Christians and the Public Good

Can Christian organizations insist that their employees believe Christian doctrines and practice Christian ethics? Not as often as they used to, and not as often as you might think they should be able to. The Ontario courts are considering a case of giant judicial implications as they decide whether Christian Horizons, an organization that cares for the mentally handicapped in group homes and other facilities, can insist that its employees share its Christian profession and practice.

They’re in trouble because one of their employees “came out” as a lesbian in a sustained relationship and complained to the Human Rights Commission when Christian Horizons terminated her after reminding her that she had said she would conform to their conservative Christian ethical standards. Despite what she had promised, she now felt ill treated. A commissioner mostly agreed with her grievance, and his finding was so sweeping that Christian Horizons has appealed to the courts.

Read what the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism (full disclosure: I’m their senior advisor) has to say on this and topics related to the question of what public good is accomplished by churches and other Christian organizations.

What do you think? Should Christian organizations (our American cousins treat this matter as the question of “faith-based initiatives”) be free to hire only Christians? Even if they serve non-Christians? Even if they get public funding? No matter what work they do?

(As a bonus on this site, you’ll find an article in which your servant takes yet another kick at the perennially available can of defining evangelicalism, this time in relation to fundamentalism. But it’s not as interesting as the other stuff.)

0 Responses to “Christians and the Public Good”

  1. Bene D

    Thank you for your disclosure.

    This former employee has a name.
    Her name is Connie Heinz.

    Oh please. Christian Horizons is not in trouble. They lost a ruling. They get their appeal and all the support from from anyone they can convince.

    Connis Heinz is a Canadian, a Christian, a Mennonite, a care worker, a friend, sister, daughter and a lesbian.

    She is no less a Christian because Christian Horizons has a Lifestyle and Morality Statement.

    You read the ruling. You are privvy to the appeal defense.

    Christian Horizons accept 100% funding from the Ontario government.

    They want to ignore provincial employment law, fine.
    They chose not to co-operate with the ruling, or the appeal ruling, fine.

    If they chose their ideas of employee law, the province can withdraw their funding and Christian Horizons can trust God to provide. After all they believe they are right. Fundamentaliss have special needs family members also. Let them pay to stay in their tribe.

    What are they complaining about in being ordered to pay Ms. Heinz 23 thousand dollars for lost wages?
    They treated her like dirt.

    This is an interesting employment case and I think the ruling is well written, concise and fair.

    I have a special needs family member who is going to need assisted living.

    Why as Christians would my family apply to put her in a Christian Horizons home?

    If Christian Horizons treats employees this way, why would my family trust them to treat clients appropriately?
    We don’t.

    Voice of the Martyrs covered this. I covered it extensively at BDBO.

    Let’s hope Hutchinson’s views are debunked by law. No way many in the EFC agree with him. As for the Catholic Bishops, since when did they accept public funding?

    Is Hutchinson and your other lawyer friends at this EFC Focus on the Family employees?
    He says: “Christian Horizons has two primary purposes: creating an environment for evangelical Christians to come together to provide a ministry to the developmentally disabled,” Hutchinson said. “The second primary purpose was in fact the service to the developmentally disabled.”

    Wrong answer and up to the appeal to decide. The ruling states their is one and it is what Hutchinson says it he second purpose.
    If my niece and her special needs friends come second then cut of CH funding and give it to people who have their clients needs forefront.

    If CH want to discriminate against others and call it Christian? Fine. Just stop sucking off the public teat.

    Is the devil attacking because Christian Horizon staff were told they have to go to through anti-discrimination training and abolish its lifestyle and morality code?
    Don’t laugh, I read that belief somewhere in coverage of this case.

    Meantime this real to my family too. We’ve discussed this case. There are excellent, regulated, caring organizations (including religious) and people who will honour and respect my niece when the time comes.

    That’s certainly more than Connie Heinz got.

