Intersectionality

stories from the frontlines of difference in the evangelical university

Month: October, 2014

Gordon Agonistes

Selected links on recent events at Gordon College:

1. Gordon College President, Michael Lindsay, signs a letter calling for the exemption of religious institutions from federal LGBT anti-discrimination mandates.

2. The action provokes a massive backlash. Of all the criticisms leveled at the college, perhaps none quite captures the devastating fallout as this blog post. An excerpt:

“What depresses me most about this thing is the good I’ve seen done in Gloucester by having Gordon people involved, now saddled to a brand of intolerance. You deserve better, Gloucester Gordon folks. Much better. Maybe you guys could all get together and figure out statement you can put on your resume after the  asterisk next to your Alma Mater. It sucks, but that might be your best option. Whatever you wind up doing I’m guessing it will be thoughtful and well executed, as everything you guys do tends to be.”

3. Gordon’s LGBTQIA students and alumni post their stories here.

4. A section of staff, faculty, students, alumni, and parents sign a petition calling for the removal of the words “homosexual practice” from Gordon College’s Life and Conduct Statement.

5. Few have been as outspoken in support of Gordon’s LGBTQIA employees and students as professor of philosophy, Dr. Lauren Swayne Barthold. Here is a remarkable letter she published in The Salem News. An excerpt:

“From where I sit as a philosophy professor at Gordon College, it is with the mixed emotions of sadness and relief that I watch the “outing” of my employer’s policy on hiring practices.

I am sad that this policy stands at all and that news of its existence is likely to cause more pain to and isolation in the Christian LGBTQ community. I am sad that while some requests to foster internal dialogue about this issue on our campus have been met, responses on the part of the Gordon administration have been too few and too slow. Rather than initiating such dialogue, too often there has been foot-dragging. I am sad that I work at an institution that believes that not talking about homosexuality and silencing stories of Christians dealing with their sexual identities is the way to bring healing and build community. I am sad that Gordon cannot lead the way amongst Christian colleges by entering into the painful communal work of crafting institutional policy that maintains the integrity of a vibrant, 21st century faith.

At the same time, it is with some relief that our hiring policy has been made public, since this (sadly) seems to be a way to get the administration to take seriously requests for dialogue and clubs devoted to exploring themes of sexual identity within a Christian context. It is also with some relief that those of us faculty who have felt embarrassed to admit to our gay friends that we work for Gordon can now use this opportunity to distinguish ourselves from the policy. Many, many times over the years that I have worked here, I have asked myself whether I should quit in protest over this discriminatory policy. In the end, I concluded that my resignation (or even a handful of resignations) would do absolutely nothing to change the policy. I am convinced that change must primarily come from within.”

6. Gordon College English professor, Dr. Paul Borgman, writes a sparkling letter calling for “unity within a context for diversity.” An excerpt:

“A substantial number of my colleagues who take a differing Biblical position on homosexuality than presently espoused by the college have expressed to me their fear of being denied promotion, tenure, or even losing their jobs if they speak or write their Biblical views on the matter. This is a sorry fact. Our hesitancy to speak out or write about our Biblical views is a brand new phenomenon on a campus I have happily served as a professor for thirty-four years.

On the other hand, some faculty and students whose views are in agreement with the official stance have expressed their own unease toward those us who differ. I have heard about some members of our community who feel scorned, ridiculed and marginalized if they dare support the official position of the college on homosexuality. By now almost everyone among the faculty and some from among the students have sensed a growing corrosiveness of atmosphere.

Now more than ever we need what has always been true in my tenure at Gordon: unity in our diversity.

…..

In the past, most Gordon administrators, trustees, and even some faculty outside the discipline of science did not get the problem of evolution right. Dealing with this problem was led by the faculty, an important lesson and very practical suggestion for healing on this campus: faculty could be empowered by the administration, with a promise of no recrimination, to take the lead in exploring this hugely contentious issue of homosexuality and the Bible. Evangelical scholars are increasingly suggesting views on the matter of homosexuality and the Bible that differ from Gordon’s current position. Faculty needs to work diligently and openly within our own body and with evangelicals from the greater world of scholarship. Currently there is neither a mandate nor any sense of responsibility given the faculty to lead the discourse.

The administration needs to express their trust in faculty, while we faculty need to trust the president’s good will. A good first step has been taken by the administration. In response to a concerned accreditation board (The New England Association of Schools & Colleges), President Lindsay and NEASC have agreed that the college enter into a 12 to 18 month “period of discernment” regarding our position on homosexuality. This step involves a panel from across the Gordon campus: Twenty persons who have been chosen by the administration from among nominees with the purpose of discernment on this issue.

….

