Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Religious Liberty and the Definition of "Church"

Is the Southern Baptist Convention a "church"? How about a state convention body? A local association? A mission board? A seminary?

Ecclesiologically, Southern Baptists tend to regard the cooperative efforts of multiple local congregations as something other than a church. In Nashville in 2005, Bobby Welch was careful to note that the SBC was not performing the baptisms that were taking place beside the stage—that we were merely witnessing the baptisms that Nashville area churches were performing in our presence. Churches, not people, constitute the membership of the convention, which is a fellowship of churches rather than a church itself. Strictly speaking, we consider our cooperative entities to be more para-church than church.

Nevertheless, our Baptist commitment to religious liberty has caused us to hold that the government has no business employing our theology against us to grant favorable treatment to one denomination over another because of the various ways that various denominations draw the boundaries of church. Such action constitutes at least a partial de facto establishment of special privilege to one denomination of faith over another.

Consider, for example, the recent case that pitted the tax assessor of Tarrant County, Texas, against the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). The SBTC constructed its headquarters in Tarrant County and applied for religious exemption from property tax. The tax assessor initially denied the application, arguing that the SBTC, according to its own theology, is not a church and is not employed primarily for "religious worship." Other denominational headquarters within Tarrant County (the Methodists, for example) had been granted exemption for facilities that served nearly precisely the same functions as the SBTC headquarters, solely on the grounds that the polities of these denominations defined the boundaries of the church differently.

The SBTC appealed the ruling and the courts overturned the decision of the tax assessor. The eventual decision was the right one: The government has no authority to apply the same laws differently to various denominations because of their differing theological views. Theology is beyond the government's authority.

So, is a Southern Baptist seminary a church? As far as the brusque arm of federal intrusiveness is concerned, you bet it is. I'm not even saying that the federal government has no right to answer the question differently than I have; I'm saying that the federal government has no right to consider the question at all on a denomination-by-denomination basis.

As I've been saying for more than a year, the proponents of the Klouda case are, in their short-sightedness, hard at work to sell our Baptist and American birthright of religious liberty for a bowl of vindictive porridge. As the SBTC case demonstrates, the issues at play here are far-reaching and significant. Let's keep Pandora's grubby hands off of this particular box.

46 comments:

Ron P. said...

Bart,

You made the point that I think that is lost on those supporting this lawsuit. They are willing to give away rights and freedoms that our forefathers fought and died for just to attack one man. As I have said before, Moby Dick comes to mind when dealing with this bunch.

Ron P.

Ron P. said...

Let me also add that not only our forefathers, but on this election day, that GI's are in harms way today, willing to sacrifice their lives, so that we could enjoy this precious liberty. To them, I say THANK YOU!

Ron P.

Tim Guthrie said...

Bart and Ron,
Well stated. The attempt to attack is indeed putting at risk a freedom we would not desire to fade. May eyes be opened and may hearts be made right.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

You have presented a case well. It does appear that some are always ready to forsake doctrinal truth for devious twists.

Blessings,
Tim

Alex said...

I think I've got this sorted now.

We believe in the local church principle until it's a matter of principle. Then we don't.

Is that right?

Bart Barber said...

Alex,

Apparently, reading comprehension isn't among your strengths. We believe in the local church principle. We also believe in religious liberty. As a part of our belief in religious liberty, we do not recognize the authority of the civil magistracy to favor one denomination of faith over another.

If the taxing entities of a government would recognize the diocesan offices of a Roman Catholic bishop as worthy of exemption from taxation, it must acknowledge the denominational offices of a Southern Baptist cooperative body as such. If the taxing entities of a government would regard a monastery or convent or an Episcopal seminary as a church for the purposes of employment law, it must regard a Southern Baptist seminary in the same manner. Furthermore, if the federal government would extend churchly courtesies to the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock (which is a wholly-owned ministry of Antioch Baptist Church there, if I understand correctly), then it must afford the same privileges to SWBTS. To do otherwise is for the government to privilege Roman Catholic or Episcopalian or Missionary Baptist theology over and above Southern Baptist theology.

