CHURCH DOCTRINE HIRING AND FIRING

There are as many different doctrinal approaches to gender and sexual orientation issues among church traditions, denominations, and doctrinal pronouncements as there are fall leaves. Further, among some groups, these doctrinal approaches are changing. The development of doctrine in these areas has created tremendous friction in some churches and denominations.

In Garrick v Moody Bible Institute, Memorandum Opinion & Order (ND ILL, ED, 2019) the federal trial court dismissed the faculty Plaintiff’s case, some parts with prejudice and other parts without prejudice which might allow an amendment of the Complaint. The Plaintiff claimed she was terminated as an instructor of communications (a speech teacher) by the defendant religious university after two years of employment because of her advocacy in favor of women serving as clergy members. Plaintiff admitted that the religious school supported a “complementarian doctrine” which precluded women from certain church leadership roles. Indeed, Plaintiff allegedly assisted a student to submit a complaint against Moody based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Plaintiff alleged her actions in fostering the complaint resulted in “backlash” from other faculty members in a shared workroom. Plaintiff was placed on internal leave prior to termination and allegedly discussed it with other faculty members and students. Immediate dismissal followed. The case was dismissed because of the entanglement with religious doctrine admitted by Plaintiff in the issues raised by Plaintiff. The court allowed an amended complaint only as to Title VII employment discrimination claims not related to religious doctrine.

Employers like the defendant accomplished nothing by trying to soften an adverse employment action by use of reduced or back office duties except to prolong the organizational agonies and create further opportunities for conflict. This is especially true with a zealous advocate or zealous troublemaker. Take an adverse employment action or do not but do not engage in halfway measures. There are few industries in which “counseling out of the business” actually works. Religious organizations should make hiring decisions consistent with religious doctrine so that they need not make firing decisions based on it. New hires should sign a statement of doctrines, a morals clause, and a statement that their job has a role in implementing the religious doctrine – by example if nothing else.

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