Rockport School Committee Canceled Field Trip To Gordon College Because of Its Policy On Homosexuality

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This past June, Rockport school officials planned a seventh-grade field trip to a rock gym and challenge course day camp at Gordon College, a Christian school of higher learning in Wenham.

But the trip never happened.

School committee members canceled the visit because members disagree with a Gordon policy forbidding what it calls “homosexual practice” on biblical grounds.

While the cancellation occurred more than three months ago, no news stories about it have been published by any media outlet until today.

The full wording of Gordon College’s policy reads:  “Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.”

Gordon College’s day camp is called La Vida Adventure Pursuits. Rockport school officials praised the program but said the college’s views are unacceptable.

“I think Adventure Pursuits is a wonderful activity to have, and unfortunately, the facility just happens to be at a location that doesn’t necessarily dovetail with our values and beliefs,” said then-superintendent Robert Liebow during a Rockport School Committee meeting on May 4. (Liebow left the Rockport school district, retiring from Massachusetts at the end of the school year and taking a job as an interim superintendent in Maine.)

A Rockport resident, Stephen Hopkins, who describes himself as a former evangelical, began public comment at the May 4 meeting by urging the committee members to cancel the then-upcoming trip.

“The field trip puts LGBTQA students at risk. They’re being sent to a place that invalidates who they are,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins cited statistics showing homosexual and transgender children suffer more mental health problems than their peers. Homosexual and transgender children also commit suicide more often, he noted. “Lives are at stake,” Hopkins said.

“How can a student feel safe,” Hopkins asked, “when their school actively partners with a college like Gordon that has discriminatory violence?”

“I ask that the school reconsider this relationship with Gordon College until they change their discriminatory violence,” he added.

The school committee did not take a formal vote that night, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by NewBostonPost.  But the field trip to Gordon did not take place.

In response to the cancellation, Hopkins wrote a letter to the editor of the Gloucester Daily Times celebrating the decision, which the newspaper published on June 23. “I am proud to say that the Rockport School Committee was receptive and empathetic to our concerns,” Hopkins wrote.

While addressing the committee on May 4, Hopkins also criticized federal exemptions for “faith-based colleges” that have such policies to allow them to continue receiving federal student aid while opposing same-sex sex acts.

“Similar exemptions were used by faith-based colleges to keep segregation in place and to restrict inter-racial dating. Now schools are looking to continue LGBTQ discrimination,” Hopkins said.

Before cancelling the field trip to Gordon, the school committee sent the La Vida leadership team at Gordon College a letter describing the committee members’ concerns.

NewBostonPost obtained a portion of Gordon College’s reply to the Rockport School Committee from Rick Sweeney, the vice president for marketing and external relations at Gordon College, at NewBostonPost’s request.

The La Vida leadership team pointed out that the “Life and Conduct Statement at Gordon College,” which includes the bylaw against homosexual acts, “only applies to faculty, staff, and enrolled students.” The message continues:  “La Vida Adventure Pursuits is an outward facing program that provides adventure experiences for the local community with the posture that all are welcome.”

The letter also clarifies what it means for the college to be “faith-based.”

“Every so often groups will ask us about what it means to be a faith-based program. For us, the Christian faith is our motivation, but our programming is specific to the needs and desires of the groups participating in our programming,” the letter from the college states.

The college emphasized that the school’s policy “does not apply to participants or group leaders of Adventure Pursuits.”

While NewBostonPost reviewed an audio recording of the May meeting of the Rockport School Committee, school district officials say there is no video of the meeting. It is difficult to determine from the audio recording the names of the school committee members who spoke, so their comments are presented in this story without their names.

One of the school committee members during the public meeting on May 4 took offense to “faith-based” as a justification for a policy against homosexual acts. She said she is “offended by their saying that the offense is their ‘faith-based.’ The offense is their using ‘faith-based’ to excuse that policy. There are a lot of faith-based communities that absolutely are accepting of everyone.”

Several committee members suggested that the field trip was a good opportunity for the students because of the Gordon program’s high quality.

“The program is a very positive kind of teambuilding-type program,” Liebow said. 

Another committee member noted that there are “very few other places like it in this area.”

Some school committee members wondered where the money they spent on the field trip would go — whether it would go to Gordon College or just to La Vida Adventure Pursuits.  One committee member suggested that didn’t matter, saying, “Even if the funds only go to Adventure pursuits, you’re still on a campus that kids will know have those discriminatory practices.”

Overall, committee members favored replacing the field trip to Gordon with something else. “I don’t think the issue is even who’s getting the money or whether or not the policy applies on what day. The issue is we’re bringing students to this environment that those who that are aware will feel is unwelcoming,” a committee member said.

The committee members also expressed concerns about how a field trip to Gordon College might appear to be a kind of endorsement of Gordon’s policies.

“Presumably, there’s neither religion nor drinking — or discrimination, but it’s a tacit approval,” one member said regarding the program.

Sweeney, a spokesman for Gordon College, said the Rockport School Committee members ultimately informed Gordon College they “could not resolve the issues” and canceled the trip.

NewBostonPost sought comment for this story from the Rockport School Committee. A school district employee responded by email on behalf of the school committee, requesting a copy of the news story before the school committee would consider providing comment for it. NewBostonPost declined, citing the long-established practice among news organizations of not providing stories to sources before they are published.

NewBostonPost followed up with specific questions, including asking why and when the school district canceled the field trip to Gordon College. A school committee spokesman did not respond to that query before deadline.

The Rockport incident is not the first time public schools have taken issue with Gordon College.

In March 2015, Hamilton-Wenham public school officials moved the regional district’s high school graduation ceremony from Gordon College’s chapel in response to protests regarding Gordon’s stance on homosexuality. The high school’s graduation had taken place at Gordon since 1994.  

In August 2014, Lynn public schools ended a partnership with Gordon because Gordon’s president, Michael Lindsay, had written a letter to then-President Barack Obama requesting a faith-based exemption to Obama’s executive order against federal contractors discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The relationship between the city of Lynn and Gordon College had existed since 2003.


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