And if the government is going to allow the Mormons to change a theological viewpoint (like their position on polygamy which they chose to gain statehood for Utah), then it must acknowledge that a Southern Baptist seminary is not bound in 2008 to follow the same theology that it pursued in 1978. If Klouda was wrongly terminated, then so was every other professor who left under pressure between 1978 and today.

What about you, Alex? If I were to play as fast and loose with your words as you have with mine, I could accuse you of opposing religious liberty. Is that your position? Or can you and I agree to deal honestly with one another as to what we really say without cramming words into each other's mouths?

Tim Guthrie said...

Alex,
With what Bart has stated, I would add this:
"No other Denomination in America is viewed in the manner in which you seem to desire the SBC and her entities. Going beyond the Catholic faith, look at the Methodist. Their Seminaries are managed the same way as Bart has described as are the Assemblies of God and Church of Christ."

Jonathan said...

Well said, Bart. It strikes me that in your example, the only thing worse than a local tax official trying to define "church" is a local tax authority trying to define "worship."

Bart Barber said...

Jonathan,

No kidding!

Chris Johnson said...

Bart,

No doubt the Seminary is made up of those in the Kingdom of God, so your point is well articulated. I don’t believe that the court system would ever win such a case with all of the precedent established by the United States under its current constitution.

I would also expect to see SWBTS use the Law to its fullest potential to bring about a decision in the case brought by the Professor. Do you expect a settlement in these matters or do you think this may go to as far as a jury or summary trial?

Blessings,
Chris

Bart Barber said...

I hope that the seminary will do whatever is necessary for the precedent set by the case to land clearly in the direction of religious liberty.

Matt Knight said...

I believe the wisest thing that the seminary can do is to try to settle the suit out of court. The interests of the seminary do not seem to be well served by the involvement of civil courts.

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

My concern about that course of action is that it seems to be a tacit admission of the court's jurisdiction over the matter. The heart of the case against SWBTS is the allegation that the seminary's theology regarding Klouda's eligibility for her position changed over the course of her tenure.

If it be granted that a secular court has the right to examine theological changes at seminaries, and if such changes are grounds for successful lawsuits against seminaries and universities, then Mr. 1-800-I-SUE-CHURCHES will have lined up every professor from all six seminaries who found themselves on the outside when our seminaries' theology changed during the Conservative Resurgence. The cost of the settlements will far outstrip the ability of seminaries to pay.

I don't think that the seminary can afford to settle. I don't think that we can afford for them to do so.

Chris Johnson said...

Bart,

It the main defense then,... that the previous administration disregarded the theology set forth by the institution itself....and that Patterson was putting that back to its original theological stance?

-Chris

Ron P. said...

Chris,

It does not matter. It is not up to the courts nor government to determine if our theology has changed or not changed. It is none of their business! That is the point.

Ron P.

volfan007 said...

i agree...big brother govt. should stay out of the churches business.

david

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Ron,

I was asking from the churches (my view) point of view, not the state.

I should have made that more clear.

Thanks,
Chris

Matt Knight said...

Bart I agree with you that we cannot afford for the courts to establish jurisdiction over religious/theological matters. I, and I suspect many others, would have preferred that this had never come so far as it has. To involve the court in the first place is truly sad.

At this point, the seminary is in a tough spot. If, as you say, they cannot afford to settle, and they certainly cannot afford to lose, it seems they are indeed in a corner.

Chris Johnson said...

Brothers,

If the church is suing the church, then it is incumbent upon both parties of the church to try and reconcile without the assistance of the government. I am hoping this is being pursued for the interest of the church.

-Chris

Tim Guthrie said...

Chris,
You may have hit on a very tactical point - the church should not be suing the church according to the Bible. That should be the beginning and the end of the whole deal.

matt said...

This case is not about religious liberty. Have you read the briefs that Dr. Klouda's lawyers filed last year in opposition to the Patterson/SWBTS motions to dismiss? Anyone who claims that Dr. Klouda's case is a threat to religious liberty does not know what he or she is talking about and has not read all the documents from the case file. Let me ask you two questions. Please think about how you would answer them in the abstract without reference to the specific facts of the Klouda case.

