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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Communication in a new year

A recent profile in the Boston Business Journal included the three statements below, attributed to my alma mater and employer’s president. The profile was one among many recent pieces of communication responding to public attention Gordon College has received following President Lindsay's signature on a letter to President Obama advocating religious exemption related to federal law connected to sexual orientation and gender identity. In support of the college from which I graduated and at which I continue to teach and lead, my responses follow:

"There's a long tradition of being in conversation with folks with positions counter to the college's.”-President Lindsay

...I agree that there is a long tradition of being in conversation with people within the Gordon community who hold differing positions, including some counter to the college’s official statements and actions on a variety of matters.

"I believe Gordon is positioned to really be a lighthouse for those who care deeply about faith-based education worldwide. And it's my hope that in the coming weeks and months that we'll be able to demonstrate how we can work alongside friends and neighbors that disagree with us."-President Lindsay

...I agree that Gordon is positioned to model how a faith-based college - including its faculty, staff, students, alumni, and administrators - can dialogue and live well together in the light of important, messy theological, spiritual, personal, and social factors, doing so alongside members of the institution, friends, and neighbors, who thoughtfully and faithfully listen, interact, and - yes - disagree.

[The BBJ reporter wrote:] In [President Lindsay’s] mind, the negative comments reflect the fact that Gordon College has been "thrust into the middle of a cultural and social movement" and there are people who are using the situation to "advance an agenda," he said.

...I am among many people who love and serve Gordon and who seek to use the situation that grew out of President Lindsay’s letter and subsequent communications about it as an opportunity to walk in the light, care for the people in our lives, and do with relevance the intellectual, academic, and social work we are grateful and humbled to have.

Specifically, I take this opportunity to say that there is not one single Gordon position about, for instance, homosexuality. There is not one, settled understanding of sexuality in scripture. This is a dynamic issue and situation in our cultures. I, and so many others, support Gordon College through our critical responses to some of the college’s communication this summer and the policy in question referencing homosexual practice. To reiterate, many critical responses have been offered out of support for the ethos and identity of Gordon College. This ethos conflicts with any suggestion that our faith and community are rigid, homogenous, and reactionary. Almost all of the critical voices I’ve heard and read are those of alumni and colleagues, many of them reflecting the very values and skills developed through Gordon’s mission.

At the heart of Gordon’s history and potential is the familiar, yet relevant phrase, “freedom within a framework of faith.” Not fear within a proliferation of fundamentals. Not uniformity within a closed system of finality. Some things that freedom, frameworks, and faith may all have in common are that they’re dynamic and they persist in mysterious, miraculous tensions.

This “issue” isn’t the only thing we are about. I continue to pursue with colleagues and students our core missional goals of intellectual maturity, Christian character, service, and leadership. In my discipline, I look forward to a new school year developing creativity, knowledge, and skills in storytelling, communication, and professional practice. Of course, all of these are relevant to how we live and communicate in the context of sexuality, public identity, civil discourse, Christianity, and every other factor at play in this summer’s story.


Rini Cobbey, Gordon College faculty and alum

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