doctrinal covenants

Hey CNN: Was a Catholic-school teacher in Indianapolis fired for 'being gay'? Period?

Hey CNN: Was a Catholic-school teacher in Indianapolis fired for 'being gay'? Period?

During my four decades or so in religion-beat work — as a reporter and then as a national columnist — I have covered or attempted to cover countless (trust me on that) stories linked to the lives of LGBTQ Catholics.

I also, in the early 1990s (after I had left the Rocky Mountain News) interviewed for a teaching post at a Jesuit university, where I was grilled about my support for many Catholic Catechism statements on sexuality (I was an evangelical Anglican at the time). I was told that I would threaten gay students and others in the campus community.

Through it all, I have learned one thing: It is impossible to stereotype the lives or beliefs of many, many gay Catholics. There is no such thing as an archetypal “gay Catholic.”

This brings me — I apologize, right up front — to yet another mainstream news report about Catholic schools, church doctrines, teacher contracts, doctrinal covenants and “gay” teachers. Yes, here we go again.

In this case, look at the overture in this CNN story, under this headline: “An Indiana teacher is suing his archdiocese, saying he was fired from a Catholic school for being gay.”

The key words, of course, are “fired … for being gay.” Here’s the top of this story:

A former Catholic school teacher is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, saying that he was fired because of his sexual orientation.

Joshua Payne-Elliott had taught at Cathedral High School for 13 years. But despite renewing his contract in May, the school fired him a month later under the directive of the archdiocese, he says.

On Monday, Payne-Elliott's attorney announced a confidential settlement with Cathedral High School. His new lawsuit is against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which he says forced the high school to fire him.

The dispute between the archdiocese and Payne-Elliott, who is publicly named for the first time in the suit, is unusual because his husband is also a teacher at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis. His husband teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, which was also asked by the archdiocese to fire their teacher after the same-sex marriage was made public in 2017 on social media. The Jesuits refused.

Fired “for being gay” then leads to the follow-up statement that this teacher was “fired because of his sexual orientation.” The key term is “orientation.”

Let’s stop and think about this for a second.

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Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

What we have here is another one of those stories that your GetReligionistas have written about so many times that we have crossed over into a state of frustration.

Can you say “doctrinal covenant”?

At this point, it’s clear that many newsroom managers just can’t handle the fact that the Catholic Church is not (in many zip codes) a liberal democracy, which means that many Catholic bishops still think their schools should defend the contents of the Catholic catechism. OK, maybe the issue is whether people in Catholic schools get to attack the faith in symbolic ways in public.

Once again, no one thinks that journalists have to endorse the doctrines of the Church of Rome. The question is whether reporters and editors know enough about the contents of these doctrines, traditions and canon laws to cover them accurately. At a bare minimum, journalists need to know that there are experts and activists on both sides of these debates, but that — in the vast majority of cases — local bishops, representing the Vatican, are the “prevailing legal authorities.”

So here we go again. Let’s turn to USA Today, for a rather one-sided story about this latest conflict: “Cathedral High School terminates gay teacher to stay in Indianapolis Archdiocese.” As you will see, this story is Act II in a larger local drama:

Just days after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with one Catholic high school over its decision to continue to employee a gay teacher, another school is firing one of its educators to avoid the same fate.

Cathedral High School, located on the northeast side of Indianapolis, announced Sunday it is terminating a gay teacher in order to avoid a split with the archdiocese, which stripped Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of its Catholic identity last week.

Brebeuf refused to fire its educator, who is in a public same-sex marriage.

Cathedral's board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges posted a letter on the school's website announcing the decision to "separate" from a teacher in a public same-sex marriage. The letter is addressed to the "Cathedral family."

The archdiocese made it clear, the letter said, that keeping the teacher employed “would result in forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

OK, let’s unpack this oh-so-typical conflict — yet again.

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This just in: Not all Christians agree on marriage and sex! This schism even affects their schools!

This just in: Not all Christians agree on marriage and sex! This schism even affects their schools!

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.

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Washington Post editors still don't understand that private schools -- left and right -- have doctrines

Washington Post editors still don't understand that private schools -- left and right -- have doctrines

United Methodists are, of course, getting ready for their extraordinary global conference next month in which they will try to decide if the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian doctrine have anything definitive to say about marriage and sex.

