Why Is It A Problem To Hire People Who Are In Same-Sex Marriages?

Why Is It A Problem To Hire People Who Are In Same-Sex Marriages? March 25, 2014

I woke up and Christian Twitter was all a-twitter (ha) about the news that World Vision, a highly respected Evangelical global development NGO, would hire Christians in same-sex marriages. The reactions, from both sides of the culture war, were highly predictable. Russell Moore, the closest thing to an “official voice” of Evangelicalism, has decried the move as inspired by the devil. This is a problem for Catholic institutions, too.

All this strikes me as both strategically block-headed and, so much more importantly, un-Christian.

First of all, the strategy: we are fighting the all-important Hobby Lobby case. “If religious employers don’t have to offer birth control, what’s to stop them from forcing their employees not to use birth control?” “What’s to stop them from firing people for adultery?” “What’s to stop them from … ?” The “orthodox” Christian response to World Vision lends credence to these fanciful, question-begging scenarios from our opponents.

But more importantly, the Gospel. Same-sex marriage is contrary to Christianity’s traditional understanding of gender and sexuality. Ok. I support the right of religious employers to fire employees for any reason, but as we all know (right?) supporting a right to something is not the same thing as condoning that thing. Ok.

Let me ask you something: how many adulterers work for Christian institutions? The answer has to be: more than you think. How many ordained who have broken their vows of chastity? How many employees who have had abortions? How many Southern Baptists have garish McMansions? At what point did we decide that working alongside sinners was a no-no? Where in the heck did we get that idea from the Gospel?

(“Oh, but this is different! This causes scandal!” Does it? First of all, I think our habitual understanding of “scandal” needs a serious rethink. And second of all, how is this more of a cause of scandal than the other things I’ve name-checked?)

This is where we invoke the certain Gospel passages, that Jesus recruited sinners, and ate with sinners, and came for sinners, and rescued the woman taken in adultery. This has become so habitual that the other side is primed to ignore it by reflex, and the first side merely uses it as an excuse for meta-pharisaism.

“Jesus tells the woman taken in adultery to ‘Go and sin no more’!” Ok. But wait, the Gospel doesn’t tell us if she actually repents or not. Imagine she doesn’t. Jesus, being the Son of God and all, knows it. Do we think he would’ve seen the men lining up to stone that poor woman and would’ve thought “Good. She had it coming.”

“C’mon! Refusing to hire same-sex ‘married’ people isn’t the same thing as stoning a woman!” In that society it was! It was the normal, legal response. Today we have different legal and cultural means of using social coercion to punish sin, and Jesus clearly indicts them all (see: Girard’s scapegoat mechanism). Only God can judge. And your social punishments for sin are just excuses for you to set yourselves up as idols, as little gods who get to separate the sheep from the goats.

I mean, let’s be a little Kantian here. Imagine every business is a “Christian” business (and that’s the end goal, isn’t it?) and has this policy. So when you’re in a committed same-sex relationship, the outcome is that you…don’t…work? Anywhere? Never mind the cruelty, how is this supposed to get anyone to repent of anything? You have no idea how tired I am of hearing the same stories from gay friends who left the Church.

It reminds me (and some will surely find this overly polemical) of the Cold War, when Communist apologists would point out that Soviet Russia actually had a relatively small number of prisoners in its Gulag system. But that was missing the point: in the Soviet Union, for most dissidents, the punishment wasn’t forced labor–it was losing your job. And since the government was the only employer, it meant destitution. You don’t need a big gulag when the entire country is a gulag.

I’m an adulterer. Not in action, but in thought, and I’m told that’s a pretty big deal (Matt 5:28). Why my sexual sin is compatible with me writing here at a Catholic website, or doing catechesis at my parish (OMG! This sexual sinner has access to children!) for that matter, I don’t know.

I don’t know what the Evangelical interpretation of Scripture is today, but the Catholic magisterium, in any case, is absolutely clear: all unjust discrimination against gay people is a grave sin. And I see no justice here.


