“Personnel is policy.” It’s a punchy phrase, rooted in common sense: when you hire someone, that person reflects your company, your organization, or your church.
This principle is found in countless modern business and leadership books. It’s no wonder, then, that similar “hiring” practices are found in the Bible – particularly when it comes to church positions.
The Apostle Paul gives Timothy instruction to take his time before selecting elders in the church, so that Timothy can find out what kind of lives they are leading (1 Tim. 5:22-25). Paul shares with Timothy a list of qualifications that should be met by those seeking positions in the church – all of which help ensure they exemplify Christian beliefs (1 Tim. 3). Paul reiterates what is expected of church representatives in his letter to Titus (Titus 1). The Apostle Peter also tells elders that they need to be examples to the church (1 Peter 5).
These “hiring” practices are not merely nice-to-haves – Christians believe these are instructions for living. For positions in churches or religious organizations that didn’t exist 2,000 years ago, we lean on these qualifications for teachers, elders, deacons, and others as the foundation for new roles. It’s critical for those in positions of authority to have freedom in deciding who represents and teaches the church’s beliefs.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen courts begin to test the limits of religious freedom when it comes to employment practices within churches and religious organizations.
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide two such cases: Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel.
Both cases were brought by religious teachers at Catholic schools whose contracts were not renewed. But neither the courts nor the government have the authority to tell religious schools who should pass the faith on to the next generation.
In the Hosanna-Tabor case, the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled that religious institutions should be free to decide – without government intervention – who teaches the faith. These two, new cases will decide how much freedom religious institutions have.
If government is allowed to interfere with churches’ and other religious organizations’ ability to decide who teaches on religious matters, the government effectively controls the church. The First Amendment protects against that kind of state supervision. The right to select ministers belongs to religious organizations alone.
It’s not hard to imagine the outcome of such state oversight. A government that has the power to regulate who teaches the faith quickly becomes a government that dictates which beliefs are taught and which are not. Religious organizations have the sole right to control who personifies their beliefs.
We are praying that God uses these cases to affirm religious institutions’ freedom to select their own ministers. We’ll be supporting these cases and trusting that the Supreme Court will agree: Churches and other ministries should be free to select those who guide its future.