  2. John Stackhouse

    I am immediately grateful to Bene D for this characteristically passionate and intelligent response. I’m not sure I agree with every particular, but of course that’s not the point–whether I agree or not. The question of how Christians are to interface with public institutions is upon us in fresh ways, and we need all the considered input we can get.

    For the record, I don’t agree with everything in the EFC/CRCE documents, either, while I stoutly agree with some of their observations and arguments. So I’m particularly interested in any discussion we might have here.

  3. J.J. Buckfart

    Here’s how I approach the whole, Christian/non-Christian HR dilemma. I think it comes down to the position. I would’t want people who are not growing in their relationship with Christ in some positions, such as teaching or certain leadership positions. These positions require a growing relationship with Christ.

    It must be noted that not all positions in every church require a relationship with Christ. Would we require every person on a contracted janitorial service team to be Christian?

    I am on a church pastoral team and we sometimes fill volunteer positions with people who do not profess to be Christian. We are more concern with the direction of the person’s life. Is the individual growing in his/her faith? If so, there are more serving opportunities available for the individual.

    That being said, if a professing Christian start to make choices that are contrary to Christ, they may be asked to step down.

    My context is certainly different in the above mentioned post.

  4. Jackie Bolen

    Hey John…it was nice to see you again a few months back in Seoul.

    As for the question you posed, I think it comes down to a matter of definitions, as you briefly alluded to at the very end of your post. Who exactly is a Christian and what exactly do they look like and how exactly do they act? It’s just too ambigious for any organization to try to define it and hire people around this criteria. The exception of course being those in “teaching” type roles such as pastors/professors at a place like Regent/Christian counselors, etc. I guess I’ve just known too many people that love Jesus but don’t really fit into the typical Christian box. And I also feel distressed by the belief held in some Christian circles that a homosexual couldn’t possibly love or follow Jesus.

    And another thought about this is that I worry about definining a Christian as someone who upholds a certain set of rules concerning morality. When I read the Bible, it doesn’t seem like Jesus had a lot of patience for those people (the Pharisees mostly) who were so strict about morality. Someone can outwardly appear moral, as in they don’t drink, smoke, swear, etc but be a hateful kind of person who doesn’t have a lot of love for their neighbor. But I guess it’s just easier for organizations wanting to hire “only Christians” to define a Christian around moral standards because how can’t define loving your neighbor so easily.

  5. John Stackhouse

    A few points in response to what’s been written so far.

    1. I don’t think Christian Horizons merely ignored provincial hiring law. Lots of other people think they didn’t and that the commissioner instead made a change. Many of those people therefore are supporting CH’s appeal. Me? I think the law in question seems patient of more than one understanding, so to condemn CH as flouting the law strikes me as untrue to the facts of the case.

    2. I don’t sympathize with people agreeing to terms of work and then complaining after the fact about being dismissed on those terms. As far as I know, Ms. Heinz knew what she was getting into and if she didn’t want to work under those terms then she shouldn’t have taken the job. By dismissing her, CH did to her only what it said it would do.

    Believe me, if CH changed the rules after she took employment in good faith, or if in some other respect CH did not observe due process in dismissing her, I’d be complaining about CH too! Being a Christian organization should mean having to be scrupulous about due process and simple employment justice, rather than acting capriciously and selfishly while mouthing religious rationalizations–as I have seen some organizations do. But I don’t see that behaviour in this case.

    3. Christian organizations increasingly will have to specify both beliefs and practices as part of their self-definition. If they don’t, then they will have no grounds on which to object to an employee stating beliefs or engaging in actions that the organization thinks are inimical to its Christian identity.

    It’s too bad, not least because it forces organizations whose cultures are not inclined to “lists” and “codes” to adopt them. (We’re wrestling with just such an issue here at Regent.) And the danger of Pharisaism of the sort Sister Jackie worries about does lurk in the shadows.

    But if people are going to sue such organizations for dismissing them when they depart from the clear, but unstated, culture of the organization, then lists and codes will have to emerge, no?

