THE BLOG
09/01/2016 04:12 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2017

'Christian' College Gives Heave-Ho To Professor For Supporting LGBT People

So my old alma mater is getting rid of yet another tenured faculty member who doesn't bend to its narrow understanding of Christianity and dares to publicly support LGBT people.

Gordon College, in Wenham, Mass., has been in the news the last couple of years because its president, D. Michael Lindsay, was one of the prominent evangelicals in 2014 who petitioned President Obama for the right to discriminate against prospective employees who happen to be LGBT. They insisted they had a "right" to taxpayer dollars, in the form of federal contracts, even though they felt they shouldn't have to abide by the president's then-pending executive order barring discrimination in federal contracts.

Earlier this year, Lauren Barthold, an associate philosophy professor at Gordon, sued the college after Lindsay and others reprimanded and threatened to fire her because she publicly criticized their discriminatory policy, supported the LGBT community and, they claimed, urged a boycott against the college.

Barthold said clearly in a letter in The Salem News, "I am not writing this letter to either plead for your continued support of Gordon or to ask you to boycott the college."

Other things in Barthold's letter are probably what most angered Gordon's administrators. "I am sad," she wrote, "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."

She also expressed "relief" that Gordon's discriminatory 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."

Barthold sued Gordon College after it punished her by revoking her scheduled fall 2015 eligibility for full professorship -- despite previous promotions for her teaching abilities -- and dropped her as director of Gordon's gender studies program that she created. She sought compensatory and punitive damages for lost wages and "mental distress," and claimed she had been disciplined differently than male colleagues who had likewise spoken out against the college's policy.

Sarah Wunsch, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, which represented Barthold, said that although the organization strongly supports religious freedom, that "does not mean the freedom to do anything to others in the name of religion." She pointed out that Gordon hires faculty and staff from a variety of Christian backgrounds as evidence the college "does not have the right to punish a philosophy professor who criticized a policy of discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

In a September 1 e-mail blast to Gordon alumni and others, the college's board chairman Herman J. Smith wrote, "Prof. Barthold believed that her communications through the media were proper expressions of her Christian faith.  She believed her statements were made out of love and respect for the College."

Nevertheless, Smith said "the college considered Prof. Barthold's statements to be harmful and inappropriate for a faculty member." He defended the disciplinary actions "in response to Prof. Barthold's media communications" as proper and "grounded in important college policies and expectations that it has for faculty members as a Christian institution."

Smith said it was "Christian principles" that led the college and Barthold to "resolve their differences and end their dispute." Barthold has "agreed to resign from her tenured faculty position at the end of the upcoming semester, following her residency this fall on a previously awarded research fellowship at the University of Connecticut."

Although Smith acknowledges that Barthold has made "many contributions," "is a well-respected scholar," and has "touched the lives of many students," she simply must go.

Gordon College will not abide dissent. At least not from a woman professor who dares to publicly question its arcane and discriminatory policy.

As a Gordon alumnus, and president of the graduating class of 1980, I responded to Smith's e-mail with my own message. "How ironic to receive your message at the same time that the issue of "safe spaces" and intellectual freedom are being debated by some of the nation's leading universities.

"I am sorry, though not surprised, to see that Gordon College continues to ostracize even gifted faculty members who do not bend to the pressure to conform in every way to the college's narrow understanding of Christianity.

"As a gay man, I had to overcome the shame and stigma against LGBT people fostered at Gordon. I had to learn to affirm and care about myself in spite of the messages I received at Gordon, and from Gordon since, that I and my relationships are somehow "less than." Fortunately my understanding of God, and the Gospel, was inspired at Gordon by such writers as C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. This is why my faith is able to encompass all of humanity, not only those of a particular privileged sexual orientation. 

"I have made my career as a journalist and  author writing on such issues as health and medicine, social justice, and equality -- issues I care about precisely because of the faith that Gordon nurtured in me. How sad to see the college retrench even as national surveys show such strong support for LGBT equality and same-sex marriage among young evangelicals. History is not on Gordon's side on this matter. The demographic tide will soon wash over the college's arcane prejudice.

"I expect Dr. Berthold's departure from Gordon College will mark the beginning of a new flourishing in her career. I will reach out to her to wish her well."