that students who are subject to sexual temptations use discretion in their disclosure of these temptations. There is no need for everyone to know of a given student's temptation to homosexual acts, pornography use, or any other perversion or sexual sin. This is yet another reason for not forming a student group. Other students are not to be required to "accept" a student as identified with his sin and sinful inclinations. This is also a reason for our refusing to institute what are usually known as "anti-bullying programs," as such programs routinely require students with homosexual inclinations to be free to eschew discretion in their disclosure of these inclinations and place the entire onus on others to accept them as thus identified with their sin and/or sinful desires. A clear atmosphere of what is called in jargon "heteronormativity" is our intention for our campus, in keeping with the "heteronormativity" of God's vision for mankind.
Finally, we hold it to be entirely our decision on a case-by-case basis to discern whether any particular student who has same-sex attractions is able to be accommodated within our campus environment. For reasons of modesty and purity (central to our Christian mission and our core principles), housing such students, even if they recognize their inclinations as unnatural, creates special challenges. We are committed to serving our students' modesty. This means not requiring them to have their sexual privacy violated by sharing dorm rooms, showers, and similar situations with those who might have sexual inclinations towards them. We therefore do not commit unilaterally "not to discriminate" even on the basis of "sexual orientation," but will have to discern which students with abnormal inclinations can be accommodated at Gordon and how they might be so accommodated.
We call upon the NEASC to respect these policy decisions as flowing from our religious mission as a school.
Would they have gotten off as easily had they issued such a rip-roaring statement? Of course not. But if French is right about the legal situation, the accreditation agency has no business whatsoever trying to micromanage a Christian college's precise handling of the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism, much less forcing a Christian college to bring its approach as close as possible to the policies and positions of the secular world.
What I have stated above would have been considered to go without saying at a Christian college just a short while ago. The idea that a Christian college must welcome male-female transgenders, for example, and accept their public self-identification, would have been laughable. The idea that a Christian college must employ faculty who advocate homosexual acts would have been considered completely absurd. And so forth.
The problems here are several-fold: First, Gordon had obviously already compromised in its approach long before the accreditation agency started making trouble. Second, the accreditation agency is emboldened by the present political climate to press for more. And third, evangelicals are too afraid of looking "mean to gays" to issue the type of statement I have just suggested.
Hence, Gordon's commitment to biblical sexuality, like Wheaton's, is to be rendered a dead letter, hollowed out from within.
The NEASC presumably saw that this was the most that it could get at this time without a costly legal battle, and it considered it enough. Sadly, the NEASC was right, and the smug smile shining through Commission President Barbara Brittingham's statement tells us everything we need to know.
Can we regard this as a victory for the rights of Christian colleges at all? Even from the narrowly legal perspective, not really. This is not a court precedent, after all, so even the principle that the accreditation agencies must respect the religious mission of colleges has not been reaffirmed at any level that counts. Moreover, if we are to think about precedents, within the NEASC's own purview, the very dangerous precedent has been set that the NEASC has the right to micromanage a college's handling of homosexual and transgender issues and has a right to demand that Christian colleges prove that they are "non-discriminatory" in this area. Other Christian colleges that want to take a clearer, tougher line while maintaining their NEASC accreditation will now find that much harder to do. And finally, Gordon College has confirmed its own trajectory toward greater "support" and acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism.
I regard this as, at best, a Pyrrhic victory for the good, the true, and the beautiful.