A young Christian college president who signed onto a letter from religious leaders, asking President Barack Obama to exempt their institutions from proposed antidiscrimination rules, is speaking out about the “confusion” his signature has caused at his school.
Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay, a 42-year-old former Rice University sociologist known for his study of leadership and evangelicalism, penned a “personal message” this week saying that he was not trying to drag the school into “politically charged issues.”
Speaking to a Democratic fundraiser in June, Obama said he would sign an executive order disallowing federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of “real or perceived sexual orientation.” That would affect religious nonprofits and charities that do federally funded work.
The letter from a politically moderate group of religious leaders was sent a day after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, declaring that “closely held” businesses are exempt from paying for contraceptives for employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But the letter was in the works before that, according to signatory Michael Wear, The Boston Globe reported. Wear served in the White House faith-based initiative during Obama’s first term and directed faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Lindsay’s personal message said the religious leaders asked Obama for the “same religious exemption that was passed” by the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, “with bipartisan support.” That bill was sponsored by Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Lutheran.
“Signing the letter was in keeping with our decades-old conviction that, as an explicitly Christian institution, Gordon should set the conduct expectations for members of our community,” Lindsay wrote. “Nothing has changed in our position,” he said, while adding that “Gordon has also been a place where constructive and respectful dialogue takes place.”
A spokesman for Lindsay told the Globe that Lindsay did not sign a previous letter with a similar message that was signed by 150 leaders, including those at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, of which Gordon is a member. That letter was sent to the White House June 25.
“Dr. Lindsay agreed to add his name to [the July 1 letter] to affirm the College’s support on the underlying concern for religious liberty, not to take a political position for the college,” spokesman Rick Sweeney said.
The July 1 letter to Obama was signed by many leaders close to Obama, including former Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, who is a pro-life Catholic, and now Erie County executive; megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who performed the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration; and Frank Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
“We believe that all persons are created in the divine image of the creator… even so, it still may not be possible for all sides to reach a consensus on the same issue,” the religious leaders wrote.
“That is why we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” the letter said.
The letter does not include an explicit denouncement of LGBT practice, rights or lifestyle, but instead focuses on the defense of religious freedoms.
“The hiring policies of these organizations — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and others — extend from their religious beliefs and values: the same values that motivate them to serve their neighbors in the first place,” the religious leaders said.
The letter asks Obama to include a similar provision for religious institutions as in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if he signs an executive order.
Under the signatories list, the letter reads “Organizational affiliations are listed for identification purposes only,” meaning the signatories are speaking for themselves only.
College Fix contributor TJ Jan is a student at Seattle Pacific University.
IMAGES: Gordon College