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  • Kamilla Ludwig

    I think you are missing the crucial point here.

    It’s not about hiring and/or firing sinners. It’s about World Vision’s own morals clauses (code of conduct), “Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule.”

    So, they still have in place a moral code which prohibits sex outside of marriage which would exclude adulterers, fornicators and non-abstinent homosexuals if it was enforced. But they’ve also re-written their moral code to endorse the metaphysical fiction that a relationship between two persons of the same sex can ever be a marriage. So we have the novel situation if prohibiting and officially endorsing the same behaviour.

    I’m sure, over the course of many years, World Vision has employed a number of sinners including gluttons and gossips as well as adulterers, etc. but never before have they embraced any particular sin as official policy.

    That’s the point you’ve missed. And therein lies the injustice.

    • I think that’s a fair point. But I can’t help but be curious of how many people WV has fired for adultery?

      • Kamilla Ludwig

        I doubt it’s many. But adultery, by it’s very nature, is usually accomplished in secret.

        • That; and maybe also because straight, married managers can empathize with adulterers more easily than with those in committed same-sex relationships.

          • Empathy is a myth. It is nothing more than rationalization.

          • Um.

          • I can’t read another person’s soul. I can’t read another person’s mind. Thus emotional telepathy is really at best just a guess about what the other person is feeling based on what you are feeling yourself.

            I can have compassion, but I can’t have empathy- part of that is due to my own disability, but based on the horrid results that empathy causes, I have some really strong doubts that what normal people call empathy is anything close to real. And it’s bad enough data to reject it outright when claimed.

          • oregon nurse

            Empathy isn’t emotional telepathy. It’s disinterested compassion. It’s the ability to feel compassionate or sympathetic to another’s distress or happiness even when you don’t find it distressing or joyful yourself. It’s the spouse that listens kindly to their partner’s workplace trials, not because they relate (or even agree!) but because they know it’s causing pain and their spouse needs a listening ear. Or the girlfriend that shares the joy of her friend’s engagement even though she finds the thought of marriage undesirable.

            Sympathy is having compassion over things we can relate to and empathy is compassion over things we can’t or don’t. That’s why the ability to have empathy is usually considered superior to sympathy – it’s a lot harder to do. I suspect you have more ability to empathize than you think.

          • Disinterested compassion sounds even worse to me than emotional telepathy.

            I think I have sympathy sometimes, but I can never have compassion but disinterested in the outcome of that compassion- sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

          • oregon nurse

            I think you might be taking ‘disinterested’ a bit too literally. In this context it means – free from selfish motive or interest, unbiased – not that you don’t care. If you compare it to love, sympathy would be more like loving someone you like because it makes you feel good and empathy would be more like love that wills the good of the other regardless of whether it makes you feel good or not.

          • Mike

            PEG are you saying that committed homosexual activity is NOT a sin? I am just a bit confused because you seem to be making that distinction.

          • That is not at all what I am saying.

          • Mike

            Ok, thank you for the speedy reply. I think i see where you’re coming from and i think we are in agreement.

            Equal parts: love and mercy and truth but in today’s culture, in that order!

        • Traditionally, adultery is commonly known but mutually agreed to be kept secret.

    • mochalite

      Kamilla, you may be right in calling SSM a metaphysical fiction, but it is a legal reality in many states, and even at the federal level. The IRS recently ruled that legally married gays can use the “married filing jointly” status and tax rates on their income tax returns. To me, this reads like World Vision simply accepting reality …. these folks ARE married, according to the legal definition. I don’t see them embracing this sin as official policy, any more than their refusal to test people for gluttony, lying, gossip, etc. is embracing those sins as official policy. (Wouldn’t that be fun, though? We could have daily weigh-ins!)

    • Let’s bracket the metaphysical fiction issue for a moment. How does eliminating a restriction based on the status of others from its moral code qualify as “endorsing” anything? When the various temperance-crazed organizations removed their restrictions on dancing, drinking, and being out with the opposite sex after 4pm, did they endorse those things?