1. Should churches be able to breach their contracts with impunity? If a church breaches a contractual obligation that it has entered into, is it wrong for the government to enforce the terms of the contract?
2. Should all claimed religious beliefs be protected from government scrutiny, or should the religous belief have to be sincerely held in order to avoid scrutiny? I.e. if your church fires the janitor because you don't like his hair, should you be able to avoid government scrutiny of that employment decision by falsely claiming that you had a religious motive for firing him?

These questions are what this case is about. Klouda claims she had a contract with SWBTS; Patterson claims there was no contract. Patterson and the school claim their actions were motivated by sincere religious beliefs; Klouda claims they were motivated by social prejudices about women and then claimed "religious belief" to try to avoid government scrutiny. These are questions of fact that are proper for the court to adjudicate.

Chris Johnson,
Please identify the specific cases you're talking about in your reference to "all of the precedent established by the United States under its constitution."

Bart,
There will be no precedential value to this case unless it leads to an appellate opinion from the 5th Circuit. Even if the case does reach the appellate level, it is unlikely that the decision would implicate religious liberty either positively or negatively. The seminary could ensure that this will never happen by settling the case. The fact of settlement has no legal significance for jurisdictional claims and would not legally be "a tacit admission of the court's jurisdiction over the matter." By your logic, the seminary has already accepted the court's jurisdiction by filing motions and briefs before the court.

This case is not about examining theological changes at the seminary. No one involved (Dr. Klouda and her lawyers included) thinks that the school should not be able to change its theological beliefs. The case is about contract law and the sincerity or lack thereof of Patterson's/SWBTS' claimed religious beliefs.

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

It is ludicrous to suggest that "social prejudices about women" are entirely non-theological in nature. The theological debate over the appropriate role of women in Christian service is well attested. To suggest that this debate is non theological but strictly pertains to prejudices is to allege that no less than millions of faithful believers are not arguing in good faith. I should think you would need to present something other than just your say-so to win that argument.

As to your questions,

(1) as it pertains to employment, churches and church-owned institutions must have the freedom to hire and fire people according to the theological convictions of the institution, as workplace fairness legislation has long acknowledged by the inclusion of exemption clauses specifically tailored to preserve this right. A church cannot enter an oral contract that abrogates this right.

(2) The Klouda case does not allege that she did not receive tenure because of her hair. The allegation is that the seminary denied her tenure because she is a woman. Unlike your hair example, the question of women's roles is a genuine theological issue and is not subject to judicial scrutiny.

Dave Miller said...

First, the Klouda case has not been a driving force for me. What drives me is the IMB policies and Dr. Patterson's (at least perceived) inference in the operation of the IMB.

But permit me to address this issue. Psalm 16 defines the one who pleases God as him who "swears to his hurt, and does it." When you make a commitment, you stick with it.

Dr. Klouda was a woman when she was hired. To my knowledge, she did not change her doctrine or outlook. Outpost just posted her performance review, and she was given excellent marks. She even refused preaching engagements and was given praise for staying within denominational guidelines.

The only thing that changed is her boss. It seems to me that she should have been "grandfathered" (mothered?) in. If he didn't want to hire any others, fine.

It is a Southern Baptist seminary. Not Dr. Patterson's personal kingdom. That's what bothers me.

As to whether a seminary is a church, who knows? I would say it is a church-training facility, but it is not a church itself. I won't argue with another.

However, my understanding of the scripture says that women should not serve in the authoritative role of the pastor (or deacons or elders - whatever).

But I see no biblical prohibition against a woman teaching Hebrew to a man.

In my view, Dr. Patterson erred by trying to impose his view on the seminary. I am the pastor of my church, but I don't impose all my own views on everyone.

For instance, I think it is ALWAYS wrong to use a ballot to vote. A Christian is not ashamed of his convictions and voices them in the open. He doesn't need to shroud his views in the darkness of a ballot.

Yet, no matter how passionately I have advocated that position, every church I have served continues to use ballots for votes.

I do not always have to have my way. It seems to me that perhaps Dr. Patterson forgot this.

matt said...

