Last night, Australian ABC TV’s “7.30 Report” aired a story about a theological college lecturer who was sacked after she “came out” and admitted she was a practicing lesbian. Karen Pack had worked at Morling Theological College, a Baptist college, for two years as an educator, training chaplains. In last night’s program she and her partner expressed profound hurt and surprise at her dismissal. Before I comment on Karen’s case, let me provide some contextual background information.
There is a whole branch of Christianity where Karen’s lesbianism would be completely acceptable. Liberal Christians do not interpret the Bible literally. They tend to regard some of its precepts as outdated and no longer applicable. This applies to theological tenets such as the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection, as well as moral and ethical teachings such as the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. In essence, whenever there is a conflict between what the Bible teaches and the current values and beliefs of society, liberal Christians tend to side with society and reinterpret the Bible to fit in. Accordingly, there are liberal churches and theological colleges which openly support homosexuality and lesbianism, and are happy to condone same sex marriage. The Uniting Church Theological College (UTC) is one such liberal college.
On the other hand, evangelical Christians (of whom I am one) interpret the Bible literally. We do not discard its teachings when they become inconvenient or unpalatable to our modern society. This is because of our view that the Bible is not merely the fallible teachings of flawed human beings, but it is the inspired Word of God. Hence, when we read in Romans chapter 1 that God has declared homosexuality to be “wicked …sinful … impure …degrading …shameful … unnatural” (yes, all of those words are used in that chapter), we believe it. And when we read in Genesis chapter 2 that marriage was designed by God to be only between a man and a woman, we believe it and teach it unashamedly. The rest of the world may disagree, but evangelical Christians will stand on God’s Word, even when its precepts are unpopular and out of vogue with society’s shifting values.
Now, let’s come back to the case of Karen Pack. What I find utterly flabbergasting is that Karen was surprised and shocked at her sacking. The college in question, Morling College, belongs to the evangelical tradition that I have just described. And Karen, who is not a theological dunce, knew this! In fact, in 2019, in the aftermath of the same-sex marriage debate, the College produced an official statement affirming the Bible’s teaching regarding sexuality and stating that marriage is only between a man and a woman. At that time, Karen had to sign a “Code of Conduct” affirming these truths. In last night’s interview, Karen stated that when she signed that document, she told the College:
“I am very happy to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman … but that’s not the limit of what I affirm.”
Whether the College completely understood what Karen was saying at that time or perhaps chose to turn a blind eye to it is unclear. But when Karen finally “came out” as a lesbian in 2020, her employment with the College came to an abrupt end.
Karen’s shock and hurt at this development leaves me perplexed. What did she expect? If she wanted to be employed as a practicing lesbian in a theological college, she could have chosen any number of liberal colleges, such as UTC, where her sexuality would have been completely in alignment with their theological viewpoint. But she didn’t choose a liberal college. She chose a college whose theological viewpoint in regard to sexuality was directly antithetical to her own – and then she was “shocked and deeply hurt” when her employment was terminated. I don’t believe naivety was at play here: Karen seems far too intelligent for that. I think Karen knew exactly what she was doing. She was fully aware of the College’s views and could anticipate their response when she came fully “out of the closet”. Her dismissal creates a sensational story that paints her as a suffragette for the LGBTQI movement.
Karen and her partner have recently been married in the Uniting Church – where she really should have been all along!
A further point needs to be made regarding the right of religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In last night’s “7.30 Report” program, the comment was made:
“It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their colour, their age, their disability … but in relation to sexual orientation, different rules apply and religious institutions can do that.”
That comment is entirely accurate. Let me explain why religious organisations can do this.
Moral and ethical teachings are an integral component of the central tenets of any religion. They are where “the rubber hits the road”. For example, Christianity does not merely propose a set of ethereal theological concepts, but also provides very practical guidelines about how to live in a way that honours God. In particular, the moral teachings of evangelical Christianity are not optional extras, they are intrinsic to the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inspired Word. Thus, it is entirely reasonable that an evangelical college should be allowed to employ only evangelical lecturers and reject those who do not hold an evangelical viewpoint. This is entirely appropriate discrimination.
This kind of discrimination is consistent with what happens in the rest of society. Businesses and organisations have the right to ensure that their employees adhere to the central ideologies of that organisation. For example, the liberal party has the right to reject membership applications from people who are raving communists. Similarly, an organisation that promotes gay rights has the right to reject prospective employees who disagree with the practice of homosexuality. This is only fair and reasonable.
What is not at all reasonable is that a practising lesbian should seek employment in an evangelical theological college and then express surprise when her employment is terminated following her ‘coming out’. There was clearly another agenda at play from the very beginning.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 13 books, and his latest, “Reconnecting with God”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net.