    4. I agree with the crucial point made by Bene D and also by JJB that it matters greatly what jobs/ministries/actions are in view.

    I’m a theologian, and I see this in theological terms. Christians are human beings first, called by God (in Genesis 1) to the generic human work of cultivating the world, of making shalom. When we’re engaged in such generic activities (such as, I would say, caring for disabled neighbours), then it isn’t clear to me why a Christian profession and practice would be required of everyone involved. Consider instead the job of “church pastor” or “theological professor,” each of which obviously would simply entail having a certain Christian commitment. But a nurse or aide or other caregiver in a special needs situation? I don’t yet see why a particular religious commitment can or should be required.

    5. Furthermore, I’m not convinced by the argument I’ve read that if certain Christian organizations lose the right to hire only Christians, they’ll lose their motivation and no longer function. If that’s true–and it might be true, to be sure–it ought not to be true. It would mean those Christians have a deficient theology of vocation, in my understanding–that is, again, those organizations doing work for which a particular Christian profession and practice would not be entailed (as it would be in church leadership or Christian education).

    Why not partner with anyone who will help you to feed the poor or tend the sick or beautify the city or protest injustice? There’s nothing specifically Christian in any of those activities. It’s all generic human work.

    6. To pick a quite different case, therefore, student Christian organizations should be completely free to restrict their leadership to those who share the professed beliefs and concerns of that organization–despite the attacks that many such groups have been enduring throughout North America for the last decade or so. To insist that non-evangelicals be allowed to preside over an evangelical group is as simply antithetical as it would be to let evangelicals preside over Jewish groups or homophobes to preside over GLBT groups. Groups have rights too, and it’s stupid and perverse to insist that the weird agendas of certain individuals (I mean, for what good faith reason would a non-evangelical want to get on the executive of an evangelical student group?) take priority over the integrity of groups?

    7. I feel sufficiently strongly about these categories and their real-world implications that I wrote about them at some length in Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World. I hope the last long section of that book might be helpful to at least some of you wrestling with these important matters.

  6. Bene D

    Passion and subsequent spelling errors aside, my question wasn’t rhetorical.;^)

    Is Mr. Hutchinson is employed by Focus on the Family or any of it’s offshoots?

    I’m asking to fill in a gap in my personal knowledge, not heading off into a rant.
    This was an opportunity to go back and re-read the tribunal ruling, thanks.

  7. wendy

    Bene D raises this …. and given my context (www.newdirection.ca) it is a critical question in this whole matter: Connie Heintz did not renounce faith in Jesus Christ ~ she changed her theological perspectives on homosexuality. When we generalize the whole situation to the issue of Christian organizations being able to hire Christians – we seem to conveniently ignore that Ms. Heinz was, to my knowledge of the case, still professing to be a Christian. The specifics of this particular case have more to do with the question of whether Christians who hold to a conservative sexual ethic will recognize the faith of those who come to a different theological conclusion on homosexuality – yet continue to confess faith in Christ. Given the increasing diversity among Christians that I encounter in my broad engagement with the Canadian Christian community, including a recent conversation in Regent’s chapel, the reality is that Canadian Christians will need to consider how they view and treat brothers and sisters in Christ who hold a different view than they do. I recently asked in a seminar what it might mean to view homosexuality as a disputable matter …. and a pastor came up into my face and said, “I don’t think it is a disputable matter.” Fine. OK. What do you do with the reality that men and women who identify with the way of Jesus, who demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, who take Scripture seriously, do come to different conclusions on homosexuality? Do we just discount anyone’s faith who disagrees with us on homosexuality as counterfeit? This kind of simplistic exclusion completely ignores Jesus’ prayer for unity and his reminders that the world will know we are His by our love for one another.