Bart,

I say this respectfully, but you're begging the question. You've conclusorily (is that a word?) asserted that this is a theological issue. That is certainly Patterson's argument, but Klouda is claiming that religious beliefs had nothing to do with the decision about her employment. If she can't prove this, she won't win, but the court shouldn't just take Patterson's word for it that he was motivated by his religious beliefs when the other party in the case is claiming the exact opposite. You clearly find Klouda's position unpersuasive. Perhaps the court will agree.

I'm surprised at your responses to my questions. Would you please answer these follow-ups?

Are you saying that churches should not be able to enter into employment contracts? Or are you saying that even if a church has a contract with an employee, the church should be able to breach the contract with impunity? Please identify the specific statutes you're referring to when you claim that "workplace fairness legislation has long acknowledged by the inclusion of exemption clauses specifically tailored to preserve this right." I have never seen any exemption clause in any statute (state or federal) that exempts churches from complying with contract law. The exemptions I'm familiar with exempt churches from complying with anti-discrimination laws in making hiring decisions and in terminating at-will employees. Once a church enters into a contract with an employee, that employee can only be terminated according to the terms of the contract. Churches can avoid problems in this area by making sure that all employees are at-will. Patterson claims Klouda was at-will; Klouda claims she was under contract. The court will decide.

As I've already mentioned, your response to my second question is question-begging. One of the issues in this case is whether the employment decision was theological. I happen to agree with your viewpoint on this issue, but Klouda is arguing the opposite position. I noticed you didn't say that the church should be able to escape all government scrutiny for firing a janitor because of his bad hair. So do we agree that there are at least some employment decisions (i.e. non-theological decisions) by churches that should properly be scrutinized by the government?

Bart Barber said...

Dave,

As I have asserted before on this blog, neither do I have a problem with a woman teaching Hebrew grammar or Church History, for example. To make the distinction clear, if the local community college offered a course in Hebrew, would we assert that it is a violation of the Bible for a woman to instruct in that position? Of course not. I doubt that anyone at SWBTS would assert otherwise. I have never spoken with Dr. Patterson about this case at all, but I have heard a great deal of discussion suggesting that it is very difficult in a seminary setting to teach Hebrew language and Hebrew language alone without teaching theology. I can see the merits of that argument.

And Dave, the ultimate question is not whether you agree with such a conclusion yourself, but whether you find it so egregiously outside the parameters of sound exegetical theology as to merit ham-handed legal intervention by secular courts. I submit to you that those involved have sought relief in the secular courts rather than within the SBC precisely because the argument is not ridiculous, is not unreasonable, and is in line with the expressed theological convictions of Southern Baptists. Klouda's best hope to win her case is among those who regard not the teachings of the Bible.

Finally, Dave, I think you would do well to note that Dr. Patterson is not the only named respondent in the suit. Why? Because this was not his unilateral action. The seminary is governed by a board of trustees, and they ultimately are the ones who took this action. In light of that fact, your argument about Dr. Patterson seems less sound, doesn't it?

Big Daddy Weave said...

Before I give my church-state opinion, let me ask this Bart: would you consider Baylor University a CHURCH?

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

I'm full of surprises.

Here's one surprise for you: Southern Baptists were discussing the proper role of women in Christian service before most Southern Baptists had ever heard the name Klouda. Obviously, the theological discussion is not some ruse to cover actions related to Dr. Klouda. Another surprise—the preponderant policy of Southern Baptist seminaries across our history has been not to hire women to teach in schools of theology. My position makes perfect sense, and this is clearly a theological issue.

Now, with regard to your two questions once again. Since you have alleged that this is a case of workplace discrimination ("social prejudices against women"), you correctly deduce that I am referring to anti-discrimination law. The seminary was not contractually obligated to grant Dr. Klouda tenure. The seminary went beyond its contractual obligations, extending Dr. Klouda's employ for a full two years to give her time to secure other employment.

The crux of the Klouda case is simple and has been repeated ad nauseum. The allegation is that SWBTS discriminates against women. The specifications are either direct or backdoor means to assert this charge. The charge is connected to an ongoing dispute of Southern Baptist theology that has long taken place. It is none of the government's business, due to concepts central to our cherished doctrine of religious liberty.

