WENHAM — Gordon College President Michael Lindsay says the intent of a controversial letter to President Obama has been “misconstrued” and that “nothing has changed” in the college’s hiring or admission practices for gays and lesbians.
“I feel badly that this has resulted in confusion, hurt feelings and disappointment among the Gordon community, which was not what I intended,” Lindsay wrote in a “personal message” posted on the college’s website.
The letter, dated July 1, asked Obama to include a religious exemption to an executive order that would ban organizations from signing federal contracts if they discriminate against gays and lesbians in their hiring practices. It was signed by the leaders of 14 religious and civic organizations, including Lindsay, who has been president of the Christian liberal arts college since 2011.
The letter has sparked an online petition asking Lindsay to rescind the request. The petition had more than 2,700 signatures as of Tuesday, according to Moveon.org Petitions.
Brian Boyd, a 1988 Gordon College graduate who started the petition, said he plans to send it to Lindsay on Wednesday.
“I think the number (of signatures) is substantial, and I think it’s enough for him to pay attention and to at least address it publicly,” said Boyd, who lives in Texas.
A spokesman for Gordon College said Lindsay was heading on a previously scheduled 10-day trip to China and was not available for an interview. The college posted Lindsay’s message on its website and emailed it to students and alumni late Monday night.
In the message, Lindsay said he signed the letter to Obama because Gordon College is an “explicitly Christian institution (that) should set the conduct expectations for members of our community.” He said the letter asks for the same sort of religious exemption that President Bush included in a 2002 executive order.
“Some have misunderstood this message as requesting something new or different,” Lindsay said. “That’s not the case.”
Lindsay said “nothing has changed” regarding admission or employment at the college. He said the school has “never barred categories of individuals from our campus” and has “no intention to do so now.”
Lindsay said anyone is welcome to study or work at Gordon “(a)s long as a student, a faculty member, or a staff member supports and lives by our community covenant documents.”
On its website, the college includes a list of behavioral standards that prohibit “words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture,” including blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage and homosexual practice.
Those actions “will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus,” according to the website.
In an explanation of its policy on homosexuality, the college said it recognizes that such students “have often felt marginalized and alone, and recognize the pressing need for a safe campus environment for all students.”
Oliver Goodrich, a 1994 Gordon graduate, said students and employees of the school must sign a statement agreeing to abide by those conditions. Goodrich worked at the college for six years after graduating but left in part because he was ready to come out as a gay man.
“I felt like I couldn’t do that and continue to work at the college,” he said. “I was afraid that I would lose my job if I came out.”
Goodrich said he was disappointed that Lindsay signed the letter seeking a religious exemption from hiring gays and lesbians. Goodrich called the issue “relatively minor when we think of Christianity as a whole.”
“For him to take leadership on this issue is pretty divisive at a time when he and Christians as a whole should be bringing Christians together,” Goodrich said. “I don’t really think his views adequately represent the Gordon community and the plurality of views that exist on the issue in the broader evangelical world.”
Conor Krupke, who co-founded a blog called “Student Inqueery” at Gordon College before graduating in May, said he was surprised that Lindsay signed the letter. Krupke said he thought that he and other gay and lesbian advocates on campus had been making progress in discussions with college administrators about sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We felt our conversation with administrators was slowly moving in a positive direction, but this letter is like taking five steps back,” he said. “It seems really out of place for a president of Gordon to become involved in something so politically charged. It’s also a little disheartening.”
Krupke said he and others involved in the Student Inqueery blog are writing their own letter to President Obama, saying the letter signed by Lindsay and the other leaders does not represent the views of everyone in those organizations.
A letter has also been circulating on Facebook in support of Lindsay, saying the Obama administration is “trampling on religious liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.”
“Thank you for being faithful to God’s Word and taking a stand for what is right,” the letter said.
Bill Siegler, a 1993 Gordon graduate who lives in Beverly, said he agrees with Lindsay that institutions should not be forced to relinquish their religious beliefs.
“The laws need to take into account people’s religious beliefs and freedoms and personal consciences,” Siegler said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.