Last Friday while out for a walk I got a phone call telling me that one of my members was in the hospital. It was after visiting hours but I figured since I was near the hospital I would stop by and if they were awake pay them a visit to see how they were doing. When I got to the hospital, despite the hour, I was taken to see the patient. While it is possible they would have done this for anyone, what is more likely is that they respected the fact that I was a pastor. That kind of trust is humbling as a pastor. Certainly I believe I am trustworthy but it is touching to experience it when all a person is knows is that I am a minister.
Recently the Supreme Court heard a case between a church-run school and a teacher at the school. The Court ruled that because the teacher's position was considered to be a religious position, the church was not subject to ADA requirements and was able to dismiss her because of a disability. This is an important statement for churches. It affirms that the fact that the state, in order to allow for the free establishment of religion will not make laws that effect churches (or other religious institutions).
While I support the decision of the Court, I feel it gives us in the church a great deal of responsibility. Just like the nurses in the hospital, the Court, and really the people of the United States are trusting churches to use our freedoms well. We should not see this as license to discriminate however we want without regard for the law. But instead to see it is as people trusting us that when our religious views differ from the law, we have the right to maintain our beliefs even if they run contrary to popular sentiment.
When I look at the actual case argued however I am saddened by the decision of the school. Yes, they are correct in arguing that they are not LEGALLY obligated to continue to employ the teacher. What I fail to understand is what their theological justification for it might be. It seems rather that the school is using the convenience of the religious exemption in order to fire someone from a position, not because of theological differences but because for health reasons. Their actions were consistent with the law of the United States but I do not see them as being consistent with their faith.
Our society, despite the challenges caused by scandals in the church, continues to respect religious leaders and religious institutions. I believe that we in the church need to be humbled by that respect and by the freedom we are granted under the law. We should not take it for granted, nor should we seek to abuse it. Instead we should do all in our power to deserve that respect and make the best use of that freedom. To do otherwise is to do an injustice to the people of this country and to our faith.