How did I miss this story?
Apparently, there is some kind of move afoot in elite media to push for the establishment of the Episcopal Church, or perhaps the United Church of Christ, as the state-mandated religion in the United States. Have you heard about this?
That’s one way to read the remarkable media response to Second Lady Karen Pence’s decision to return to the teaching at an ordinary evangelical Protestant school that attempts to defend ordinary conservative or traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality. (Yes, I am writing about this issue again.)
Why bring up Episcopalians? Well, Episcopal schools are allowed to have lifestyle and doctrinal covenants that defend their church’s evolving pronouncements blending liberal Christian faith with the editorial pages of The New York Times. Private schools — on left and right — get to define the boundaries of their voluntary associations.
These institutions can even insist that teachers, staff, parents and students affirm, or at least not publicly oppose, the doctrines that are the cornerstone of work in these schools. Try to imagine an Episcopal school that hired teachers who openly opposed the church’s teachings affirming same-sex marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, etc.
Now, after looking in that First Amendment mirror, read the top of the Times report on Pence’s heretical attempt to freely exercise her evangelical Protestant faith. The headline: “Karen Pence Is Teaching at Christian School That Bars L.G.B.T. Students and Teachers.”
Actually, that isn’t accurate. I have taught at Christian colleges in which I knew gay students who affirmed 2,000 years of Christian moral theology or were willing to be celibate for four years. These doctrinal codes almost always focus on sexual conduct and/or public opposition to traditional doctrines. But back to the Gray Lady’s apologetics:
Karen Pence, the second lady of the United States, returned to teaching art this week, accepting a part-time position at a private Christian school that does not allow gay students and requires employees to affirm that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
You could also say that the school requires its employees not to publicly oppose the teachings on which the school is built. That’s a neutral, accurate wording that would work with liberal religious schools, as well as conservative ones. Just saying. Let’s move on.
The eighth item on the application’s “Articles of Employment,” which requires applicants to sign their initials next to a list of beliefs, outlines Immanuel Christian’s definition of marriage and stances on sexual identity.
“I understand that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman,” it reads, adding that certain “moral misconduct” would be disqualifying, such as “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.”
That final clause is incredibly vague, but the rest of that language is rather ordinary. Basically, it says: We oppose the Sexual Revolution. (Click here for .pdf of the key document.)
The Times team then admits that religious private schools are allowed, under current laws, to be — well — private, voluntary, non-profit associations. True that. True to imagine Greenpeace hiring, as one of its leaders, someone who really, really wants to slaughter whales.
Things get interesting when the Times turns to a church-state scholar who works in a bright-blue zip code. Pay close attention to the direct quote here:
… Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, a professor of politics and religion at Northwestern University, said that the school’s requirements appeared more extreme than other religious schools and noted that not all Christians would agree with them.
She said that Mrs. Pence’s choice of employment was not surprising because the school’s values appeared to mirror those of the Trump administration.
“Given the exclusionary nationalism in this administration and sorts of politics taken on various things, it would not be at all surprising for the second lady to associate herself with some prominent fashion with an institution like this,” Professor Hurd said. “It raises important issues about education and diversity, and what kind of forward-facing public officials we want representing our country at home and abroad.”
Exclusionary nationalism? Has this scholar ever talked to Christians overseas — Asia and Africa, in particular? The defense of small-o orthodox doctrines on marriage and sex is not an American thing, these days. You are much more likely to hear these convictions among Catholics, United Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc., in the Global South. Meanwhile, I also have doubts about Donald Trump’s commitments to that doctrinal covenant’s tight language on premarital and extramarital sex.
But the phrase that really grabbed me was the paraphrased quote stating that “not all Christians would agree” with the doctrines in this school’s covenant.
OMG. ROFL. #REALLY
Of course there are divisions among Christians on these issues! That’s why candidate Barack Obama had to pretend to affirm traditional Christian beliefs on marriage — when he needed the support of voters in traditional black-church pews. Once he knew he had a second term locked up, he could evolve over to statements consistent with his chosen church, the edgy United Church of Christ.
Anglicans and Episcopalians are divided on matters of marriage and sex. Ditto for United Methodists in America and abroad. You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a good throw down between a liberal Jesuit and a conservative Jesuit on this stuff.
Let’s face it, reporters can’t cover religion news for more than a week without running into disputes on these topics. This is news? I think not.
The issue is whether something has happened that has made a liberal approach to Christianity acceptable, or even semi-official in public life, at least in the eyes of bishops at the New York Times.
Check out this tweet from a scribe with ties at Politico and the national staff of The Washington Post:
How could a voluntary, religious, non-profit institution be allowed to ask its members to affirm the teachings on which it is built? How can traditional Christians — like Karen Pence, I guess — be allowed to freely exercise their faith?
Meanwhile, a tweet from CNN country caught the eye of Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway.
If you want to, check out the Politico “news story” with this headline: “Karen Pence to teach at school that bans gay students, parents, employees.” You will find more of the same.
In fact, let me make this request: If anyone sees a news report produced by journalists who grasp that the First Amendment applies to both the religious left and the Religious Right, please let us know in this site’s comments pages.
The First Amendment is for everyone, last time I checked. Is that still true?