      • Yes. Yes they did. And that’s exactly how the culture war was lost.

    • And unbracketing the metaphysical fiction issue, is divorce similarly a metaphysical fiction? Is adoption?

      • Divorce is. Adoption isn’t.

      • Robbysh

        But it is a LEGAL fiction that a sexual relationship between one man and one woman is the same as a sexual relation between two men or two women. Legal fictions have their uses, for instance, if we assert that an artificial person is to be treated, for some purposes the same as a natural persons/vice versa. But does anyone believe that the two are the same? The state may in fact create laws that enforce the claims of all” persons” equally, but to what end? For the common good, because reason dictates, or simply because the ruler decides that is what he wants? And what our rulers today want is to be rid, once and for all of the restrictions of Christian sexual morality and for them to be able to decide what is right and what is wrong.

        • Legal fiction is actually a term of art, and I’m not sure if you’re meaning to apply it.

          In a real sense, all marriages are legal fictions. They are the creation of a unified entity where two persons exist, that are treated as a special unified entity before the law in particular ways. Unlike the dog from your other reply, marriages do not exist on its own in the world. Pair bonds do, sexual relationships do, children do. Arguably, families – although this gets very tricky – also can be seen in the state of nature. Marriage is something noticeably different and constructed by societies.

          So a ruler declaring that marriage between Adam and Steve is not actually any more or less inherently ridiculous than declaring marriage between Adam and Eve – nor any less of a use of the sovereign’s plenary authority. Certainly no more so than declaring Chris the child of Adam and Eve when he is actually borne of David and Fran.

  • In the tradition of commentators everywhere, I’m going to gloss over everything you’ve gotten right, which is of course the parts I agree with, and go to the parts where you are associated with someone who is wrong.

    Canon 915 states: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” What I have learned to my considerable disappointment is that the “manifest” element is roughly equivalent to notorious, which is to say publicly known. Which is to say that your Church is undercutting your own logic here by including an explicitly social element in a very public punishment of sin, and its not just the actions of a few bishops’ conferences or the occasional cultural misadventure, but baked into the law that supposedly binds the whole thing together.

    Not that this is a Catholic problem exclusively. Protestants are at least as terrible on average for different, but fairly similar reasons. Our collective obsession with orthodoxy defines our religion and has defined our atheists. I think it was David Zahl who said that what was once the religion of the poor has somehow become the world’s most pompous religion, and he is right. This idea that a failure to punish another – a stranger, usually – for their sin is somehow endorsing, approving, or otherwise a moral failing is…

    Well, it is infuriating. It seems to me that any opportunity taken to offer judgement over kindness or studied neutrality is presumptively immoral – sinful even. I say this as a person who has spent his entire thinking life, childhood inclusive, advocating to others to interfere more with each other’s lives.

    EDIT: I can’t find the original quote, but here are a couple links that might make my comment slightly more comprehensible http://www.mbird.com/2014/02/david-brooks-rod-dreher-and-the-prodigal-son-today/ http://www.mbird.com/2014/01/from-a-view-to-a-death-christianity-for-the-dying-from-pz/

  • Third edit. I’m sure I’m causing you fits in the moderation.

    But here’s another answer. What is to keep a same sex couple from owning their OWN business/ministry/whatever?

    Nothing. And that’s the point. This isn’t denial of ability to work. And if the culture is so Christian that they can’t even own a business, then they’re not going to have governmental support of their “marriage” (highly suspect to me the entire concept) to begin with.

    I would point out that this rant is *very* similar to that which a certain ex Provisional General from Oregon, implicated in the clergy abuse scandal and now a pastor in Washington, recently said about a certain vice principal in a Catholic high school. The difference, obviously, being that Jesuit thought that same sex marriage posed no problem whatsoever.

  • AMEN

  • Maggie Goff
  • Thomas Marbson

    two main differences to abortion, adultery, etc
    – it is a public statement
    – it is persistent

    Being in an official same-sex marriages is not just a private act, it is expressively a public one, making it an official declaration of your views and acts. Adultery, abortion are different in that, even if they become public, are not formal public statements.