As to my concept of religious liberty and employment contracts, consider this. Suppose that a church, for example, is among the "welcoming and affirming" ilk and hires a homosexual youth pastor. The church then experiences a spiritual awakening, starts to read the Bible seriously, and determines that they cannot scripturally employ such a person. The church ought to have the liberty to act in accord with its deeply held religious beliefs. Constitutional rights ought to trump contract law. Our church doesn't draw up employment contracts, nor has any where I have served. Certainly no alleged oral contract ought to be considered at all when juxtaposed against a First-Amendment right.

Finally, I do agree that a church should be subject to employment law when it can do so without compromising its theological convictions. But if any legitimate question exists as to whether the convictions are theological in nature, the government ought to defer to the beliefs of the church.

To assert the point of the post, the distinctively Baptist emphasis upon the local congregation as the "church" absolutely should not be used by the government to deprive a Southern Baptist seminary of privileges that would otherwise be extended to seminaries of other denominations.

Bart Barber said...

Hi, Aaron!

For the purposes of employment law, yes. Ought the University of Texas to be able to fire an employee who abandons the faith for atheism? No. Ought Baylor University to be able to do so? Yes.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Bart: The example of an atheist at a Christian seminary and a woman teaching Hebrew don't even meet as a proper example. Care to try again? Hasn't Dorothy Kelly Patterson taught theology to men? I swear that was her voice I heard as well as her standing in front of future male ministers at the Taking Back The Family Conference.

Dave Miller said...

Bart,

Before Dr. Patterson, the board of SWBTS hired Dr. Klouda. After Dr. Patterson, she was let go. It doesn't seem like a stretch to me to believe that he was the moving force there. He says as much in his deposition.

Again, I would not join Ben Cole or Debbie or others whose passion against Dr. Patterson is almost obsessive. But I think on this one, he was on thin ice.

I think she was treated badly by the seminary. On the other hand, her lawsuit touches on issues of religious freedom, so I don't know.

Here's my big complaint. It seems to me that the SBC ought to be run by theology and principle, not by the personal opinion of an individual, even one with the influence of Dr. Patterson.

The seminary, under the direction of a conservative trustee board and with a conservative president hired Dr. Klouda.

The same seminary, under the direction of a conservative trustee board then changed its mind, based on the personal opinion of Dr. Patterson. His deposition just posted on Outpost confirms that.

The only thing that changed was the president, and his opinion about this matter.

That's what bothers me, at least in my imperfect understanding of things.



I

Bart Barber said...

Dave,

I'm not disputing Dr. Patterson's influence upon this decision. I'm merely saying that, legally, this is a decision of the trustees. Also, you used the example of a ballot vote at your church. Like you, I've faced decision items in my church where our decision making process has taken things to a different outcome than that which I had desired and advocated. I think we've all been there.

But that's not what happened at SWBTS. Dr. Patterson's suggested course of action was approved by the seminary's decision making structure. Suppose that your church agreed with you regarding the impropriety of ballot voting. Wouldn't you go forward with disallowing that option? Of course you would. Because then the action would not only be getting your way, it would be the accomplishment of the institution's expressed collective will. As was the decision not to grant tenure to Dr. Klouda.

Dave Miller said...

I agree with you on that. Dr. Patterson may have been the mover, but the seminary BoT was the decision-maker and the focus of the lawsuit. Her suit is against the seminary, with Dr. P as a codefendant.

Ben Cole has sort of made this a tar and feather party for Dr. Patterson. His hatred for Dr. P is pretty scary. Actually, he really helped me. I was becoming kind of a Patterson-basher. When I saw Ben Cole descent into such bitter hatred, I realized I was headed that direction. I have tried to take a more moderate (bad word) tone.

The suit is against the seminary primarily.

I wish they would reach some sort of settlement that would compensate Dr. Klouda reasonably for what she was put through, but not bankrupt the seminary or set a precedent of court interference in religious matters.

Tim Guthrie said...

dave,
I hear what you are saying and realize that you have come a way from time past. I am curious as to why "settle" before going to trial? She was paid for two years past the time of being told tenure was denied. HOw far is the Seminary suppose to go in this regard? Not arguing here - just trying to get a clear understanding of how far some think the Seminary should go and why? Two years is a long time.

