Religious institutions struggle to find their place amid advances in LGBT rights

Gordon College

Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., is among the many conservative religious institutions struggling to find their place in a landscape rapidly changing in favor of gay rights. Elise Amendola, AP

Gordon CollegeElise Amendola, AP

Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., is among the many conservative religious institutions struggling to find their place in a landscape rapidly changing in favor of gay rights.

WENHAM, Mass. — D. Michael Lindsay thought he was on safe political ground when he signed the letter.

President Barack Obama was about to expand job protection for gays employed by federal contractors. Under the proposed changes, faith-based charities with federal grants worried they could lose the right to hire and fire according to their religious beliefs.

Religious leaders flooded the White House with pleas to maintain or broaden the exemption.

Among them was one endorsed by Lindsay, president of Gordon College, a small evangelical school, and 13 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders.

In the end, Obama left the existing exemption in place. But it was no victory for Lindsay.

His stand last July came at a cost – to him and the school – that he never anticipated: broken relationships with nearby cities, the loss of a key backer for a federal grant, a review by the regional college accrediting agency, and campus protest and alumni pushback over whether the school should maintain its ban on “homosexual practice” as part of its life and conduct standards.

“I signed the letter as a way of trying to show my personal support,” Lindsay said during an interview at the Wenham campus, about 25 miles north of Boston. “Obviously, if I had known the response that in particular Gordon College would receive, I wouldn’t sign.”

Lindsay had learned the hard way just how much gay rights had been dividing members of his own community and driving a wedge between his school and local communities.

Gordon is among the many conservative religious institutions struggling to find their place in a landscape rapidly changing in favor of gay rights.

Their view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is being challenged not only from outside, but also from within their own faith communities, and once-comfortable partnerships with public organizations are being re-evaluated according to new terms.

After coming under fire for its ban on hiring faculty in same-sex relationships, Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia decided this year to delay a decision on whether to uphold the policy, which means it won’t be enforced for now.

World Vision, a Christian international relief agency based in Washington State, said last March it would hire employees in gay marriages, but quickly backtracked after drawing condemnation from evangelical leaders and losing thousands of donors. At several evangelical colleges, students have formed advocacy groups for gay acceptance, such as OneWheaton, at Wheaton College in Illinois.

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