The news media took little notice when 14 organizations and religious leaders, including Rick Warren, Christianity Today and Catholic Charities, sent a letter to President Obama last week seeking religious exemptions from his forthcoming executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. But the Boston Globe and gay activists noticed the name of D. Michael Lindsay as one of the signers, and sounded an alarm. Lindsay is president of Gordon College, a small Christian institution near Boston with behavioral standards forbidding all sex outside of marriage including “homosexual practice.” It also forbids profanity, drunkenness, dishonesty, use of illegal drugs and tobacco, and mandates respect for the Sabbath.
As Lindsay tells it, his signing of the letter was somewhat perfunctory, largely a show of support for religious exemptions in general—his college has had a religious exemption since 2002 under an executive order from President Bush, he cites a similar exemption is in the ENDA bill , and, he insists, Gordon doesn’t discriminate. But after protests, on campus and off, Lindsay put out a statement saying this: “Signing the letter was in keeping with our decades-old conviction that, as an explicitly Christian institution, Gordon should set the conduct expectations for members of our community…Be assured that nothing has changed in our position regarding admission or employment. We have never barred categories of individuals from our campus and have no intention to do so now.”
The content and wording of President Obama’s planned executive order are still unknown, but the issue of religious liberty versus anti-discrimination rules is very familiar. In many such campus confrontations, gay activists have managed to defund or ban Christian groups by citing rules that require the groups to be open to non-Christian or even anti-Christian student leadership. Twenty years ago, few realized that apparently anodyne anti-bias rules could be used as effective political weapons against traditional church groups. Now they do.