One powerful pack of lobbyists on the doctrinal left — the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church — have come out swinging, urging the conference to allow “full inclusion” for all in the denomination’s life and work, no matter what their “gender identity” or “sexual orientation.”

It’s safe to say that leaders of these 93 schools — including universities such as Emory, American, Duke, Syracuse and SMU — have created campus policies that encourage or require students, faculty and staff to embrace this modernized approach to moral theology.

That’s fine, as long as these schools are very up-front about the doctrines that define life in their private associations. Private schools on the left and right are allowed to do that. (Click here for a column that I wrote several years ago about efforts at Vanderbilt University to require on-campus ministries to toe the evolving LGBTQ line: “The new campus orthodoxy that forbids most old orthodoxies.”)

Once again let me stress: Private schools on the left and right have a First Amendment right (think freedom of association) to defend the doctrines that define campus life.

Some journalists continue to struggle with this First Amendment concept, leading to lots of GetReligion posts trying to explain the law and history behind “lifestyle” and doctrinal covenants at private schools.

For a perfect example of this problem, see the new Washington Post report with this headline: “The school that hired Karen Pence requires applicants to disavow gay marriage, trans identity.” Here is the lengthy, but essential, overture to this story.

The school where Vice President Pence’s wife, Karen, has accepted a part-time job teaching art requires potential employees to affirm certain religious beliefs that seek to exclude homosexual and transgender applicants, including that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

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Same-sex dating on evangelical campus: Are there two sides of this hot-button story?

Same-sex dating on evangelical campus: Are there two sides of this hot-button story?

Thirty years ago, I asked a gay theologian in Denver a blunt question, while we were thinking out loud about the distant possibility that gay marriage would become a reality.

The question: Did he know anyone in the gay theological world — this man was well connected — who thought that gay women and men should remain virgins until taking vows and forming a monogamous, lifelong relationship with a partner?

After laughing out loud, he said, “No.” The debates, he said, would be about the meaning of the word “monogamous”? Few gay men, in particular, would accept what he called the “twin rocking chairs into the future” approach to absolute sexual fidelity.

About 15 years ago, I asked another gay activist if LGBTQ people lobbying for change in Christian higher education had considered attacking a very specific fault line: If Christian college leaders asked students to promise not to have sex outside of marriage, what would be the doctrinal grounds for banning gay dating?

He said: That’s a very interesting point. That’s going to be an issue someday.

Put those two questions together and you get the tensions on the campus of Azusa Pacific University, where administrators briefly approved a policy stating that gay romance — short of intercourse — was as welcome on the campus as straight. The trustees quickly nixed that revolutionary change.

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I talked about the APU furor, focusing on a particularly lousy, one-sided news report on the subject that ran in The Los Angeles Times — a newspaper once known for its quality religion-news work.

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BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

When you look at prestige brand names in the world of news, it's hard to find institutions that can match the global impact of The New York Times and BBC News.

Journalists here in America are constantly aware of the impact of the Times, in terms of shaping the priorities of other newspapers from coast to coast. It's hard to find a small circle of journalists with more power than the editors who decide what goes on A1 in the Times.

However, anyone who has traveled around the world and gazed at hotel-room televisions knows that the BBC is omnipresent and very powerful just about everywhere.

Thus, let me add an editorial note to my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin's report -- "Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed" -- focusing on how Canadian journalists covered the Trinity Western University decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.

In particular, I would like to focus on how this short report produced by the gatekeepers at the BBC handled a key detail in the community covenant (or as the CBC described it, the "so-called community covenant") that defines the doctrinal standards that guide life on that evangelical Protestant campus.

The headline on this report is certainly blunt, but it is accurate: "Canada's Supreme Court rules LGBT rights trump religious freedom." This brings us to the story's lede:

Canada's top court has ruled in favour of denying accreditation to a Christian law school that banned students from having gay sex.

Now, let me say right up front that this statement is accurate, sort of, and half-way true.

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NPR on evangelical culture wars: Open fights over sex and doctrine kick into high gear

NPR on evangelical culture wars: Open fights over sex and doctrine kick into high gear

For a decade or more, your GetReligionistas have been urging journalists to (a) check and see if there are faith-based colleges (left or right) nearby and then (b) check and see if the leaders of these schools (think trustees or religious denominations) require students, faculty and staff to SIGN a doctrinal statement that frames all campus life.