In response to this sobering word, then, I suggest a second and crucial step: That the faculty as a body be charged by the president to lead the “period of discernment” that both the accreditation board and the president have agreed upon as necessary.

Students could be encouraged to attend faculty dialogue, learning how their teachers and mentors, led by Jesus and the Holy Spirit in interpreting Scripture, actually conduct college-level inquiry of formidable issues.

The administration, trustees and staff could be encouraged to review the results of faculty exploration of this currently contentious issue just as faculty should be encouraged to pay attention to and respect the ways in which we are served by the administration, trustees, and staff in our nurturing of students’ intellectual and spiritual development. Staff and administration at Gordon are exceptionally bright and well trained, and so would be valuable respondents to faculty findings. But it is the faculty who needs to model scholarly exploration in this issue of homosexuality and the Bible, not just for students but for the entire campus.

Gordon has a golden opportunity to take a lead among Christian liberal arts institutions by demonstrating what such a school can do best: enable and encourage its faculty to lead communal dialogue about diverse and possibly contentious issues in a spirit of unity rather than an insistence on uniformity. As I look back on my teaching and scholarship at Gordon, what has struck me most, and sustained me beyond all else, is its unity in diversity, the freedom and richness of genuine discourse.

We have a legacy to protect and nourish. What a more and more luminous beacon Gordon can become in our dealing with this current crisis, one that has threatened our unity and equanimity. Our comportment with each other in the next year has the potential of putting Gordon more visibly on the map—for the right reasons.”

7. Faculty at Gordon reveal that even prior to the LGBTQIA firestorm, Gordon College’s president, Michael Lindsay, had evinced a worrying tendency for unilateral decision-making.An excerpt:

“Faculty at the Christian school in Wenham complained at a meeting in May 2013 that Lindsay and other top leaders made significant decisions unilaterally, according to a written summary of the meeting provided to the Globe.

Professors at the meeting expressed angst over topics including “the spiritual direction of the college,” saying recent moves by administrators were narrowing Gordon’s religious identity.

“Faculty need him to hear that there is widespread doubt about his leadership,” said the report. “There is worry that some of his decisions could rob Gordon of what has made it the unique and special place it is (both in terms of ethos and in terms of excellence of academics).”

What It Is Like to Be A Black Woman Professor at an Evangelical College

Christena Cleveland — who taught at Westmont College for two years — offers a devastating narrative of what it is like to be a black woman professor at a majority white evangelical college. Here is a telling excerpt in what really ought to be a compulsory reading for anyone who cares about justice and is affiliated with evangelical colleges:

“As the only African-American faculty member at a Christian college for two years, I experienced a constant state of stereotype threat; I was almost always in situations in which others could potentially view me in stereotypical ways.  During my first week on the faculty, a white male colleague confirmed this when he approached me and “confessed” to me that he was really pleased that I had joined the faculty because he had been harboring some prejudices against black women (lazy, stupid, violent, etc.) and he was glad to meet a “respectable” black woman who would force him to rethink his prejudices.

He thought he was doing me a favor by being transparent and confessing his prejudice, but it only served to heighten my stereotype threat. I knew that I had to represent black women to the entire community, that I needed to be a credit to my racial-gender group, and that I’d better not show any weakness. Like the women of the racial uplift movement, I thought that the StrongBlackWoman in me would save me.

It didn’t.

Over the course of those two years (the worst of my life), I refused to show any vulnerability or need even though I dealt with overwhelming institutional racism and sexism, psychological homelessness, disrespect from students, and more. After oppressive interactions as the only woman and only person of color in committee meetings, I would grit my teeth, vowing to myself that I would never let them beat me, that I would never let them see how much they hurt me. So I repressed my anger, sadness, anxiety, fear and loneliness, and busied myself with taking care of my students and others in the community like the StrongBlackWoman that I was. Everybody thought I was fine.

Walker-Barnes says, “StrongBlackWomen suffer in silence.”

The dam finally broke during my exit interview with a senior leader on my last day of employment. He responded callously when I tried to explain the concept of microaggressions to him. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I started sobbing uncontrollably, eventually excusing myself from the interview and retreating to my car where I cried nonstop for several more hours. It wasn’t until months later that I realized that I wasn’t crying because he had been callous. I wasn’t even crying because his callousness represented all of the institutional callousness that I had experienced over the last two years. No, I was crying because I had let them beat me. Even then, I was more concerned with upholding the façade of the StrongBlackWoman than with getting actual help. That’s the magnetic power of the StrongBlackWoman identity and the hegemonic forces that keep it alive.”

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Is That There Isn’t Any

According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals believe that they they are subjected to greater discrimination than that faced by blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims and atheists.