Evangelical institutions, divorced employees, and gender discrimination

Thursday, October 17, 2013

“Woman Sues InterVarsity over Firing after Her Divorce”
Today’s Link of the Day is really two Links of the Day. First, writing for Religion News Service, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports on a lawsuit by a woman who had worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for seven years as a spiritual director for the organization’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, office.  The woman is suing the organization for wrongful termination after losing her job because she has gone through a separation and divorce.  But, says the plaintiff, so did two of her male colleagues, and they were permitted to remain on staff after their divorces and remarriages. She reports having followed all the rules and requirements of the organization’s “Separation and Divorcing Staff Policy,” including counseling, and reported regularly to her supervisors during the time the separation was underway.  Bailey goes on to write more about the way divorce is handled in evangelical institutions and organizations.

After reading Bailey’s article for Religion News Service, Fred Clark, in his Slactivist blog on Patheos, had much more to say about Christians and divorce, as he “read between the lines” of the Michigan case. He tells how leaders in evangelical institutions who hold in their hands the fate of persons going through a divorce may often not only display a double standard and gender bias, but such leaders and administrators also expect divorcing spouses to engage in an ugly game. Clark says the goal of the “game” is to encourage the demonization of one spouse or the other so that it can be determined which are bad divorces and which are acceptable divorces.  He also critiques the rationale behind the way divorced people, especially divorced women, are treated by evangelical organizations and institutions.  He writes:

“What does it mean to “take into consideration” how a given employee’s divorce will have an “impact on … funding“? Or its “effect on … donors“? The donors providing this funding are mostly dudes. More than that, they’re mostly dudes whose response to the news of a male employee’s divorce will be, “Oh, that poor guy,” while their response to the news of a female employee’s divorce will be, “Oh, her poor husband.”

Clark goes on to talk about how certain Bible verses are used as clobber verses (just as happens with LGBTQ persons) and how many Christians miss the whole point of what the Scripture actually teaches about divorce.  He writes about two passages often misinterpreted and used against people going through a divorce.  But they miss the point, he says. “Neither Malachi nor Matthew wholly forbids divorce. What they forbid is the use of divorce to punish women while privileging men.”

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.