Saturday, October 01, 2011

That Annoying Little "Commissioned Minister" Status

In the LCMS, we've always had a strong doctrine of what it means to be called. It was a term reserved for our clergy, our male clergy (we only have male clergy).

Ministers have certain protections under the tax system. They balance out the additional penalties that Ministers get because they are regarded as self-employed by the Social Security System, and therefore must pay the full 15%, and are regarded as employees by the IRS, and therefore get no tax breaks as self-employed.

Way back, the Synod decided to invoke the title "commissioned minister" upon our male teachers. Since they don't get paid well, and they have families to support, lets extend those benefits to them. Then, of course as female teachers became more prominent and didn't necessarily stop teaching just because they got married, and because it was sexist and the title was meaningless anyway -- it was extended to female teachers as well.

All of this goes against the good sense of reserving the title of Minister for the clergy. It confuses our doctrine. Since this has happened, the Office of the Ministry has lost some of the respect that it once had.

Now, because of the nebulousness of the "commissioned minister" title, an LCMS school teacher has opened the flood gates and given the Obama Administration exactly what they always wanted, the possibility of applying discrimination and employment laws to the Church. She signed a contract when she received a call as a "commissioned minister" but now argues that she really wasn't so that she can win a discrimination suit. I don't envy her health issues, and am not sure why the church school contracted another teacher instead of bringing in a long term substitute -- maybe one wasn't available, but they shouldn't have contracted a teacher to fill her position for the entire year. But the Obama Administration is using this as an opportunity to argue that the nondiscrimination laws are so unbiased that they need to be applied to church situations as well. Here's another story as well.

And...the school is closed down. They've partnered with another church, but these children are not hearing God's Word, and the battle is before the public eye. I'm sure Satan is happy.


Susan said...

And I'm thinking, "Even if she was a secular employee and not covered by the ministerial exception, why should the government be forcing someone to let her keep a job that she's unable to do?" Of course, it's not right to ditch somebody who is down & out, but what happens when a person can't do a job? How long is the employer supposed to keep making accommodations, awaiting the return of the employee? If there's a long-term substitute, what's fair to that person?

Elizabeth said...

It didn't really sound like they were 'ditching' her, though. The church was going to pay part of her insurance even though she wasn't going to be in the classroom and they were prepared to revisit her employment when she got better.

Sounds like she seriously cut her nose off to spite her face. :(

Does this lawsuit then open up congregations to be sued when they rescind the Call of a pastor?

Susan said...

Sorry, Elizabeth, I didn't mean to say that the congregation was ditching this woman; I just meant that it wouldn't be right to immediately wash your hands of an employee who was going through a hard time, even if it were your right to do so. Christians bear one another's burdens. It sounds like the congregation was trying to balance the needs of the teacher with the needs of the children, and do their best to provide for each.

It sounds like she not only cut off her nose -- but ours too. And the Obama Administration's response to the lawsuit means that not only are congregations in danger if they do something wrong, but even if they commit the "evil" of having only male pastors, or having only pastors who agree with their doctrinal stance. So much for freedom of thought and freedom of religion.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Susan, I know that with my job, when a woman broke her leg and couldn't work, we weren't required to keep her position open for her. It's a physical job. If one was open when she came back, anywhere in the company, we could give it to her if she was a good fit. But benefits and pay ceased until she came back.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Exactly. Or we could be forced to submit to racial quotas. While God loves all people, lets be honest, we are a predominantly white European denomination, and would sincerely struggle to balance that.

Not only that, but if a person applied for a non-called teaching position, and the congregation wanted Lutheran teachers for their Lutheran children in their Lutheran school, they could possibly be sued for not offering the job to an otherwise qualified atheist, Baptist, Mormon, etc.

Mrs. Reverend Doctor said...

My husband is a PC(USA) minister,I had no idea until it came up that he also didn't qualify for unemployemnt if he was ever fired or downsized since he was considered "self employed" everyone else assumed he would be getting unemployment and that our severance was "icing".

Stan Slonkosky said...

I think the best explanation of this case and why the ministerial exception should apply was given by John Warwick Montgomery. See (and listen) to