Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Having our cake and eating it too

It often seems that the church wants to have its cake favorable tax treatment and eat it too demand no interference from the gubmint. That is the concern in a post at the Wall Street Journal today by Michael McConnell, Washington Wants a Say Over Your Minister. The topic at hand has to do with an employment dispute between an employee of a Lutheran school and the school itself. She sued and they revoked her "calling" making her no longer eligible for her prior position.
The federal statutes outlawing employment discrimination based on race, sex, age and disability contain no express exception for church employers. But for 40 years lower courts have applied a "ministerial exception," which bars the government from any role in deciding who should be a minister. Courts have reasoned that the separation between church and state protects the ability of churches to choose their own clergy just as it protects the state from any control by churches. The Supreme Court has never spoken to the issue.

But who counts as a minister? Cheryl Perich's duties included leading students in prayer and worship, but she also taught secular subjects, using ordinary secular textbooks. The sole disagreement in the lower courts was whether her job was sufficiently religious to be considered ministerial. The Supreme Court will consider, for the first time, how to make that determination.

But the Obama Justice Department has now asked the court to disavow the ministerial exception altogether. This would mean that, in every future case, a court—and not the church—would decide whether the church's reasons for firing or not hiring a minister were good enough.
Right out of the gate we have an issue here of violating Scripture. If Ms. Perich is a Christian, what business does she have in going to court against other Christians?
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
So we have a violation of Scripture right off the bat. I am not judging the merit of the firing or the lawsuit, I am saying simply that Christians should take disputes before the church, not before the ungodly courts of the world. The other issue is that the church has a serious double standard when it comes to how it relates to the state in America. For example Mr. McConnell says:
But the government, including the judiciary, is not entitled under the First Amendment to decide what qualifications a minister should have, or to weigh religious considerations against others. Is a secular court to decide, for example, whether confining Catholic priests or Orthodox rabbis to males is a correct interpretation of scripture, or merely a vestige of outmoded and stereotypical bias?
That should be true but there is a problem. The church wants it both ways. We want to say to the government that it cannot dictate who is or is not a "minister" but the church also demands favorable tax treatment on donations and on compensation for those same ministers. We like the government when it suits us but get bent out of shape when it interferes in the very same employment relationship where we demand that they give our church employees special treatment.

Here is the solution. First, stop treating some Christians as employees of other Christians. When that happens we won't need to worry about favorable tax treatment from the government and there will be no reason for the government to interfere. As long as we stick one hand out for goodies from the government and then slap the hand of the government when it tries to interfere we are going to have problems.

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