In the First Council of Nicaea in the 4th century AD, Christians assembled to debate and set Christian doctrine under the watchful eyes of the Roman emperor Constantine. In the 21st century, some try to settle theological disputes through costly and frivolous lawsuits under the eyes of a secular judge. The role of secular law in theology arises from Janay Garrick’s complaint against her employer, the Moody Bible Institute, for gender discrimination.
The MBI affirms the traditional Catholic doctrine of male-only ordination to the priesthood, a belief as old as the church itself, but one which has become increasingly controversial over the last half century. In fact, the question of women’s ordination is a crucial doctrinal split among Christians today.
Garrick calls herself an “egalitarian Christian” because she affirms the ordination of women. Garrick is herself an ordained minister and worked as Instructor of Communications in MBI’s Communications Program from 2014 to 2017.
Garrick disclosed her beliefs as an egalitarian Christian during the interview process, but it wasn’t until she attempted to file her status as an ordained minister to receive certain institutional benefits that conflict with her employer began. MBI subscribes to the theological principle of Complementarianism, the belief that God intended different roles for men and women within the church. As such, MBI provides its ordination-related benefits to men only.
In her suit, Garrick argues that MBI “both tolerated and cultivated an environment that was hostile to female faculty and students.” But while such complaints may have merit in any other context, in a constitutionally-protected religious organization whose views on women’s ordination were clear and unambiguous prior to her hiring, Garrick’s challenge should fail.
It is necessary to the proper functioning of any religious order or organization to be able to enforce core doctrinal beliefs. Otherwise, institutions would collapse under the weight of dissent. The Constitution protects this right.
But the great feature of the First Amendment is that it protects the religious liberty of church and parishioners alike.
Garrick has the right to practice her faith as she sees fit, and this means that she is free to worship or pursue employment at one of the hundreds of denominations in the United States more theologically aligned with her beliefs. Just as it would be an infringement on the rights of the Moody Bible Institute to force everyone else within it to accommodate one dissenter, so would it be a violation of Garrick’s rights to force her to profess theological beliefs contrary to her own.
We look forward to further developments in this case.