What is the difference between faithful conviction and discrimination?

Is your church on a mission to end the existence of all other churches?

You will probably answer a resounding NO to such a question. Then you will probably try to understand who would ask such a ridiculous question. It is a ridiculous question, but in the current cultural malaise it makes more sense than might seem reasonable at first glance.

Try this question. Is Barack Obama on a mission to end the existence of Christian schools at all levels? You might think that this is a ridiculous question, too. He has not even mentioned Christian schools in any recent speeches. He has been busy with ebola in Africa and ISIS in the Middle East. However, he recently signed an executive order that forbids federal contractors to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This order does not include a conscience exemption for anyone whose religion regards homosexuality or gender confusion as sin. Like so many other actions of the president, this one eludes easy examination. Most of us do not easily translate the legalese in such orders to simply human language. However, the fact that the president thought such an order was so urgent that he promulgated it even as the Congress was considering a similar order that would have included the exemption does raise the antenna of anyone watching for evidence that the executive branch of the government wants to shut down the free exercise of religion in the USA.

The order sounds relatively ordinary until one is made aware of another piece of news.

On August 5, 2014, Michael Zigarelli reported a most unusual situation. The president of Gordon College, a Christian college in the Boston area, recently signed a letter in which he exercised his right as a citizen to express his view on an action of the federal government. He joined others (the others who signed the letter are not named in this article) in a request that the executive order forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity be modified to include a conscience exemption for people whose religious convictions conflict with the order. The president of any institution is responsible to whatever board operates the institution, and if the board found this action unacceptable, it would not be news to hear that he suffered some consequence. However, the board that runs Gordon College has not expressed any concern about this letter. The concerns have been expressed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. This Association is the accrediting authority for Gordon College. When this Association learned that Gordon College’s president had asked for this conscience exemption to be included in the executive order, the association pulled out Gordon College’s accreditation for formal review. Gordon College, a Christian college, could lose its accreditation because its president asked that the president of the United States include a conscience exemption in an executive order. How can this be?

There are many reasons for Christians to be very concerned about the possible consequences of the president’s executive order. It sets a precedent for federal action that could ripple out through many, many consequences. This issue with a college immediately calls to mind the fact that federal student loans are the most widely used plan for paying college costs. If an accreditation association can even consider pulling the accreditation of a college whose president merely asked for an accommodation on a very controversial executive order, what happens if the administrators of the federal student loan program declare that student loans may not be issued for colleges that ask for a conscience exemption in hiring. In other words, if a college refuses to hire a gay professor, because to do so is inconsistent with its statement of faith, will students no longer be able to attend and pay with federal money? Is a college that accepts federal student loan money therefore a contractor with the federal government? Does anyone know the answer to this question?

Is it possible that a college with religious scruples about hiring gays and transgenders could be denied the right to be paid with federal student aid? Is it really possible that a college with religious objections to hiring gays and transgenders could be refused accreditation for that reason when all other educational standards were met or exceeded? Is it possible that the LGBTQ agenda for social and political activism is about to overwhelm every corner of the country without any recourse for the people to who have religious convictions rooted in teachings as old as humankind?

This is a matter for serious prayer. Christians have no interest in hurting or diminishing people with sexual problems – homosexuality, gender confusion, adultery, or any other affliction. Christians, however, do have strong convictions about placing people with any of those problems, and an assortment of others, in positions of leadership anywhere. Christians do not want to spend their days in close proximity with people who are advocating these behaviors as if they were normal and desirable. Christians make this distinction with regard to advocacy much more than with regard to the behavior itself. If a pastoral candidate told the church’s call committee that he or she thought it was important to march in the streets for the right to adultery in open marriages, the church would almost certainly reject the candidate. If a pastoral candidate told the church’s call committee that a previous marriage failed, but a new marriage is more successful and the pastor has no desire to advocate divorce as a positive action, the church would almost certainly give the candidate an unbiased review. The same thing would likely be true with regard to a candidate for professorship in chemistry at a Christian college. It is unlikely the review board would probe the sexual orientation of the candidate unless the candidate compelled examination of the matter. If the candidate brought it up as an important issue, it would be easy to expect that the reviewers would reject the candidate simply because a professor of chemistry does not need to be putting his primary energy into advocacy for deviant behavior.

Christians must pray for wisdom, insight, and leadership with character. This nation was founded with deep respect for the religious convictions of people of all faiths. The balance between the prohibition of state religion and the assurance of the freedom for free exercise by private individuals has always redounded to the benefit of the nation as a whole. May the USA not be deluded by a call to suppress free exercise of faith by people who have faith, more than 90% of the people.