The latest Christianity Today magazine features an article entitle “Faith-Based Fracas”, by free-lance reporter Bobby Ross Jr. The main interest of the piece is whether or not it will remain legal for religious organizations to hire and fire on the basis of religious beliefs.
For the record: I support that right.
But the piece is occasioned by a current lawsuit against evangelical charity World Vision brought by three recently fired employees.
It strikes me that there are human and theological angles to this story which have yet to be told.
Here are the relevant bits from Ross’s story in CT:
Both [Sylvia Spencer and Vicki Hulse] signed statements affirming their Christian faith and devoted a decade to World Vision… But in November 2006, they and colleague Ted Youngerberg were fired. Their offense, as determined by a corporate investigation: The three did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and a member of the Trinity. (Bobby Ross Jr., “Faith-Based Fracas”, Christianity Today, June 2010, 17-21, p. 17, emphases added)
No doubt the reporter here was hindered by the fact that a lawsuit is underway. But the story has many obvious, yawning gaps:
- Did Youngerberg also sign a statement?
- What was this statement?
- When exactly were they signed?
- What is it to be “fully God”?
- What sort of trinitarian belief is required?
- They were fired because of what they (allegedly) did not believe. But what did they believe, roughly? That Jesus is 81% God?
Are the plaintiffs Christians?
“They are deeply religious Christians,” said Judith Lonnquist, a Seattle attorney who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on their behalf. “They just don’t have the same beliefs that World Vision espouses.” (p. 17, emphasis added)
It is clear that World Vision thinks they are not. They do hire non-Christians, but only for jobs for which there’s no available Christian, and which are mission-critical. (pp. 18-19)
As to the their attorney quoted above, the reporter subtly discredits her by quoting a laughable piece of exegesis from her.
Lonnquist told CT, “If Jesus walked the earth today, I think he’d be appalled. To me, ‘there are many rooms in my Father’s house’ means there is room for everyone, whether you’re Jewish and you believe in Yahweh, or you’re a Muslim and you believe in Allah, or a Native American spiritualist and you believe in a great Buffalo Woman.” (p. 21, emphases added)
Note to Lonnquist – this is not how to persuade an evangelical magazine or its readers!
World Vision’s chief attorney notes that their “values statement” says in part,
We are Christian. We acknowledge one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That is vaguely trinitarian. But what is the relevance of a “values statement” to this case? Is that something all employees must at all times unreservedly affirm?
Ross, further quoting this lawyer,
“The employees were discharged because they no longer met an essential job prerequisite: that they genuinely affirm their belief in a statement of orthodox Christian faith as understood by the World Vision board.” (p. 17, emphasis added)
This is ambiguous (will any statement count as orthodox, so long as the board approves? I assume not.) But in any case, what statement or statements are sufficient?
The reporter is mainly interested in the legal angle, so we never find out.
Further down, some more intriguing info:
The plaintiffs – one served as an administrative assistant, one worked in telecommunications, and one coordinated furniture needs – say their central duties were nonreligious in nature. Nonetheless, they said, they always supported the organization’s mission and participated in Bible studies and devotionals on the job.
Hulse and Spencer even started a small-group Bible study during World Vision’s weekly employee chapel session – with a supervisor’s permission and no objection from the ministry. But when leadership learned of their beliefs about the divinity of Christ more than two years after the alternative Bible studies began, the three were investigated and fired, the former employees said. (pp. 19-21, emphases added)
- Was this a study specifically for non-trinitarians? (Why and how “alternative”?)
- How did leadership learn of their beliefs?
- Where they affiliated with some unitarian group?
- Were these longstanding beliefs, or had their views on Christ and God recently changed? If so, why?
Ross’s story was typical for the American evangelical press - long on legal and social considerations, short on theology – painting it only in the crudest brush-strokes.
And in this case, short on human interest as well.
But, Ross did a fine job with the legal and social considerations (skipped in my excerpts above). I believe the story will eventually be posted online.