Priesthood of All Professors? Court to Consider ‘Ministerial Exception’ for Gordon College

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Decision could impact freedom of faculty, ability of evangelical institutions to hire and fire.

One of professor Margaret DeWeese-Boyd’s students thought she did a “great job of connecting class materials with Christian faith” in her Gordon College social work course. Another said that after nearly 30 years teaching at the Christian liberal arts school, DeWeese-Boyd excelled at “incorporating our faith into our materials, calling us to be relevant and apply our materials to our Christian life.”

Does that mean she was a minister?

A Massachusetts court will weigh that question in a hearing on January 4. The decision in the lawsuit between the former professor and Gordon College could have far-reaching implications for other evangelical institutions of higher education and the many people who work for them.

DeWeese-Boyd was denied promotion to full professor in 2017, against the recommendation of her department and the faculty senate. She alleges the administration was retaliating against her for her opposition to the school’s policies on sexuality and the way those policies hurt LGBT students and faculty. DeWeese-Boyd also says the administration punished her more harshly than male professors who had taken similar stands. She sued, alleging discrimination.

Gordon, however, is arguing that faculty are not covered by anti-discrimination protections in federal employment law, because professors are ministers and the Supreme Court has held there is a “ministerial exception” to those protections.

According to Gordon president D. Michael Lindsay, the school’s professors are Christian educators, required to “profess the Christian faith; to assist students in their spiritual journey as part of their intellectual formation; to be available to minister to students with questions, …

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