Not All Christian Professors Are Ministers, Mass. Court Rules

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Gordon College loses fight over “ministerial exception” to employment law, but may appeal.

Some professors at evangelical colleges may be ministers. But they are not all ministers and they’re not ministers just because they teach at a Christian school, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided last week.

The court ruled against Gordon College in a case that could have far-reaching consequences for evangelical colleges and universities and the faculty and staff who work at those schools.

The court said that Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, a social work professor who was denied promotion, may sue the school, alleging discrimination. Gordon argued that because it is a Christian school and professors are required to integrate their faith into the classroom, DeWeese-Boyd was a minister and is not protected by the federal government’s prohibitions on workplace discrimination.

In 2016, Gordon revised its faculty handbook to say that all professors are ministers. President D. Michael Lindsay (who is also on CT’s board of directors), testified that “there are no non-sacred disciplines” at Gordon, and said he tells junior faculty that joining Gordon is like joining a religious order.

The US Supreme Court has found there is a “ministerial exception” to employee protections, since the First Amendment to the US Constitution limits government interference into religious institutions. The Massachusetts court acknowledged Gordon is a religious institution, but decided the “ministerial exception” is limited.

“While it may be true that Gordon employs Christians, and ‘Christians have an undeniable call to minister to others,’” Justice Scott Kafker wrote, “this line of argument appears to oversimplify the Supreme Court test, suggesting that all Christians teaching …

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