Faith and Life in Separate Unequal Compartments

Re: School Administrator Fired for Views on Gay Marriage

Case facts: A man in Ohio taught at a Catholic school. He wrote internet posts on his own time discussing marriage equality with friends and describing it as “NOT something of which to be afraid.” The school’s principal and diocese learned about his posts; he was asked to rescind them; he did not; he was fired.

I understand that the recent Hosanna-Tabor judgment grants church schools much more authority over some kinds of employees: expect significant restrictions if the church calls you a “minister.” The balance between the rights of religious organizations and individuals’ rights—this balance is in flux, at least as far as the courts are concerned.

Whether employees may criticize their employers on social media or whether a “like” qualifies as free, protected speech is yet another question that labor courts are still figuring out. (See also the NLRB on Costco’s social media policy,) I’ve noticed that the court of public opinion is far less conflicted. By the comments on the OH case alone, one would think that an employee cedes her right to disagreement when she signs on to work and every US worker is always aligned with his company’s values.

However, these general labor questions are less interesting to me than the underlying assumption: that the insights of faith and the rhythms and responsibilities of the rest of life are essentially incompatible: here’s what you assent to on weekends with your religious community—and there are the silences you keep at work. Or there’s your job for the religious school—and here are the conversations or opinions you can’t legitimately have in public.

But for many of us, our “secular” views are the consequence of our “faith”; we hold them because of our religion/spirituality and not despite or in spite of it. Martin Luther King Jr.’s religious views led to his views on employment and voting and poverty and war. As Abraham Lincoln said of the Civil War era’s feuding Christians: “Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” As much as these internecine feuds continue on different grounds today, so too people of faith find their spiritual values informing their social, public lives. Vocal evangelicals in Dallas are no more indebted to their religion than progressive Adventists in Hollywood, and secular humanists are just as likely to appeal to their respective philosophical or spiritual traditions in their public work as are Muslims.

Certainly, some people divide “faith stuff” from “secular stuff,” keeping the two in completely separate psychological compartments, but I don’t. Neither do I think a healthy plural society requires me to. I do see an implicit civic request that if I propose public policies, I propose them as an engaged member of society rather than as an aloof religious overlord. I’d also need to propose these policies for the good of all community members and in language and for reasons that are accessible to all, not just people like me.

If I were Catholic, for example, it wouldn’t be enough for me to propose a new law about women’s health and say “But the Bishopric agrees with me. Do as I command!” Instead, at least for credibility’s sake, I would need to appeal to common social values that people of any faith and no faith could validate and work from with me as my peers.

I watched several English churches offer cautionary tales during England’s same-sex marriage consultation. Adventist church administrators were among those who issued statements against equal civil marriage for LGBT citizens, but the Adventists didn’t think to dialog first with the LGBT citizens within their own ranks. Had they framed their public reservations as part of an ongoing conversation with the rest of society and supportive religious groups instead of as an authoritative pronouncement above them, had they also acknowledged that the government’s proposals wouldn’t influence their sectarian rites or rules and that other Christians and religious groups disagreed with their position, they might have gained credibility and not lost it. We might also have seen a stronger policy outcome because of level-ground cooperation between a concerned, heterogeneous religious sector and a shifting political base. The House of Commons approved the civil marriage proposal earlier this month.

But instead of cooperation, a more common pattern of dissociation and pronouncement often plays out, and discontent in plural societies is growing. In the US, a recent Barna Group survey found a “double standard” among Christians who disproportionately expected civic society to adapt to their concerns and “freedoms” but did not want society to grant similar liberty to others. By contrast, 85% of non-Christians and religious skeptics agreed that no single value system should dominate society. Only 37% of responding evangelicals agreed. I find these and other findings quite sobering.

All of this swirls around us at the macro level. Back at the micro level, one Catholic teacher in Ohio is now out of a job. I wish Mike Moroski all the best in finding new work; let’s hope that with his 12 years of teaching experience he won’t be out in the cold for long.

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One thought on “Faith and Life in Separate Unequal Compartments

  1. Pingback: Faith and Freedom | mackenzian

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