Do Churches Have A Right to Mandate Moral Standards for Employees?

Last night’s lead story on a local newscast caught my attention and was one I had trouble mentally putting down. Here’s a summary of the story: a childcare and preschool center located inside an evangelical Christian mega-church in the Des Moines metro area recently changed management. The center temporarily closed last Monday and will reopen under new management on September 6. Okay, nothing spectacular there. But here’s what’s causing the stir.

Image from

Currently employed teachers at the church’s childcare center will be required to reapply for their jobs, and if rehired, consent to a Christian Lifestyle Commitment Agreement requiring them to abstain from: sexual relationships outside of marriage, homosexual conduct, viewing pornography, drinking alcohol, using profane language, and behavior that would question Christian testimony. Employees must pledge to also regularly attend church.

As I scanned various local news websites and blogs last night, I noticed this was a hot topic around town. Many weighed in with their opinion — from the current employees who don’t want to sign the agreement, to civil rights attorneys who are questioning if the employees’ rights have been violated, to average Joes and Janes on the street who don’t agree with the church’s policy. A Facebook friend even offered some thoughts. He takes took his daughter to this center, and he shared the story’s link on his page. I was curious to see the reactions that accompanied his post; all were some form of negative.

  • “This is unreal.”
  • It’s ridiculous that a church can teach hate.”
  • “So crazy! I don’t even understand how this is legal!”

This particular evangelical church holds very clear and well-articulated positions on those moral issues listed above. Out of respect to my Facebook friend, I refrained from commenting on his page, but here’s what I wanted to ask his friends: If actions speak louder than words, shouldn’t we expect them to act on what they say they believe? When you enroll your child in a school that is Christian-based, what should you reasonably expect of the teachers with whom your child interacts on a regular basis? Will they be faithful witnesses? If a church doesn’t have a right to implement moral standards, who does? If we’re called to provide faithful witness to the Gospel, the person of Christ, isn’t it our duty to expect more of all institutions that assert to be Christian?

Oh and by the way, the Christian Lifestyle Commitment Agreement also stipulates that employees “must be practicing Christians and active members of an evangelical Christian church,” so with that, as a practicing Catholic, I’m not a viable candidate for employment. And I’m perfectly okay with that because I’m not a practicing member of that particular faith tradition.

What are your thoughts? If you send your child to a Catholic/Christian school, how would you react if a similar employee policy was implemented? Is this policy discriminatory or does this church, any church, have a right, a duty, to ask their employees to live to these standards?

Get Updates

Get the latest posts from The Practicing Catholic, delivered straight to your inbox!


  1. says

    As a private “company,” (and assuming they aren’t taking any government money), they are free to make these sorts of stipulations.

    We do this in Catholic education: teachers are expected to live according to the Church’s moral teachings and refrain from contradicting Church teaching. This includes non-Catholics teaching in Catholic schools.

    “If actions speak louder than words, shouldn’t we expect them to act on what they say they believe?”

    I think you are right on with this statement. We believe that education is about more than teaching math or reading; it’s about forming Christian disciples. That means we need teachers who are committed to living out the values we profess.

  2. says

    I agree with you, totally.
    As far as this code goes, I read through it checking off which items I could ‘pass’.
    No alcohol? Like, none on the job or none ever? :)
    I wouldn’t be able to sign the pledge.
    That, my friend, is why I chose to be a Catholic over an Evangelical! :)

  3. John says

    I think one point to consider is that churches recieve tax breaks. A private corporation could not get away with this, private sexual behavior restrictions would not fly. I think that is a legitmate conern. I have worked for religious organizations in the past, but I could not accept employment at a place that would regulate my personal behavior. If companies want to restrict on work behavior fine, but off the clock is hard to justify. It is also hard to enforce, are they going to ask to people every morning if the previous nightt they cursed, drank or committed sodomy. Yeah, that is going to be an awesome work enviornment. Totally not awkward or weird.

Join the conversation!