07/07/2014 01:27 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

When Your Own College Wouldn't Want You Because You're Gay: Evangelical Leaders Ask for Right to Discriminate

It took all of 24 hours after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision last week for conservative religionists to try seizing the opportunity to exclude people from their midst whose non-heterosexuality troubles them.

The president of my own alma mater was one of the prominent evangelicals who signed onto a letter to President Obama requesting the right to discriminate against qualified prospective employees based on their sexual orientation.

D. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, together with the chief executive of Catholic Charities USA, the executive editor of Christianity Today magazine, megachurch pastor Rick Warren, and others who consider themselves both Christians and leaders, requested the right for their taxpayer-supported institutions to be exempt from Obama's planned executive order prohibiting employers that receive federal contracts from discriminating against anyone based on their sexual orientation.

"Without a robust religious exemption," said the letter, "this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom."

Naturally the signers see no conflict in their insistence that they should continue to be eligible for federal contracts paid for with tax dollars collected from all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Rather than welcome qualified people, of whatever sexual orientation, as full partners in advancing Gordon College's mission to educate Christian leaders, the school's president -- who ironically has recently published a book about leadership -- has chosen not to lead at all, but to hide from the facts of life.

One of those facts is that human beings come in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations. By insisting that only certifiable heterosexuals are worthy of being part of the Gordon community, President Lindsay may believe he is protecting religious sensibilities and upholding so-called traditional values.

But he would be wise to heed the findings of a 2013 Ford Foundation-funded survey, released earlier this year. The survey of 4,509 Americans by the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 70 percent of Millennials -- college-aged men and women -- believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. It also found that 72 percent of Americans favor protecting LGBT people against workplace discrimination -- including 61 percent of Republicans, evangelicals' favorite political party; 75 percent of Independents; and 79 percent of Democrats.

For a Gordon alumnus -- and president of the senior class of 1980 -- who also happens to be a gay man, it seems odd to be writing about this situation so many decades after my own "Gordon experience." It's as if nothing has really changed at Gordon, while I have grown and matured -- and the world has changed -- a great deal.

The glossy alumni publications that somehow follow me -- though I've had no dealings with the college since my graduation -- portray a diverse, engaged student body learning to live out their faith by working through their chosen fields to help heal the broken world.

I've felt a kindredness with the new generations of students I see in those publications, even though I have not shared their evangelical faith since I was at Gordon. My own work also has been largely about trying to contribute to the world's healing by giving a voice to the voiceless, and using my skills as a journalist to champion the interests of marginalized, vulnerable people.

That is how I, as a gay Gordon College alumnus, have sought to live out my own faith, even if it no longer fits into the neat theological boxes I was led at Gordon to believe define "true" Christians.

I have also had to find my own way to live as a healthy, sexual, spiritually attuned gay man. I certainly was never encouraged to be that while I was at Gordon. "Homosexual practice" -- merely having sex if you are a gay person that isn't with an opposite-sex partner in a "heterosexual" marriage -- still is grounds for dismissal from the college.

Like so many gay men, the homosexual orientation that felt as normal to me as being right-handed became deeply conflicted by evangelicalism. Threats of hellfire were among the weapons of choice by one of my Gordon professors in particular. A closeted, married homosexual man, he undercut young gay men's budding self-acceptance with scripture and shame -- his way to groom us for guilt-ridden seductions.

In spite of the hypocrisy this former mentor modeled for me, my personal transformation into an openly, proudly gay man actually began at Gordon. There I discovered the work of Charles Williams, a friend and mentor of C.S. Lewis, an Anglican claimed by American evangelicals as their own. Williams saw splendor in the ordinary and spiritual redemption in acts of everyday kindness. A passage from his novel Descent Into Hell offered my first glimpse of a way to be true to myself and Christian, too. Williams writes -- I am paraphrasing -- that love between men isn't sinful because it is still love; narcissism and selfishness, the opposites of love, are the real sins to worry about.

More than three decades later, I still credit my eventual gay liberation largely to Williams for helping me begin shutting out the religious homophobes with historic and scientific facts, and by transmuting their condemnation of my love for men into a celebration of the redemptive capacity to love.

How sad there are religious leaders in America in 2014, including the president of my own alma mater, who believe their community's faith is so fragile and in need of protection that they would resort to asking the president of the United States to allow them to discriminate against an entire class of American citizens -- people just like me.

Of course the Jesus of the Gospels would be appalled that such people call themselves his followers. He, after all, preached about loving your neighbor and not judging others. And he showed by his actions what love looks like by embracing the very men and women the self-righteous shunned.