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Second thoughts on the Supreme Court and church workers

Submitted by on February 9, 2012 – 11:30 amOne Comment

With a bit of distress I have watched the publications of the LCMS and our leaders celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hosanna-Tabor Ev. Lutheran Church and School.  Not that I necessarily disagree with the ruling.  If the ruling is seen as primarily a “win” for the separation of church and state and for the “right” of the church and/or one of its congregations to determine who works as its “minister,” then I suppose such celebration is in order.

Why, then, my distress?  Because something very important is missing in our responses!

Where is protection for the worker?  Where is his or her advocate?  Church workers have not unions. Church workers now have not governmental discriminatory protection.  At most what they have, then, is the LCMS grievance process.  With this ruling, workers of the church are left, more or less, at the mercy of the congregations or schools that “hire” them, except, I suppose, for those non-rostered workers who would not be defined as “ministers.”

We could be in a situation in which rostered workers are more at risk than non-rostered ones.  We certainly are in a position in which church workers are very dependent on the good-will of a congregation or school and its leadership to be treated fairly.  In many and likely a majority of instances, I am sure, this dependency will be met responsibly by congregational and school leadership, with genuine support for the worker.  But humankind is what humankind is, and there is no guarantee of this.

We are all baptized and redeemed people, members of Christ’s Body.  At the resurrection of the dead we will live forever in the glorious presence of Christ.  In the meantime, we struggle with the devil, the world, and our flesh.  At times even congregations and schools need help with that struggle.  Perhaps that help should not be discriminatory protection from outside the church.  But it does call on us to be even more engaged in the support and care of the workers of the church.

I’d really like to hear more from our church leaders from this angle.  I’d love to hear them take up the cause of the worker.

In the meantime, one possible help is to develop Worker Support Teams.  These are congregational members whose task is to come alongside its workers and provide advocacy and care.  It is a bit self-serving to suggest that congregational leaders could read more about this in my book Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand.  Nonetheless, I do suggest so reading.

One Comment »

  • John Hohe says:

    Bruce and others, I do agree.

    This case should NEVER have gotten this far! It is a failure of all parties but from what I know it seems like the District and the congregation may share the great responsibility. The fact that this case went as far as it did is that this treatment of the worker would not have been tolerated in the work place or at least she would have had full redress legally. The fact that the church won at the expense of the worker is a LOUSY WITNESS TO THE WORLD. And ultimately I think that trumps all claims otherwise to be “right.”

    Rev. John Hohe

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