    And more importantly, it is persistent. While with abortion and adulty you can repent does the decision to remain in a same-sex marriage essentially state that you do not repent and making that statement publically.

    The big problem here however is that we equate being in a same-sex marriage with committing sinful acts and remaining defiant in doing so, however there is the possibility that two people can be ‘married’ legally yet express their love in a way that is perfectly consistent with catholic teaching. The Church of England messed this up when they refused to ordain someone a bishop who stated that his relationship with his formal partner is celibate. Practically this offers one way out by being willing to hire if the person in question is willing to confirm his or her behavior in the legal relationship to church teaching.

    But practically, the whole thing strikes me as “Can BMW refuse to hire somebody as spokesperson who is the president of the local Mercedes-Benz fanclub ?”….

    • “But practically, the whole thing strikes me as “Can BMW refuse to hire somebody as spokesperson who is the president of the local Mercedes-Benz fanclub ?”

      I’m going to bracket (and address in reply to your other comment) whether or not spokesperson is a reasonable analogy for a world vision employee – or for that matter, a priest. In the context of Christianity, any Christianity for about 1500 years now at least, your question is better asked this way:

      “Should the Church hire a sinner to run an organization about saving sinners?”

      I think we both know the answer to that one.

      • Robbysh

        Should the Church hire a sinner who proclaims that his sin is not a sin?

        • It always has. Speck, log, all that.

  • Thomas Marbson

    Actually there is another point, it’s the ‘minister’ rule. As far as I understand US law (and it’s similar for at least some European countries) distinguishes between employees of religious organizations that participate in a ‘ministerial’ role and those that don’t (and these organizations have substantially more say over who to hire in the first than the later). I presume this will be another compromise in the future, people in same-sex marriages will be hired for non-ministerial roles but not ministerial ones….

    • I believe you are referring to the ministerial exception. In the context of U.S. law it works roughly as follows, with some wobbles as I will accidentally blend how the law is and how the law probably is and how the law ought, a common problem in common law.

      The fundamental conceit of American law is that man is free and that the power of state is absolute. By default, you can do whatever you want, barring you do not infringe on the rights of another, but once the state says otherwise, that is the end. However, our courts in common law will read in certain laws as existing, even if unwritten, and certain limitations inherent in the powers of the state generally, or more often of the courts in particular. One of these is the ministerial exception, which protects the free exercise of religion.

      The ministerial exception is essentially a shield that protects hire/fire decisions by religious organizations where those hire fire decisions are part and parcel of the religion itself. This has often been analogized to speech, but that is not the actual substantive issue. Courts used to try to figure out whether the employee is a minister (or rather, a religious employee where minister is not a useful term) by counting time, but this leads to a serious problem which is that the courts are not competent to figure out who qualifies as a religious employee and who qualifies as a secular employee. The ministerial exception then, is as much a recognition of the limits of the court’s competency as it is a “compromise” or anything else.

      In the context of World Vision, they have the legal right to consider all of their employees ministerial, if that is what they genuinely believe. I assume it is, and they still bind all of their employees with a morals clause. They have to determine themselves how best to accomplish their mission in the world-that-is. In addition, I think the underreported aspect of this is that World Vision is acknowledging that they are updating their policy to what is already in practice.. Hypocrisy is a pretty useful tool for running a society, but it is also a pretty poor way of fulfilling Christian love.

      • Robbysh

        Well, the state is “sovereign,” but its powers are limited by its competence in terms of its ability to act. Coersion of consciences is an ungodly act because God Himself does not do this. The state may declare the tail of a dog to be a fifth leg. But what happens if it does this?

        • I’m not entirely sure how my comment drew this reply, but lets play with this anyway.

          If the state declares that the tail of a dog will be its fifth leg, everything changes. The biological reality doesn’t change, perhaps, but legs and tails are just words we apply to convenient and marginally useful divisions of the wholeness of the dog. Alternatively, the soi-distant dog is actually billions of cells. So, reality is less durable than you might think – or rather, the layer of ideas that we impress upon reality in order to cope with it.

