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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Disassociation from dissembling

The letter sent, at President Lindsay’s direction, from Gordon’s law firm to the Lynn school committee’s attorney crossed a line for me as a Gordon alum and faculty member and a Lynn resident. I believe any reasonable person who reads the letter would and should interpret it as a threat of potential legal action. Gordon's public characterization of the letter as not a threat crosses another line.

The existence and action of the letter are unacceptable and contrary to the character and ethos of Gordon College. If Gordon had and has no intent to sue the city of Lynn, they wouldn't need a three-and-a-half page letter quoting case law and alleging violation of the first amendment indicating that intent. If the intent was to give Lynn warning that some outside entity might sue Lynn on Gordon’s behalf - and if Gordon genuinely has no desire or willingness to be a part of this - they would spell that out in the letter. That is, such a letter - and, as importantly, follow-up public statements clarifying the letter - should state clearly and unequivocally that it would violate the ethos and mission of Gordon College to be in any way party to legal action against our community partners related to any first amendment issues.

The very idea of asserting rights to coerce a community to accept Gordon’s “service” is absurd and insulting. 

Instead of a clear commitment not to sue, the document uses phrases such as “in the hopes of avoiding such a scenario [litigation]” as reason for sending the letter. In a September 9 Boston Business Journal piece, the Gordon lawyer who wrote the letter to Lynn is quoted as saying "he originally hoped that the Lynn School Committee would back off voluntarily." In other words, Gordon was not committed to avoiding litigation, and Lynn (the letter, sent hours before the school committee's discussion and vote, implies) should make the right choice to avoid it. I was in attendance at the August 28 Lynn meeting, and it was obvious during statements made by at least three school committee members in their discussion prior to a majority vote to sever ties with Gordon, that they understood the letter as a threat and reacted to this move as an act of hubris.

There are many ways the present situation could have been different, coming out of and supporting further respectful interaction. This open letter to Lynn (and related testimony at the school committee meeting), for instance, offers some productive compromises for the consideration of the several passionate, articulate parents, teachers, and community leaders who also spoke before the vote. These Lynners expressed concern that Gordon students might be guilty by association with aggressive actions and communication emphasizing the incompatibility of living as a gay* person with Gordon community standards. Continued conversation about whether this is or should be the case, and spaces to reflect the complexity and diversity of Gordon's thoughtful, faithful, creative, compassionate, curious - and obviously imperfect - students, staff, and faculty are sorely weakened in the context of threatening, disingenuous, and erratic rhetoric in Gordon's official public communication.

There are also ways the present situation can become better. The most significant one, in my estimation right now, is to participate in opportunities to speak truthfully and to invite others to do so. I hope that my speaking truth may be in real love, although I admit it isn't always. One specific opportunity to lend one's voice to a call for truth, and this truth in service of reconciliation, humility, service, and fruitful relationships, is this petition requesting a direct statement from the college committing not to pursue nor aid any legal action against Lynn or other community partners.

I continue to work and teach at Gordon in commitment to our mission and our students. But I can only do so with integrity if I have stated publicly that I am strongly opposed to recent actions, such as the commission of a letter implying threat of legal action and subsequent public statements mischaracterizing such a letter, of college officials. I continue at Gordon with serious concern about long-term consequences for our students and graduates stemming from unnecessary, destructive public communication by college officials over the past couple of months. But I also lean toward hope that ongoing conversations at every level will be open, listening, empathizing, clarifying, and reconciling.

*"gay" here, because the Conduct statement doesn't directly reference BTQIA+ "practice."

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