  8. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, Sister Wendy, for these helpful reflections. Please note that in my brief blog entry I did at least once specify “profession AND PRACTICE.” Later, however, I did reduce the matter to “Christians” and you are quite right to upbraid me for that. I really ought to have said “Christians–by their definition of that term” or the like.

    You are also quite right, in my view, to ask us Christians what we are going to do in the light of the objective reality of differing opinions on homosexuality (even) among those who are Christian in the ways you say they are: “who identify with the way of Jesus…” and so on. These pastoral/ecclesiastical issues are upon us and we need to deal with them better than just saying, “Well, if you don’t agree with us on this issue, you don’t count as a Christian.” I agree with you, Wendy, that that won’t do–theologically or ethically.

  9. Wendy Gritter

    Wow….I’ve never been called Sister Wendy before 🙂
    No upbraiding per sae intended John.

    I gave some input to one of the intervening organizations with their preparation for media responses. I include here a couple of my suggestions:

    What if you said, “We acknowledge that gay and lesbian people have not always been treated with justice or respect by those who identify as Christian. This ought not to be.
    This case, however, is about a Christian organization having the freedom to hold a particular set of beliefs and having the expectation that their employees will live in a manner that consistently reflects these beliefs. Such beliefs touch on multiple areas of life, not only sexuality. Prospective employees have the right to be fully apprised of these beliefs prior to making the decision to be employed by an organization with such expectations. The protection of this freedom is an essential part of protecting the great freedoms held by all Canadians.”

    And:

    “What makes the work of Christian Horizons, and other Christian organizations focused on social services, great is the motivation for excellent work that arises from a shared set of beliefs and values. Should these beliefs and values be forcibly diluted, this shared motivation would also be diluted. What emerged in this case was the exceptional work of CH in cases that no other agency wanted to take on. If this work is sustained through shared motivation, arising from shared values, shouldn’t this be protected? We see this in the gay community as well. Organizations within the gay community provide exceptional service in the area of AIDS. Their shared motivation, arising from common beliefs and values, allows them to serve exceptionally well in this particular area. If these organizations were forced to hire individuals who held contrary beliefs, it isn’t hard to imagine that the motivation and morale of that group would be negatively affected. Our intervention in this case does as much to protect the rights of such groups as it does CH.”

    In terms of the intervention in the case – I don’t think the issue should be about homosexuality at all – it should be about how we navigate protecting the rights of, not only individuals, but also organizations, to hold a particular set of beliefs while being respectful of all people.

    But within the Christian community – yes, in the pastoral/ecclesiastical sense – it raises the critical question of how we engage those who profess to follow Christ – but land in different places theologically on specific issues. Homosexuality is just one of those …. but demonstrably one in which many Christians have a hard time navigating through strong emotions, reactions, stereotypes, fear and anxiety to see clearly the reality that despite difference the other person is created in the image of God, loved by God, and may indeed embody a genuine and deep faith in God.

    My hope is that the Christian Horizon’s case will cause the conservative Christian community to engage in some deeper, self-examination regarding the question of gay Christians. These are real people, with real lives, and real faith. We wound the Body of Christ when we fail to engage this on a human, relational level with discernment, humility and grace.

    My fear, however, is that the Christian community will fixate on the fear-driven notion of a “big scary gay agenda” …. and miss the opportunity to consider with fresh eyes and an open heart the reality of gay Christians – with whom they may have significant theological disagreements – but with whom they none-the-less share deep love for Christ.

    Perhaps, if we did our part as the Christian community in seeing gay Christians – and gay people in general – with different eyes, some of the face-off between gay rights and religious liberty would be less charged, less polemic and the degree of enmity between the gay community and Christian community would decrease. That is my prayer – for the glory of Christ, the unity of the church, and the hope that gay people will have every opportunity to encounter the love of God.

  10. Kate

    She signed a contract, agreeing to the terms of employment. She violated the terms of employment. If she was in the lesbian relationship when she signed the contract,signing the contract was dishonest. I don’t think she has any right to complain about being fired.

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