          Back to more pragmatic concerns. Any laws that referred to legs or tails would not both refer to all five of the typical long protrusions from dogs. Depending on how far the state went, you might imagine new curriculum standards. Most things would not be overly affected however.

          Which is part of why the dog tail issue is a silly analogy for the points you were getting at. Any sovereign has plenary authority over its own laws, and so long as it maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, it will be able to maintain itself and enforce those laws. This includes creating absurd laws (such as declaring pi to be 3) and laws that violate consciences. Creating laws that violate consciences threaten the legitimacy of the state but they do not per se end it. Some (many) consider it a violation of their consciences not to be able to have sex with animals. Arresting these people does not collapse the state. Pretty much all laws are coercive in some way – state power grows out of the barrel of a gun – and people who break them usually claim good reason.

          Which is to say you’re going to need a stronger and more specific argument than conscience.

  • JohnMcG

    I’m not certain of the right policy here, but I think your characterization of the motives of those who think the employment of same-sex-married individuals poses a problem. In short, it’s not about punishing or disciplining sinners, but about public actions.

    I think most people would agree that it would be a problem for a Catholic institution to employ someone who was visibly active in an organization that was notoriously racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic. This person would have publicly taken a stance on a matter against the Church. I think this is the way those who would not hire a same-sex-married person in the Church would see it.

    Now, this creates its own scandal — people note, as this article does, that adulterers, those without concern for the poor, etc. are not disqualified, and conclude (or, IMO, pretend to conclude) that this means the Church is saying that homosexuality is worse than these other sins.

    I’m not sure what the right balance is, and I agree that we are about being merciful to sinners, but I don’t think this position is (purely) about mercy.

    • Robbysh

      The equasion of a rejection of sodomy with a rejection of Jews or blacks or Asians is just wrong. They are rejected because they belong to another tribe, because they are strangers. Sodomy is a sexual act, one which can be practiced by any human being.

      • JohnMcG

        Please re-read my post. My comparison was not of rejection of sodomy to rejection of Jews or blacks or Asians, but with (public) sodomy to racism.

        If WV fired employees who were publicly involved in racist organizations, few would complain, since most would understand how this would compromise their mission.

  • Good article.

    > “Refusing to hire same-sex ‘married’ people isn’t the same thing as stoning a woman!” In that society it was! It was the normal, legal response.

    The point is valid, but the historical fact is -I believe- wrong. At that time, stoning an adulterous woman was very rarely done, if ever. It was “legal” in the most theoretical sense of the word – and by no means “normal”. http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2584/jesus-and-the-adulterous-woman-was-stoning-a-practical-possiblity

  • pagansister

    It’s still legal to stone women in some countries—not much has changed, huh? Do employers ask those that work for them if they use birth control, or cheat on their spouse, or whatever? Why is hiring those in SSM a problem? It shouldn’t be. What a person does in their private life is their business. If they are loyal workers, doing their jobs and earning their pay—what is the problem? Having taught in a Catholic school for 10 years, I knew I would not have the “same rules” as in a public school. Came with the territory. The owner of a public/for profit business shouldn’t have the right to impose his beliefs on his employees.

  • MarkP1971

    SSM and adultery might seem like complete analogs, but there is one thing that typically separates them – hypocrisy. The adulterer typically goes to extremes to hide the sin, and it can often be an “open secret” even after it becomes known. If I read WV’s morals clause right, an open adulterer would get fired if they insisted their adultery was not sin but just an expression of love. SSM is analogous to open adultery that thumbs its nose at the law. Public sins receive a public call to repentance. Private sins are appropriately confronted privately. In the eschaton all things will come into the light, which means a whole bunch of adulterers will be doing a bunch of repenting that they escaped in this life. But the major problem with SSM is that very public statement equivalent to saying we have repealed the 6th commandment. The adulterer need not make a such a public statement by their actions. In fact their actions might have the effect of acknowledging the law at the same time as they trespass it.

  • Mike

    The Church should go as far as it can to be merciful and to take people at their word and to “dine with sinners”. But at some point it has to say, well you are unrepentant, you believe in your sin, you believe that the RCC is wrong and worse so therefore we have to part ways.

    This is sort of what happened to Anne Rice shortly after she reverted and wrote some amazing books about Christ. She realized that the RCC’s position on the morality of homosexuality was never going to change and that she disagreed with it so much that there was nothing left for her to do but leave. And I’ve always thought her decision admirable.

    The RCC is voluntary; if the only reason why you are a part of it is to change it maybe you’re in the wrong church.

    PS I am glad that WV reversed its decision but also hope that one day soon it will be able to hire gay people who are “married” and not risk losing its identity in the process.

  • ahermit

    It’s just another demonstration of how the obsession with other people’s sex lives is more important to many Christians than anything else.

  • Pegzee

    It could not have been said better, thank you!

  • gaby leblanc

    The problem with married gays isn’t that they are sinners, it’s that they insist their sin isn’t a sin, and make a public declaration of their sin, and expect the State to confer benefits on their sin, and expect society to condone their sin. No other sin is indulged in this way – or, if it is, it’s usually grounds for termination if the person is employed by an organization with a lifestyle policy. It’s NOT just a matter of not hiring sinners -no one would work if that were the case; nor even of not hiring sexual sinners – imagine the interview questions to that scenario! It’s a matter of not hiring people who proclaim their sin for the whole world to know about, and refuse to recognize it as a sin. BIG DIFFERENCE. I would go so far as to say that World Vision would be better off hiring gays who AREN’T married – because if they are sinning in private, it’s nobody’s business. The seal of marriage makes it EVERYBODY’S business.

    • oregon nurse

      100% spot on. WV can’t even justify tacit support of ssm where it is legal because legal has never been the sole criteria for what defines Christian morality.

  • Robbysh

    Adulerers are not political organized and pushing for acceptance of adultery as something good. A same sex marriage is objectively no more than a kind of friendship which claims that having sexual relations elevates such friendships above others. Many claim that state recognition of such unions will help make them endure by creating a common interest now lacking, which is the shared social financial benefits of the institution of marriage. That seems a disingenuous argument, given the shrinking number of married couples, or the lack of intention of so many wedded couples of committing to a life-time union. Same-sex marriage will be followed by same-sex divorce.

  • theBuckWheat

    One aspect that must be mentioned is that because we have allowed government to define “marriage” for its own purposes (such as taxation and regulation of estates), we have allowed government to define marriage as a social institution. That was fine as long as people in control of government were supportive of God’s original definition of marriage. However we have entered a time when a growing number of people in control of government are willing to redefine marriage for their own purposes, which in part appear to be hostile to God’s definition.

    Therefore, for the sake of marriage as God defines it, it is time to remove from government the power to define who is married and who is not. Then gays could form whatever relationships they please, and they could not force those who disagree to be enablers for those bonds. And we would not have schools that must teach that homosexual “marriages” are just as legitimate as heterosexual ones. Nor would we have owners of wedding photography services being threatened with arrest and being convicted of a crime for merely declining to artfully photograph a “marriage” they find morally repugnant.

    • paizlea

      And there should be no tax benefits or other legal advantages for those who are married as well, right? Marriage should be a sacred rite only. No government involvement in any way. As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I can agree with this.

  • charlesrwilliams

    The issue with a same-sex “marriage” is that it is a ongoing public act that contradicts universal Christian teaching. You cannot have employees in a Christian ministry who persist in such an activity involved in carrying out that ministry. Now, I am sure that there are adulterers working at World Vision. Anyone known to be in an adulterous relationship who persists in that relationship should also be dismissed and for the same reason. Jesus says go and sin no more. There is forgiveness for sinners but no tolerance for sin.

    • paizlea

      Should chronic overeaters also be denied employment in a Christian organization? Or is gluttony not as bad a sin as extramarital sex?