Steve Young said...

Bart,
I would like to hear your opinion about whether our schools should grant tenure at all. The seminary I attended required yearly verbal and signature agreement with the schools statement of faith. Contracts were for the year, and tenure was not granted. It seems to have served the school well. There are some very long time professors there. Just wanted to know your feeling.
Steve Young

Chris Johnson said...

Debbie:


Would you say that Klouda has sued the Seminary because:

1. She differs from the Seminary in Theology (teaching men).
2. The Contract with the Seminary is ambiguous and needs clarification.

Both, none, or not that simple….

Also, since we are told in scripture that bringing a lawsuit is not the best remedy. What do you think will be the benefit of this suit for the church moving forward.

If you were in the same circumstance, would you sue the Seminary? If not, what wisdom can be used to bring about a resolution?

Thanks,
Chris

Anonymous said...

Something I find very interesting is it appears Ben Cole, who is an associate Pastor under the leadership of Wade Burleson, is paid to be an investigator into all things Paige Patterson.

Ron P. said...

Anon,

It does give the appearance that the great commission work of Emmanuel is nothing but a front to investigate Paige Patterson.

Steve,

I would like to know how others feel about tenure too. Personally, I am opposed to it. It does not happen in the "real" world, only academics. We have seen how tenured professors have abandoned all reason (Ward Churchill etc.) and can not be fired without some tortuous and lengthly process because they are tenured.

Ron P.

Chris Johnson said...

Bart,

Was Klouda given tenure upon hire? Or was she on a tenure-track, or neither?

Chris

Debbie Kaufman said...

Chris: I would say not that simple. I believe SBCOutpost has several documents which are all worth the time to read. This would answer many questions.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Ron P: I think the documents being revealed now tell the whole story for themselves. Your allegations do not.

Tim G.: What freedoms would those be? The freedom to treat any person regardless of gender unjustly?

Anonymous said...

Ron P.,

Exactly. How many times just today has Ben posted on things related to Paige Patterson. And, what is Ben's official title at Emmanuel anyway?

Debbie, since you are a member of Emanuel, and proud supporter of your pastors, could you answer that question? And, perhaps you could share with us some of the ways Ben has served in that capacity since he arrived at Emmanuel?

Chris Johnson said...

Bart,

Never mind,....I read through all of the legal filings.

Believers should be able to work this out very easily.

-Chris

Ron P. said...

Debbie,

Your blind adulation is not very becoming. There have been half truths, but the whole truth. Hardly. Even Ben does not claim that.

Ron P.

Bart Barber said...

Just checking back in. I'm going to respond to all of your questions, and then I'm starting a new, related thread later tonight.

Steve Young, I'm not a big fan of tenure. My thunder has already been stolen in this regard: Pastors surely never get that kind of deal, nor does any other profession!

Ron P & Anonymous, I believe that churches should be completely autonomous to make decisions about the assignments of staff. We've all seen secretaries from Emmanuel comment that they are monitoring Wade's blog while he is away. And then there's Ben. Obviously, staff is involved there in the whole demolition-of-the-SBC project that Debbie mentioned a few threads ago on this blog, but that's none of my business or yours. Emmanuel is an autonomous congregation and makes her own decisions. I'm not chiding either of you; just stating my convictions on the matter.

Of course, as a member of the congregation, Debbie is free to answer your questions. I'll leave her to assert her freedom to remain silent.

Chris, I'm glad that you found the answer to your questions.

Ron P. said...

Bart,

Agreed on the autonomy. But when the only thing that said staff member is publicly known for doing, it reflects upon the Church that employs him, whether good or bad. That was the point I was trying to make.

Ron P.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, you mentioned "...the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock (which is a wholly-owned ministry of Antioch Baptist Church there, if I understand correctly)..."

You do understand correctly. Though supported by other churches, since its establishment in 1934 MBS has been solely "owned and operated" by Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

And I think in the subject of this post you also understand correctly. The government should act the same way toward equivalent religious entities of various religions/denominations, without inspecting the theological intricacies of those religions/denominations and using them to decide one standard for one and another standard for another. Good points.