Questions and Questionnaires, Part 6

Hi Brent, 


The Changing Cultural Milieu

Well, you’ve managed to get sex and religion into one question. (You couldn’t figure out a way to work in politics?) I agree it’s an important question. One way to put the problem is that the typical ministry position on issues of sexual morality used to be somewhat mainstream to the culture. But as the tide went out, the ministry position got stranded on the beach.

None of the typical Christian positions on sexual morality currently are consistent with illegal behavior—with some exceptions like child abuse and child pornography (and some are trying to change that). So you have a few choices.

3 Options to Address the Changing Landscape

One choice is to give up the traditional Christian positions on sexual morality. Some progressive-leaning religious organizations have done that, and feel comfortable with a new interpretation of Scripture.

One choice is to maintain whatever you have as the status quo and hope that you can defend yourself. The problem with “status quo” is that if your sexual morality positions don’t flow from your statement of faith, they really aren’t defensible. And if they do, but you don’t say so—ahead of time and in writing—you may still be in trouble if you get sued.

One choice is to frame these issues properly as flowing from the organization’s religious beliefs and standards. This means that the organization can bar pornography, adultery, and other perfectly legal but immoral behaviors on the basis of its religious position.

This approach offers a reasonable legal defense, because an organization is allowed under Title VII and constitutional law both to set religious beliefs and to insist that employees share its faith. We believe this religious protection applies to religious behavioral standards as well. And this applies doubly so to employees who carry out the ministry of the organization, because of the ministerial exception. While there is a spirited effort to erode this defense, there is now some pushback, given President Trump’s recent religious liberty declaration.

How to Set Up a Proactive Response

So if this is the way you want to go, how do you set this up? The governing documents state the religious position of the organization. The Statement of Faith adopts this position. The Statement of Conduct follows the Statement of Faith. The job descriptions refer to both, and also make it clear when an employee is ministerial. The employee agrees contractually to these positions, and also, where appropriate, agrees that he or she is a ministerial employee. The employee also agrees contractually that any dispute over employment is to be resolved in Christian mediation.

That is a 30,000-foot view, and it is more complex than that, but you get the general idea.

Featured Image: ”Low Tide” by Pixabay.

More articles in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5

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Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations