Woman Sues InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for Firing Her (but Not Men) After a Divorce

Alyce Conlon worked as a spiritual director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Michigan for about seven years (and for the company in general for more than two decades) before she got fired following her divorce.

If that sounds unnecessarily cruel, well, what do you expect? IVCF is the same organization that once told a gay Christian he couldn’t be an officer of his campus IVCF group because of his cooties.

Conlon’s now suing IVCF — good for her — claiming that she was treated very differently compared to men who had been in the same position. The more you read about how her situation was handled by the company, the less respect you’ll have for this Jesus-loving group:

“During this leave of absence, plaintiff followed each and every requirement of the Separation and Divorcing Staff Policy including counseling sessions and continuing communication with her supervisors as to her progress.”

During the absence, [IVCF's regional director of the Great Lakes Region Fred] Bailey and [Ohio Valley Division director Marc] Papai contacted her husband, David Riemer, to discuss the marriage — without Conlon’s knowledge, the lawsuit said.

Papai also provided a “Staff only confidential policy” to the husband, then he and Bailey asked him to write a letter about their marriage. They also ordered Conlon to see a counselor of her husband’s choice, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit contends, two men who also went through divorces still have their IVCF jobs:

“Defendants approved of at least two male employees keeping their employment with IVCF despite their separation, divorce and becoming remarried, while disciplining and discharging plaintiff, a female, for not reconciling her marriage.”

Making matters worse is IVCF’s heartless public statement, which shows no empathy for Conlon and suggests that she’s the problem for not being Christian enough:

“A vital element of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty is the freedom of religious employers to make hiring decisions through the use of faith-based criteria,” the statement said.

As a Christian organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s credibility and witness depends on its ability to hire and retain personnel who share and abide by InterVarsity’s faith commitments. It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty.

Of course, Conlon was (and still is, as far as we know) a deeply committed Christian. She followed the company’s “If you get a divorce” rules and was still punished.

A judge will have to settle this issue, but in the court of public opinion, there’s no contest here. It would surprise 0% of people if a Christian organization like IVCF used a double-standard against women. I mean, would anyone really be shocked to learn that IVCF treated men as superior to women (taking Conlon’s husband’s word over hers) or treating gay people as inferior to straight people? It’s what they do. And it’s why no decent person should want to work for an organization like that.

That applies to Christians, too. There are plenty of decent organizations that would treat Conlon with respect, and I hope one of them reaches out and offers her a job — if they haven’t already.

(via Religion Clause)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • flyb

    Spiritual director?

    ?

    • http://perplexedorder.blogspot.com/ Brad Smith

      It may – or may not – involve a magic pointing stick.

      • Nathan Jarrett

        I can’t figure out what you guys are trying to do here….
        It seems like you are torn between ridiculing the woman for her beliefs, or defending her as a victim.
        Perhaps her status as a victim is appealing because it allows you to ridicule and demonze a Christian organization, instead of just a single individiaul.
        In this case her victimization is simply a stepping stool to help you get up on your soapbox. I assert you do not really care about this individual. She is simply another ridiculous theist, who
        There are others who seem to be lamenting how IVCF treats women, some even claiming that they treat women as subhuman, or as if they are evil. However you cannot avoid engaging in the same type of behavior when you heap verbal abuse on a group of Christians, and treat them as if they are evil. When you do this, you must realize you are including women.
        Why are your bigoted, and hate filled statements justifiable, but the bigotry of IVCF is not? Perhaps you think that your churlish epithets are cute, but Christians really hurt people with their bigotry. Which face are you wearing now?
        In terms of expecting IVCF to treat its employees equally when they divorce their spouse, we can all agree this is what we should expect from this group. However the suggestion that this woman’s case was decided differently solely on the basis of her gender has not been effectively proven.
        The facts point in that direction, but they have not been verified because there are a number of facts we do not have. We have 3 incidences of divorce. Two involving a male employee of IVCF, and one involving a female employee. We do not know why any of the three couples got divorced, We do not know if there were violations of the company policies or faith statements only in the case involving the female employee. While I can agree with you that it looks bad from the first glance, it might be a good idea to withold judgment until further information comes to the surface.
        So why not excercise some of that famous skepticism, and turn it upon the facts at hand. It might keep you from sounding like a horses ass.

        • http://perplexedorder.blogspot.com/ Brad Smith

          Was that in direct response to my offhand comment of, “It may – or may not – involve a magic pointing stick.”? If so, there was no ridicule directed at the woman at all. Me and flyb was simply poking fun of the job title of “Spiritual Director”.

          You are also not clear, as you have accused others of, about your stance on the issue. Are you offering feelings of empathy towards the woman, or do you think she is just a “ridiculous theist” (your words)? Or, are you simply content on sitting on the fence because there is a “number of facts we do not have”?

