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What happens when society rejects a faith-based moral standard?

Massachusetts evangelical college is about to find out

Published: Tuesday, July 15 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

This is a photo of Jenks Library at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Thomsen / Flickr Commons flickr.com/photos/ethomsen

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The accreditation of an evangelical Christian college near Boston is under review, and a city contract was terminated last week, after the president of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, signed a letter asking for religious liberty protection under proposed federal anti-discrimination rules involving homosexuals.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which bills itself as "the nation's oldest regional accrediting association," told the Boston Business Journal it would "talk about the issues" raised by Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay's signing of the open letter to President Barack Obama asking for an exemption to proposed federal contracting rules barring discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. The panel will consider the matter at a regularly scheduled meeting for September 17-18, the report said.

In June, the White House indicated the president would sign an executive order on the matter. Legislation to block employment discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgendered people passed the Senate in 2013, but is stalled in the House of Representatives.

In an open letter posted after news about the accreditation review erupted, Lindsay did not indicate that any direct challenge was posted to the school by the proposed executive order: "My sole intention in signing this letter was to affirm the College’s support of the underlying issue of religious liberty, including the right of faith-based institutions to set and adhere to standards which derive from our shared framework of faith, and which we all have chosen to embrace as members of the Gordon community," Lindsay wrote.

NEASC Commission on Institutions of Higher Education President Barbara Brittingham, in reference to the Gordon action, told the Business Journal: "It has achieved a lot of visibility and the issues are complicated," she said.

The group "will talk about the issues and decide if the issues, that are raised and what is publicly available, is at odds in any way with standards and policies," she said.

Gordon first received regional accreditation in 1961. The recognition is often viewed as important for students wishing to pursue graduate studies, transfer credits to other institutions, or for schools wishing to participate in federal aid programs.

Should NEASC decide to take action, it would first send a letter to the school and offer it the opportunity to respond, the Boston Globe (subscription may be required) noted: "Rather than revoke accreditation, the agency could implement a less severe measure, including probation, to encourage changes," the Globe said.

Four years ago, the accrediting agency terminated recognition for Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, over financial issues. The 128-year-old school, operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, later closed.

But it's Gordon College's faithfulness to its beliefs, not its finances, that are under scrutiny now. The school has a "community covenant" that prohibits sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman, and says it "is, and always has been, an educational institution grounded in our commitment to Christ," according to the open letter Lindsay posted.

"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," Lindsay wrote. "As long as a student, a faculty member, or a staff member supports and lives by our community covenant documents, they are welcome to study or work at Gordon."

Lindsay added, "I sincerely regret that the intent of this letter has been misconstrued, and that Gordon has been put into the spotlight in this way."

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