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Gordon College president defends call for religious exemption

Gordon College president D. Michael Lindsay’s public stance sparked anger among students and alumni, who said his views were discriminatory and did not reflect their own. Handout

The president of Gordon College is defending his support for a religious exemption to forthcoming federal regulations banning antigay discrimination, saying his “sole intention” was to affirm the Christian school’s support for religious liberty.

D. Michael Lindsay said he joined other religious leaders in calling for the exemption in order to affirm the “right of faith-based institutions to set and adhere to standards which derive from our shared framework of faith.”

“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,” Lindsay wrote in a statement posted Monday on the Wenham college’s website.


Last week, Lindsay was among 14 religious leaders who wrote the Obama administration in support of an exemption to the upcoming executive order forbidding federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a key victory for gay rights advocates.

Without an exemption, the employment protections would “come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom,” the religious leaders wrote.

Lindsay’s stance sparked anger among students and alumni, who said his views were discriminatory and did not reflect their own. An online petition calling on him to rescind his support for the exemption has received more than 2,700 signatures.

In Monday’s letter, Lindsay said the college typically stays out of politically charged issues, and that he regretted the letter to Obama had “resulted in confusion, hurt feelings and disappointment among the Gordon community, which was not what I intended.”

He said the college’s positions on employment or admissions had not changed.

“We have never barred categories of individuals from our campus and have no intention to do so now,” he wrote. “We have always sought to be a place of grace and truth, and that remains the case.”


The college, which has more than 2,100 students, forbids homosexual practice in its student handbook, as well as sex outside of marriage.

As Lindsay explained his support for the exemption, a group of students wrote the Obama administration Tuesday in a show of support for the executive order, saying it provides protections “granted to virtually all other social identities in our country.”

In their letter, the students denounced calls for a religious exemption, saying it would allow discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. “There is a distinction between allowing for freedom in the expression of religious beliefs and allowing the practice of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” the students wrote.

The request for an exemption, they wrote, “does not accurately reflect the diverse perspectives of the individuals affiliated with and represented by the Christian leaders who signed it.”

More than 100 students, alumni, and faculty signed the letter. Juwan Campbell, a Gordon senior from Boston who helped build support for the letter, said many students are upset that Lindsay voiced support for an effort they believe is discriminatory, and concerned his position will hurt the college’s image.

“We’re not going to look like a very progressive school,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for people to find value in a Gordon degree going forward.”

Other religious leaders have voiced support for the antidiscrimination order, and urged the administration not to include a religious exemption. On Monday, more than 100 leaders sent a letter urging that “public dollars should not be used to sanction discrimination.”


“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens,” they wrote. “An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

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Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.