Questions are swirling surrounding Gordon College, a Christian institution in Wenham, Massachusetts, and the school's personal conduct policies after it was revealed that an internal committee will spend the next 12 to 18 months reviewing college standards on homosexuality.
But Gorgon College president D. Michael Lindsay told TheBlaze Monday that he doesn't believe the school's accreditation is at risk, nor does he expect that the board of trustees — the governing body that handles rule changes at the school — will radically change its current policies.
At a meeting on September 18, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' Commission on Institutions of Higher Education considered whether Gordon College's ban on "homosexual practice" runs contrary to its Commissions Standards for Accreditation.
Then, days later, a joint statement between Gordon College and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges — the school's regional accreditation board — announced that a 20-person commission of students and faculty would help ensure that school "policies and processes are non-discriminatory."
See the joint statement below:
But while some might take this information to assume that Gordon College's accreditation is at risk and under investigation, Lindsay told TheBlaze that this simply isn't the case, claiming that there is a zero percent chance that the college will lose its standing.
He said that Gordon College landed in the headlines in July after he joined other faith leaders in independently signing a letter to President Barack Obama — a decision that has created a fair bit of controversy for the school.
The letter asked the president to exempt faith-based organizations receiving federal funding from being mandated to hire people who may be in same-sex relationships. After he signed it, Lindsay said that confusion abounded over his reasoning for being a signatory.
"Some folks in the media thought that I was requesting for Gordon College to have that exemption," he said, noting that this simply wasn't the case.
Lindsay said that he was specifically interested in defending the right of faith-based institutions like the Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army to be able to hire according to their faith traditions.
But this misunderstanding, he said, led to inaccurate media coverage and controversy and to the assumption among some that Lindsay and Gordon College are socially conservative activists — a characterization he refuted.
"I'm not a culture warrior," he said. "And Gordon is not a culture-warrior institution."
As for the current situation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Lindsay said that the accreditation board is simply attempting to understand how the media scrutiny impacted the college, while also ensuring that students there are protected.
"They are not reviewing out accreditation. They do want to hear how the college is responding to this media attention," he said. "I have every indication that their primary concern is to ensure that our students are well-cared for and that we are in alignment with our mission statement."
Lindsay said that he was initially asked to deliver a letter summarizing the school's positions on homosexuality and personal conduct – a policy that has been on the books for over 50 years and that has withstood five rounds of accreditation, so he complied.
He had already decided in August — before the review with the accreditation board unfolded — to launch a 20-person committee of students and faculty to more deeply explore how Gordon can better care for gay and lesbian students while being faithful to its current standards.
Currently, the coalition is following through on that front.
Despite the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' inquiry, Lindsay doesn't believe the school will be punished for its stance on homosexuality.
"It would be unthinkable in higher education in this country for a regional-crediting body to start to apply political tests for accrediting," Lindsay said. "It's antithetical to the very nature of accrediting."
In fact, he said there's a zero percent chance, in his view, that Gordon College will lose accreditation as a result of the current scenario. Lindsay also indicated that it isn't likely the college will change its policies on its own either, despite internal campus debate over the issue.
While the committee is examining the current environment at Gordon, Lindsay believes the board of trustees is favorable of the policy as it currently stands.
"Whenever you have disagreement in the academic community, it is important to be in conversation and we had a small group of our constituents who would like us to change this policy," he admitted. "[Policy is] set by our board of trustees and I think they are relatively satisfied as it currently stands."
The current behavior policy reads, in part: "Those acts which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus."
This policy means that gay students would need to remain abstinent and would not be permitted to involve themselves in "homosexual practice," as the rules read.
"We have had gay employees, we have had gay students … the only thing we require is that they can support our statement of faith and that they are willing to [comply by the conduct rules]," Lindsay told TheBlaze.
According to the joint statement issued by Gordon College and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the college will present a report at the September 2015 accreditation meeting to ensure that non-discrimination and an atmosphere of respect are present on campus.
While he doesn't anticipate losing accreditation, Lindsay said that he notices a profound change in the way that Christian groups are received when they address qualms with issues like homosexuality.
"What's become obvious to me is it's going to be increasingly hard for faith-based institutions to be able to talk about their concerns and those [are the] kinds of challenges all of us will face," he said, noting that the school is trying to operate with both grace and truth as the Bible commands.
Gordon College was also in the news over the summer when a longstanding contract was ended early with the city of Salem, Massachusetts, in part, over Lindsay's signing of the letter and the school's standards on homosexuality.
Get more details about the steps Gordon plans to take here.