          The point of being able to comment on these articles is to for people to express their personal opinions towards what has been presented. If we were to only employ critical thinking methods while commenting, the thread would just become a over-analytical, uninteresting blur.

  • Octoberfurst

    Hypocrisy & Christianity just seem to go together don’t they?

  • Baby_Raptor

    That’s funny,. I don’t remember the Constitution giving companies *any* rights…

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Well, y’know, corporations are people, my friend, so why not companies?

      Nevermind that under the Fourteenth Amendment, if corporations are people, then there can be no benefit to forming a corporation that can be considered Constitutional.

    • God’s Starship

      They seem to be reading a very different constitution than the one I’m familiar with. They seem to be going by the “theocracy by default” interpretation.

      • Timothy McLean

        Don’t they all?

    • baal

      The founding fathers were decidedly anti-company. They had the examples of things like the Dutch-East_India company and wanted nothing to do with them. The first companies allowed in the US were things like public utilities.

  • The Other Weirdo

    The more you read about how her situation was handled by the company, the less respect you’ll have for this Jesus-loving group

    No need to overstate things. You had me at that.

  • Claire

    Wow, I can practically feel the smugness radiating from their statement. Why do I have a feeling these are the same people who spout bullshit about imperfection and God’s forgiveness whenever a critical eye is turned on them?

    • Derrik Pates

      Yes, I’m sure “we’re not perfect, just saved” is a frequent refrain from their smug mouths.

  • 7Footpiper

    I have no issues with their “religious liberty” but when that liberty is a free pass for them to discriminate, cause pain and suffering and generally do things that most Atheists would see as reprehensible I have to draw the line.

  • L.Long

    Now really!?! A double standard? No way! There is no double standard in xtian dogma. They KNOW women are ‘evil little things’ and deserve being treated lower then schite. It says so right here in this stone-age pile of BS called the buyBull.
    Was that an xtian organization she worked for? Is she an xtian woman? Yes? well then too phucking bad!!! She don’t like it then she should get a spine, grow up to be an adult, and give up imaginary friends that think women who divorce should be sent to hell.

    • God’s Starship

      It’s funny how there are never religious concerns surrounding the lives of heterosexual men. Wacky that, eh?

      • observer

        Everybody’s sinful – but some are less sinful then others.

        • baal

          No one is sinful. Sinning is an offense against god (who doesn’t exist). I rather folks paid attention to being harmful or not rather than ‘sinful’ or not.

          • God’s Starship

            I read the previous comment as snark.

            • Savpunk

              And not just snark – but an Orwellian paraphrase snark.

  • NS

    I was a part of IV throughout college and this is a prime example of not only why I left IV, but began questioning Christianity in general. The sad thing is that IV was probably one of the more “progressive” evangelical Christian campus groups. I guess that says a lot.

  • Sven2547

    It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty.

    Always playing the victim, these people.

    • tubi11

      They make it sound like “former” was by her choice.

    • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

      Indeed. I’d play my tiny violin for them if only I could find it.

  • Greg G.

    It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty.

    They are like people who like to punch others in the nose. The right to swing a fist ends at the other person’s nose. The right to practice religion ends where it is practiced against another person’s rights.

  • frankbellamy

    I don’t think the comparison to the issue of the gay treasurer of the buffalo chapter is accurate. That wasn’t them treating gay people as inferior, that was them seeing unrepentent sinners as bad at leading christian organizations (which makes sense) combined with their belief that homosexual conduct is a sin (which I believe is sincere). That is them acting on a belief and doing so consistently, and while I don’t agree with their beliefs, I do respect their right to hold them and to act on them.

    My first reaction to this case is different. I am not aware of a theological basis for treating women who divorce differently from men who divorce. If IVCF had a consistent policy of viewing divorce as sufficiently bad to warrant firing, and consistently fired any staff member of any gender who divorced, I think I would have to respect their right to do that. But this woman is clearly denying that that is what is going on, and I don’t know of any christian belief that would justify what she says is going on, so I think she should win this.

    Unfortunately, I doubt she will. IVCF is a religious organization, and “spiritual director” sounds a lot more minister-like than general elementary school teacher (the job held by the plaintiff in Hosanna-Tabor), so I’m guessing this case will be dismissed under the minsiterial exception that the supreme court upheld in Hosanna-Tabor, although I can’t go through rigorous legal analysis without more facts.

  • Jim Charlotte

    The problem I have is where do we draw the line with what is a business and what is a “religious organization?” Is Hobby Lobby a religious organization, exempt from worker protections and laws? Are Christian run schools and hospitals? Where do we draw the line? Maybe we should say any organization that collects money and pays salaries is a business and therefore must comply with all employment protections, or is that going too far?


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