In many cases, religious schools -- especially Baptist and nondenominational evangelical schools -- have long assumed that everyone can affirm "biblical authority" and/or "traditional Christian values" and that's that. There are lots of Protestants who, claiming a specific approach to the priesthood of every believer, simply do not like to write doctrines down. That would be a creed, you see. Think #Romeaphobia.

The problem is that we live in a legalistic age that demands precision and candor, especially about sex. And never forget that 1983 Bob Jones v. United States decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, when conditions are right, it's fine for the government to get entangled in fights over what is good doctrine and what is bad doctrine.

The First Amendment ground started moving. This brings us to this solid National Public Radio report: "Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies."

The key to this piece is that it covers both the broad legal questions involved in these disputes and the growing doctrinal warfare inside the often vague world of evangelical culture. That second angle is one that GetReligionistas have long argued is worthy of mainstream-media attention, linked to the rise of a true evangelical left, defined in terms of doctrine, not politics. You can see these disputes breaking out all over the place, like Taylor University in Indiana and Abilene Christian University in West Texas.

Here's the NPR overture, which is long and solid:

Conservative Christian colleges, once relatively insulated from the culture war, are increasingly entangled in the same battles over LGBT rights and related social issues that have divided other institutions in America.

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Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

The Knoxville News-Sentinel hasn't had a religion writer, at least in my memory, for some time. But it did manage to produce a church-dumps-gay-couple story in pretty short order after said couple started making the rounds of newspapers and TV stations. 

The setting is bucolic Blount County, a rural area south of Knoxville that sits in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I vacationed there in 2014 and found it refreshingly distant from an interstate highway.

Now, this is an area that's very conservative and it's full of churches, which is how our story begins.

MARYVILLE -- A Blount County gay couple say their hearts were broken but their Christian faith remains strong after they were denied full membership in a nondenominational church.
Now Courtney and Jessica Wright are cautious, even scared, about stepping in any church.
The Wrights were told in late January they couldn’t become full-fledged “core” members of Faith Promise Church because they're homosexual. One of the church's core beliefs is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The couple, married in August 2016, knew Faith Promise listed heterosexual-only marriage as a belief. But they say their homosexuality and marriage were never secret, and church members made them feel accepted and included for months.

Part of me wonders: Is this really a news story?

Maybe, because the newspaper had previously reported that Faith Promise is one of the country’s fastest-growing churches. But if an attendee had complained to the newspaper about being shut out of full membership for any other reason, would the newspaper have run it?

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More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

So here is an understatement: Some people in my life (readers included) can't seem to figure out why I think that the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org is a logical, constructive and potentially positive development on the Godbeat.

To catch up on this topic, please flashback to last week's "Crossroads" podcast post: "ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news." Then, to get some hints at where I am going with all this, please glace here, as well: "Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants."

The way I see it, both of those posts are related to the Hooters video at the top of this post. I kid you not.

The other day, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., showed remarkable restraint when, in one of his Friday Five collections, he mentioned an interesting controversy on a Christian college campus in West Texas. Here is a piece of the story he mentioned, which ran at The Dallas Morning News under this headline: "Abilene Christian University urges students: Don't work at Hooters."

Hooters is set to open in Abilene this month, but students at Abilene Christian University are being urged not to apply for jobs there. ...
In a written statement, Emerald Cassidy, the school's director of public and media relations, told the station that "we have asked students to consider both what Hooters represents and whether that is something they really want to support in terms of both their faith and the value this business model places on women."

Now, pay close attention to this part:

According to the university handbook, Cassady said, students are challenged to make decisions "that ultimately glorify God" whether on or off campus, adding that the university could review any student it felt did not uphold that standard on a case-by-case basis.

Yes, lurking in that paragraph is an implied reference -- specifics would be soooo much better -- to some kind of doctrinal statement or lifestyle covenant that frames moral and social issues for ACU students.

Yes, that would be precisely the kind of document that your GetReligionistas have consistently urged journalists to find online, when covering stories about hot-button issues in Christian education.

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