For those who missed it, this is a blog post from former Theology adjunct, Dr. Megan DeFranza. This was originally posted on her blog, Scholastica’s Seedlings:
The national spotlight has flashed onto Gordon College this week but not in a way many would like. In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, Gordon’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, signed his name to a group letter sent to President Obama asking that religious organizations who do not currently hire LGBT persons be granted religious exemption to continue this practice and not lose access to federal funding reiterating other letters of similar sentiment. The responses of alumni, students, faculty, and staff have been markedly mixed; many supportive, others confused, embarrassed, angry, frustrated. Some are sending letters of support; others are urging President Lindsay to rescind his request and encouraging Obama not to grant exemptions. Lindsay has responded by clarifying his intent, here. But one thing is quite clear, everyone is NOT on the same page.
Over the last three years I had the joy of teaching many fine students at Gordon College as an adjunct professor of Theology. I am a theologian who also specializes in human sexuality but I’ve never been asked to teach a course in the latter. In fact, over the past three years of my time at Gordon no one has taught that class. There is a bit of a hole in the curriculum at the moment, a hole that is hard to fill in the current climate.
While some might think that President Lindsay’s perspective is representative of the institution, I can tell you, Gordon—like many Christian institutions—is more complicated than that. Gordon has historically rallied under the banner of “freedom within a framework of faith,” allowing for diversity of opinions on many contentious issues, faculty and staff agreeing to disagree with one another while continuing to work together for common mission. Some would like to see that same freedom of thought extended to the current conversation.
It is true that students, faculty, and staff must sign the Life and Conduct Statement which forbids “homosexual practice,” so one might think that the conversation is closed, but for many members of the community this is an open question. How? You may ask. Well, the context of that statement is key. It reads:
A. Practices Governed by Scripture—The following behavioral expectations are binding on all members of the Gordon community.
- Those words and actions 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.
It is easy to build a consensus around the governing sentence. “Words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture” should be of concern to Christians who look to the Bible to guide their way of life but some have come to question whether “homosexual practice” is actually forbidden in Scripture. While English translations may appear clear and unequivocal, studies into original languages and ancient contexts reveal a more complicated reality.
New studies in biblical languages, ancient Near Eastern sexual practices, and contemporary science of sexual orientation are leading many Christians and Christian institutions to reconsider the traditional stance on homosexuality. Some students, faculty, and staff at Gordon are asking the college to actively dialogue on this matter. To date, institutional conversation has not gotten off the ground, but student conversation—in the spirit of academic freedom and education—has been permitted, at least in controlled contexts.
Last year, the college invited two members of the Gay Christian Network to present their two sides of the debate—celibacy and gay marriage. For several years individuals have been sharing their own stories in a publication entitled, “If I Told You.” At the beginning of this academic year there was wind of a new policy coming down from the leadership that sexual orientation was not to be discussed on campus apart from “Sexuality Week” (a week devoted to sexual and relational ethics) but pushback from students and faculty won over the administration—allowing the conversations to continue. Every semester students wrestle with these ideas in their classes—writing papers, presenting arguments, debating, sharing stories. Sometimes it is done well; other times, poorly. But, the conversations are ongoing, at least for now.
Still, the matter of what to do in light of the current media attention remains.
I worry that legislation pressuring religious institutions to hire LGBTQ persons before they are ready might not help organizations like Gordon continue this difficult conversation. For religious conservatives, this is not a matter of rights or discrimination or even logical argument; it is a matter of divine revelation. “God said it. That settles it.” There is little room for questions, only obedience—and sometimes obedience is hard.
If change of any kind is going to come to conservative pockets of Christianity, it is not going to come from pressure to stop “discrimination” but from those on the inside wrestling with how to interpret the Bible in light of scriptural scholarship, the testimonies of LGBT Christians, and the science of sexual orientation. This is a process that takes time. It is a process that has begun at Gordon and that some would like to see continue but may be derailed by political pressure. I don’t want to see debate about the separation of church and state distract from the harder work of theological and ethical wrestling. Political pressure from a “secular government” may only succeed in reinforcing distrust of anyone outside of the religious “in group.”
