[Please see updates below.]
Gordon College has been given 18 months to recant. If they do not change the standards for sexual behavior in their “life and conduct statement” (which prohibit “sexual relations outside of marriage” and “homosexual practice”), they will lose their accreditation*:
The higher education commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges met last week and "considered whether Gordon College's traditional inclusion of 'homosexual practice' as a forbidden activity" runs afoul of the commission's standards for accreditation, according to a joint statement from NEASC and Gordon College.
The commission asked Gordon College to submit a report next September. The report should describe the process by which the college has approached its review of the policy “to ensure that the College’s policies and procedures are non-discriminatory,” the statement said….
In its joint statement, NEASC and Gordon College called the review process a “period of discernment” that will take place over the next 12 to 18 months…. [The president of NEASC’s higher education commission] said the long time frame that Gordon College has been allowed for the review is appropriate considering that Gordon College's policy is "deeply embedded in the culture of the college" and such things "don't change overnight."
How reasonable of the commission to give Gordon College 18 months to come to terms with overturning the thousands-of-years-old Christian view of acceptable sexual behavior.
This 18-month reprieve is nothing but theater, of course. Gordon College will not convince the commission their standards are “non-discriminatory.” Gordon College will explain the difference between behavior and identity, between a person with same-sex attractions who agrees with the biblical standards and one who doesn’t, and the difference between banning a person because of his sexual orientation and banning particular behaviors among all students that go against the biblical view. And then the commission will reject it.
How do I know this? Because this is what happened earlier this year when Gordon College publicly argued for the “right of faith-based institutions to set and adhere to standards which derive from our shared framework of faith.” That controversy ended with the termination of their city contract to maintain Salem’s historical Old Town Hall and their student teachers being removed from public schools. Here’s what the college said then:
In our statement of faith and conduct we affirm God’s creation of marriage, first described in Genesis, as the intended lifelong one-flesh union of one man and one woman. Along with this positive affirmation of marriage as a male-female union, there are clear prohibitions in the Scriptures against sexual relations between persons of the same sex.
It is important to note that the Gordon statement of faith and conduct does not reference same-sex orientation—that is, the state of being a person who experiences same-sex attraction—but rather, specifically, homosexual acts. The Gordon community is expected to refrain from any sexual intercourse—heterosexual or homosexual; premarital or extramarital—outside of the marriage covenant. There is currently much debate among Christians about the nature and causes of homosexuality, and about a faithful Christian response to same-sex attractions, but we acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of grace, all called to redeemed humanity in Christ.
We recognize that students at Gordon who identify as LGBTQ or experience same-sex attraction have often felt marginalized and alone, and recognize the pressing need for a safe campus environment for all students.
That wasn’t enough then, and it certainly won’t be enough now. But it should be.
Setting standards for sexual behavior is not the same as discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation—it’s not discrimination against single people because of their heterosexual orientation, and it’s not discrimination against gay people because of their homosexual orientation.
Consider this: I can think of three names off the top of my head right now of people who have same-sex attractions (and are open about it) who support the boundaries Christianity sets around sexuality and write for esteemed and popular conservative evangelical Christian ministries and/or whose books I recommend: Nick Roen, Sam Allberry, and Wesley Hill. No one is interested in kicking them out of anything because of their same-sex attractions, because that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not they subscribe to and live by the biblical view of sexuality, not their sexual orientation. There is a relevant distinction between the two.
Therefore, just as having a sexual behavior standard for people with opposite-sex attractions is not an act of discrimination against heterosexual people, so having the same standard for people with same-sex attractions is not an act of discrimination against homosexual people. But the commission won’t see this because our culture is no longer capable of making a distinction between “sexual identity” and behavior.
Richard John Neuhaus’s thoughts on how “Identity Is Trumps” in our society give some insight into why behavioral standards will be tolerated less and less. He explains that when behavior is identity, “what we will do is what we must do”:
Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” …
[T]heir demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!) is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity….
Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are.
If Stand to Reason still has tax-exempt status in five years, I will be very, very surprised.
[Update 10/05/14: In case there is any confusion about this, the title of this post is a prediction of what I think will happen; NEASC hasn’t explicitly given this ultimatum to Gordon College. At this point, NEASC is only explicitly asking for a report “to ensure that the College’s policies and processes are non-discriminatory and that it ensures its ability to foster an atmosphere that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds, consistent with the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation.” But since our culture now equates “respect and support” of people with endorsement of their behavior, it seems clear to me where this is going.
Because of what I explained about the distinction between attractions and behavior, I agree with Gordon College’s confidence that they’re in compliance with NEASC’s standards (just as they were two years ago when they were fully reviewed and accredited—see their FAQ on this situation), but based on recent similar situations (e.g., the problems Gordon College had earlier this year and the Cal State InterVarsity issue), I have little confidence that NEASC will be reasonable about this. However, Gordon College has been emphasizing its good relationship with NEASC, speaking of that organization as a partner rather than an adversary, noting that NEASC has said, "[T]he Commission has enjoyed its positive relationship with the College for over fifty years and hopes and expects that to continue for many years to come," so perhaps NEASC will surprise me.]
[Update 10/20/14: I’ve been able to track down a missing piece of this story, and I find it somewhat encouraging. It’s a letter from the NEASC to the president of Gordon College dated July 15, and it explains why Gordon College was first put on the commission’s agenda for their September meeting. First, it affirms that no action (withdrawal or probation) regarding Gordon College’s accreditation would be taken at that meeting, then it explains:
It is common practice for the Commission to discuss instances in which a member institution has been prominently in the news over a matter that may relate to the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation or its policies. Being on the agenda only indicates that the Commission will discuss the matter and decide what action, if any, to take....
I appreciate that you have been very forthcoming about Gordon’s historic position on the matters at hand and also your offer to provide information for the Commission’s consideration at its September meeting.
As indicated by the generally positive comprehensive evaluation of the College in 2012, the Commission has enjoyed its positive relationship with the College for over fifty years and hopes and expects that to continue for many years to come.
If the commission's discussion of whether or not the college was in compliance with the non-discrimination policy really was just standard procedure and not motivated by NEASC’s agreement with the actions taken against Gordon College by the City of Salem, then that could be a good sign their congenial relationship with Gordon College will continue. Please pray for Gordon College.]
*From the U.S. Department of Education: “Accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”