Should courts be the ones to pick and train pastors?

Should courts be the ones to pick and train pastors?

Should courts be the ones to pick and train pastors?

A religious college is asking a federal appeals court to protect its ministry.

Daniel Blomberg, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, the law firm representing Moody Bible Institute at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, explains that the school was founded over 100 years ago for the purpose of training Christians to take the gospel throughout the world.

"For over 130 years, our school has trained and formed faithful Christian women and men who will commit their lives to spreading the gospel and bringing hope, joy, and love to all those in need," said Dr. Mark Jobe, president at Moody Bible Institute, in a press release. "This mission is rooted in Christ's command to announce the good news to all people, and it has served as the bedrock of Moody since our founding."

In Garrick v. Moody Bible Institute, a former faculty member at Moody is enlisting federal courts to punish the fully accredited Christian college for its beliefs about the composition of the clergy.

Moody ensures that its ministry remains steadfast by asking all faculty to affirm its core religious beliefs, including that the church office of pastor (or "elder") should be filled by men. But despite knowing about this and agreeing to adhere to it, as a Moody faculty member, Janay E. Garrick began advocating against it. When she was approached about the situation and confirmation that she rejected Moody's religious views, the professor's contract was not renewed.

She then moved her advocacy to federal court and sued, asking the government to take her side in a religious dispute. 

Blomberg feels that the First Amendment should protect religious institutions from the "second-guessing" of judges or juries, and he says Becket is hoping the court agrees.

Blomberg, Daniel (Becket) Blomberg

"Religious groups across the country have nuanced views on the question of women in the ministry and what roles should be held by different members of a church body in senior pastoral positions," he notes. "If federal courts can get involved in these kinds of decisions, it will flatten that religious diversity and force a one-size-fits-all rule on the entire nation."

It could also force lots of religious groups into court to defend their millennia-old beliefs about the composition of the clergy, the attorney warns, noting, "That's not good for church or state."

In 2021, Becket points out that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois "wrongly decided that it could weigh into a religious dispute over faith and doctrine." On July 31, 2023, Becket stepped in to "protect Moody's ability to train students for ministry in accordance with its beliefs."

Moody is also represented by Christian Poland of the law firm known as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP.

Oral argument is expected to be scheduled for this year or spring 2024.

Blomberg tells AFN, "This is an incredibly important case."