Services such as health, education, and elderly care aren’t just functions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They are expressions of our faith.
Our faith touches every aspect of how our services should be delivered. Therefore, those delivering the services must share an active Adventist Christian faith.
But should Adventists have the legal right to hire along faith lines in our institutions?
1. Religious hiring standards are legitimate in faith-based entities.
When religious discrimination occurs because of prejudice or animus, it should be outlawed. Someone’s religion, for example, has no bearing on their ability to work for secular entities like Google or a major bank.
But in other circumstances, religious beliefs are directly related to the mission of the employer. In the Adventist case, religious hiring criteria are not based on prejudice but rather on the legitimate needs of the organization to preserve and pursue its unique mission. This is no different from Greenpeace restricting hiring to committed environmentalists. To ban faith-based entities from hiring those who share their vision would disadvantage them in a way that society does not disadvantage secular entities. So a ban would itself be a form of invidious discrimination.
2. Hiring rights are necessary for all positions, not just clergy.
An entity is faith-based not because of the name hanging over its doorway or its history, but because the human beings working there share a common faith, vision, and mission. While it has become fashionable to dismiss the influence of lower paid workers on the mission of an organization, sometimes it’s these workers who have the greatest influence.
For example, Andy Beattie was a gardener at Sydney Adventist Hospital in Australia. Some would dismiss his position as irrelevant to the mission of the institution. But nothing could be further from the truth. He was the embodiment of the hospital’s motto, “Christianity in Action.” He frequently brought vegetables grown on the property to those struggling in the area, shared his Christian faith with patients who talked with him in the garden, and encouraged nearly all who met him to live a healthier life free of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful substances.
He embodied the hospital’s values so well that when it asked for proposals for the naming of a new building, it was voted it should be named after Andy and his brothers. Today the Beattie Complex serves as a proud reminder that it’s not just administrators or chaplains who are ministers for Christ, but every Christian.
3. Diversity is harmed by denying religious hiring rights.
Some contend that recognizing the religious hiring rights of faith-based entities stifles diversity. The opposite is true. In the area of Australian education, for example, parents can choose from a wide range of options. Roughly seven in 10 children attend state schools, two in 10 attend Catholic schools, and a little more than one in 10 go to independent schools — which themselves are broken into a variety of educational opportunities ranging from secular private schools through to Jewish, Muslim, and a wide range of distinct Protestant school options.
If governments deny faith-based entities their hiring rights, it destroys the diverse educational options offered by this broad range of schools because the ethos of schools is directly tied to their staffing. When we lose the unique character of these schools, we homogenize the education sector, destroying diversity rather than enhancing it.
In addition, faith-based entities provide employment for people often excluded from the more general workplace. For example, an Adventist teacher interviewed for a position at a Sydney school did extremely well in the interview until the issue of Saturday work came up. When she indicated she could not work Saturdays, she was turned down for the job. She now teaches at an Adventist school, where she is making an outstanding contribution. The unique, faith-based community with its specific ethos and culture created a position, that, because of her faith, she was barred from filling elsewhere. The workforce is more diverse, more efficient, fairer and more inclusive when faith communities can hire along faith lines.
Faith-based hiring rights are an indispensable component of a healthy, diverse, free society. Maintaining these rights is essential to the survival of the precious ministries God has entrusted to the Adventist Church.