Will Christian Organizations Become the Least Safe Place for Christian Women to Work?

One of the biggest consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is that God said to the serpent who willfully deceived Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman” (Genesis 3:15).

Enmity is hostility. War.

Spiritual warfare is a constant that involves both women and men, but there is also something distinctive about Satan’s hate for women. Because Jesus our Lord and Savior was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), every spiritual battle hearkens back to the Christ Child who is ever envied by the evil one.

Church history regards Jesus’ mother, Mary, as the Second Eve.

The First Eve fell into temptation. The Second Eve resisted the temptation to doubt that she, as a virgin, could by the Holy Spirit conceive the flesh of the God-Man Who would overturn the work of the devil (Luke 1:26-38: John 1:1, 14; Genesis 3:15; I John 3:8).

Mary and Eve respectively are genealogically the mother and ultimate grandmother of Jesus.

Volumes of theology would have to be written in order to fill the gap between God’s curse of “enmity” between the serpent and Eve, and the blessing of God’s grace in the motherhood of Mary and Eve. Far more would be needed to explain in detail how God’s grace reaches women despite this “enmity.” But if I may leap over that huge gap, I think the serpent’s “enmity” is playing out especially in Christian organizations now that the law protects women.

If you look at court cases of those who testify as having been mistreated in their employment within Christian organizations, most of the plaintiffs are women. Historically these cases are recent because it was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that women in society became a protected class. Very few women were hired to work for pay in Christian churches and organizations until the 1970’s and afterward.

I see it as “enmity” that when the law at last gave women special protections in the workplace, Religious Defenses made those protections largely irrelevant.

Let me share a few stories:

  • In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on McClure v. Salvation Army. In short, Billie McClure sued the Salvation Army after she was fired in the wake of her complaint that women officers systematically were paid less than equally ranked officers who were men, and that women also received fewer benefits than men. Verdict: McClure lost the case. The Court said Title VII, which is the law that would have provided Billie McClure her legal rights, did not apply because the Salvation Army is a church. My Observation: Churches are free to pay women less than they pay men, even though God’s law forbids partiality. My Advice: Women, since we are also free to negotiate the terms of what salary we agree to work for, be careful not to undersell yourself.
  • In 2006, a federal appellate court decided Petruska v. Gannon University. The story here is that when Lynette Petruska in 1999 became the chaplain at Gannon University, a Catholic School in Pennsylvania, there was trouble in the president’s office. You see, the president was apparently caught having an affair with a subordinate such that in the year 2000, the president “resigned.” Not long after that, another woman complained that he, the former president, had for a number of years sexually harassed her. Chaplain Petruska approached the problem as a good chaplain would do, but Gannon University, according to the papers in the lawsuit, preferred to be untruthful about the situation and wanted to look good to its accreditor. Chaplain Petruska (who happened to have a law degree) boldly stood for the need for better policies, so Gannon demoted her and thereby set her up to win a settlement in the lawsuit that resulted. Verdict: Gannon University appealed to Religious Defenses and evaded accountability on most of Petruska’s claims, but not on her contract claims. My Observation: The Catholic constituency of Gannon University did not require officials to repent. My Advice: Obey the Book of Proverbs; do not be naive: most religious corporations are overseen by people (sometimes 20 to 40 board members) who think it is their job to prioritize money for the sake of the mission. They do not soberly see that when money is the number one driver, mammon is the god being served (Mathew 6:24).

  • In 2014, after Melissa Galetti, a principal of a Seventh Day Adventist school in New Mexico, complained that her supervisor, Mr. Reeve, had sexually harassed her, she apparently was fired in retaliation. Verdict: The school appealed to Religious Defenses, but regarding Galetti’s contract claim, thankfully it lost. My Observation: Any board that protects a wayward president is a board that is extremely unlikely to honor the written terms of its own contracts. It’s crazy but it makes sense: If you support a wayward president, you simply have to close your eyes to truth. Once you close your eyes to the truth, you cannot see truth, even about your commitments in your own contracts–because if you saw that truth, you would accidentally see the truth about the president as well. My Advice: If you decide to sue a religious organization for violating its own policies, be prepared to lose your lawsuit at the local district level. You will almost surely need a higher court. But hang in there. If you can afford the time and weather the grueling path of holding a Christian entity accountable, you will salt at least one part of the earth.

Final Comments: Notice that none of the women, as described above, prevailed in the Christian community. Two out of three won in court, but the Christian organization stood against them.

No wonder so many millennials and Generation Z have no desire to be part of the church.

If Christian organizations offer no protections for Christian women who are mistreated among the ranks, why would anyone feel safe in such a place?

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