On the other hand, I remember with acute shame the slow response of some Christians to racial integration. Bob Jones University did not admit married black students until 1971, unmarried black students until 1975, and prohibited interracial dating up until the year 2000. Change didn’t come to BJU’s admissions policies until the federal government threatened to withdraw its tax exempt status and the trustees began to see the writing on the wall in the form of impending legislation from the Supreme Court (Runyon v. McCrary)prohibiting segregation in private schools. Where Bob Jones had historically upheld segregation (and opposed interracial dating) on the basis of the Bible, pressure from the federal government coincided (coincidentally?) with a change in biblical interpretation.
While pressure from the government might cause some religious conservatives to dig in their heels, it is also possible that that same pressure could lead to the hiring of LGBTQ folk and that their [non-closeted] presence at institutions like Gordon would change the nature of the conversation. It is hard to say.
I feel myself tempted to ask folks not to work against an exemption but to wait. Give these institutions time to wrestle with biblical material, to listen to alternative voices, to study, to debate. I know it takes time, because it took me a long time to take alternative interpretations of certain Bible passages seriously myself. Sometimes it just takes time. But then I hear Martin Luther King, Jr’s challenge to the white moderates who asked for more time ringing in my ears. From Birmingham Jail, he wrote, “It is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘wait.’” “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
It is easy for those on the inside to enjoy the privilege of lengthy debate while those whose jobs and lives hang in the balance continue to be excluded from the community. The time to engage the conversation is now.
The problem is, too many are afraid. Individual staff and faculty are afraid of pushing for conversation out of fear of losing their jobs. Institutions are afraid of having the conversation, lest donors do to them what they did to World Vision after the charity decided to “agree to disagree” on the matter—allowing the organization to hire gay Christians in monogamous relationships… at least for 48 hours, until financial pressurecaused them to reconsider their biblical interpretation.
If Bob Jones University and World Vision offer us any warnings it is that money too often sets boundaries on the conversation and even drives the way we interpret the Bible. Up until now, at places like Gordon, the pressure of conservative money has kept genuine dialogue from taking place. Fear of the loss of federal funding may be just to the thing necessary to free up space for genuine engagement, genuine dialogue, genuine listening, honest sharing… without fear of reprisal.
It is hard to reconsider long-held beliefs at any time but when you add governmental intervention, financial pressure, and fear of losing one’s job the task seems overwhelmingly impossible. Still, I cannot help but hope that perfect love can drive out fear and that Christians can find ways to listen together, talk together, wrestle together, pray together, agree and disagree together so that we can finally work together, worship together, and live lives that honor the God we love.
pleas reblog pictures of my very atractive friends
i need to ramp my tumblr presence back up
So I wrote this paragraph in a post last weekend:
The type of masculinity that young boys are taught is not compatible with mental health and with ethical behavior. Full stop. We’re fortunate that so relatively few will take it to the lengths that Rodger did, but I don’t know a single man…
The very idea that communal ownership is somehow opposed to liberty is idiotic - the commons were liberty, they were the precondition of our liberty. Being able to respectfully take from the land what you need to survive, without having to seek permission or be dependent on anything or anyone…
cocktail recipe: “polluted well”. small amount of room temp cheap whiskey in an unwashed glass
I’ve had nightmares and night terrors my entire life. Weird ones, realistic ones, zombie ones with varying levels of canon: you name it I’ve had it. But the worst are always a different variation of the same theme; they’re dreams where I’m desperately trying to get something done or explain something to someone and it’s just…not…happening. There’s a disconnect or I can’t be understood or for some reason they’re not listening to me oh my god why won’t they listen to me why can’t they hear me, and I wake up so drenched in sweat I’m convinced I peed in bed then also someone poured a bucket of salt water on me. I have received complaints from bedmates before.
I like my uncle. I dislike the Elliot Rodger conversations I’ve been having with my uncle. They tend to become heated too quickly, sidetracked by semi-differing ideologies that - while tangentially related - aren’t immediately prescient to what we’re discussing, and get left unresolved in a way that leaves me feeling frustrated for hours afterward. Like emotional blueballs. I also have the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I get during those sheet-soaking nightmares.