Unconscious bias, privilege, prejudice and straight out sin undeniably rear their heads in the church’s employment, ordination, and call processes. They raise for us important questions of ethics.

As Christians, our starting point for ethics is that we are created in the image and likeness of God (imago dei) and are becoming more fully who we are created to be. We are, as the saying goes, human becoming fully human.  When we come together as the communal body of the church, no matter our institutional and individual sin, we are also the Body of Christ. We are church becoming fully Church. This is both our starting point and our aim for the action and intent of resolutions surrounding the church’s employment, ordination, and call processes.

Why then would we treat ordination, call, and deployment the same way we treat secular employment and for the very same reasons? Hopefully, we do not embark on an action because it is a best practice in the secular world but because the intent is for the church and her leadership to more fully reflect the imago dei. When reasoning feels weighted to one side of the theological conversation at the exclusion of the other, the conversation could be greatly strengthened by going beyond an argument for simple equity. We are a church – the aim could at least be becoming more fully Church. If this is not our aim, we shouldn’t be surprised if we miss the mark.

Hopefully measures and practices will be put in place that help us check our unconscious biases at some point in the process of call/employment, because such biases do exist. It is impossible to fully hold to both the requirements of D026 and the rigorousness of a process which requires in-person conversation. As written, this resolution also strengthens the already strong cult of secrecy around certain matters of discernment:

    • ‘Lie or don’t answer that, you won’t get through.’
    • ‘If you tell them X, you won’t be called– doesn’t matter that it will affect your life together.’
    • ‘Your family has nothing to do with your priesthood.’
    • ‘That’s the type of thing you only share after the papers are signed.’

Frankly, that all sounds like bad relationship advice, and it feels more like “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a celebration and inclusion of our differences. Sadly, in some arenas “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a step toward progress. Is that our arena as a church?

Alternatives to this approach abound. Fund training for search committees, commission on ministries, and those who hire. Scrub the OTM of identifying information and add a question that speaks to someone’s heart in this matter. Actively disciple, recruit, and lift up leaders whose presence brings us more fully into the reign of God. Teach committees to ask the same questions of everyone. Tell the truth about our sin. Shine the light brightly at every step of the process— not just after an offer has been made and accepted. And in so doing, welcome what the one who is a young parent has to proclaim, what the one with a chronic disease has to teach, and what the one who expresses themselves differently has to illuminate because only then are we more fully church. We are our better selves as a church when we celebrate rather than fall silent. We do not have to follow the best practices of the secular world. We have the freedom to make even better practices that follow the Jesus movement.

Posted by Eileen O'Brien