National Edition

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

That regret wasn't enough for the City of Salem, whose mayor abruptly ended a contract with Gordon that allowed the school to operate Salem's Old Town Hall, a tourist attraction and meeting venue. Mayor Kimberly Driscoll, in a letter to Lindsay, specifically cited the Christian school's beliefs and standards, which she said could not apply in a "publicly owned facility" such as the town hall, as the reason for breaking its deal.

"I am truly disappointed in the stance you have taken, which plainly discriminates against the rights of LGBT individuals, both on and off campus," Driscoll wrote. “These actions fly in the face of the City of Salem’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which prohibits our municipality from contracting with entities that maintain discriminatory practices. While I respect your rights to embed religious values on a private college campus, religious freedom does not afford you the right to impose those beliefs upon others ... I hope you realize how hurtful and offensive these 'behavioral standards' are to members of the greater Salem LGBT community, some of whom are Gordon alumni, staff and/or students."

Driscoll's news release said that June 20, "the Human Rights Campaign — America’s largest LGBT civil rights organization — awarded Salem a perfect score on their Municipal Equality Index for the City’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the overall LGBT-inclusivity of the City’s laws, policies and services."

A total of 14 high-profile evangelicals and other Christians signed the letter, including Rick Warren, senior pastor, Saddleback Church; Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America; Michael Wear, who was the National Faith Vote Director for the president's 2012 reelection campaign; and Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today magazine. The letter's text specified that signers' affiliations "are listed for identification purposes only."

According to the Erie (Pennsylvania) Times-News, Kathy Dahlkemper county executive of Erie County and a former Democratic Member of Congress, apologized for signing the letter and asked Wear to remove her name from the document: "She called her decision to sign the letter to Obama 'an error in judgment,'" the paper said.

Wear has not yet responded to a Deseret News inquiry about who drafted the letter to Obama.

General support for a religious exemption, which, Lindsay noted, was previously endorsed by President George W. Bush in 2002, may be difficult to find. The Los Angeles Times, criticizing the open letter Lindsay signed, declared in an editorial: "A church that believes homosexual conduct is a sin has a constitutional right to insist that its clergy and religious teachers share that view and live by it. That doesn't give the church a right to refuse to hire a gardener or cafeteria worker because he or she is gay."

The consequences of society rejecting a faith-based moral standard have yet to be fully understood, Alan Noble, an assistant professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, wrote at The Atlantic's website: "Behind all of these charges is the suspicion that evangelicals are simply refusing to accept contemporary American mores; they are privileging their faith over the moral spirit of the age. But for many evangelicals, these beliefs are not actually a sign of retreat from public life. Instead, there is a fear that in an increasingly secularized society, there will be less tolerance for people who wish to act upon their deeply held religious beliefs, except in narrowly defined, privatized spaces. This is a fundamentally American concern: Will I have the right to serve God as I believe I am obligated to?"

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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