Health, education, aged care and our other services aren’t just functions of the Adventist Church—they are expressions of our faith. And our faith touches every aspect of how our services should be delivered. For this to happen, those delivering the services must share an active Adventist Christian faith. But should Adventists have the legal right to hire along faith lines in our institutions? Yes. Here’s why.
The workforce is more diverse, more efficient, fairer and more inclusive, when faith communities can hire along faith lines.
1) Religious hiring standards are legitimate in faith-based entities. When religious discrimination occurs because of prejudice or animus it should be outlawed. Someone’s religion, for example, has no bearing on their ability to work for secular entities like Google or the ANZ bank. But in other circumstances religious beliefs are directly related to the mission of the employer. In this case, religious hiring criteria are not based on prejudice but rather on the legitimate needs of the organisation to preserve and pursue its unique mission. It is, in these cases, no different from Greenpeace restricting hiring to committed environmentalists. To ban faith-based entities from hiring those who share their vision would disadvantage them in a way that society does not disadvantage secular entities. So a ban would itself be a form of invidious discrimination.
2) Hiring rights are necessary for all positions—not just clergy. An entity is faith-based not because of the name hanging over its doorway or its history, but because the human beings working there share a common faith, vision and mission. While it has become fashionable to dismiss the influence of lower paid workers on the mission of an organisation, sometimes it’s these workers who have the greatest influence on the ethos of an institution. For example, Andy Beattie was a gardener at Sydney Adventist Hospital. Some would dismiss his position as irrelevant to the mission of the institution. But nothing could be further from the truth. He was the embodiment of the hospital’s motto, “Christianity in Action”. He frequently brought vegetables grown on the property to those struggling in the area, shared his Christian faith with patients who talked with him in the garden, and encouraged nearly all who met him to live a healthier life free of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful substances. He embodied the hospital’s values so well that when it asked for proposals for the naming of a new building, it was voted it should be named after Andy and his brothers. Today the Beattie Complex serves as a proud reminder that it’s not just administrators or chaplains who are ministers for Christ, but every Christian.
3) Diversity is harmed by denying religious hiring rights. It is argued that recognising the religious hiring rights of faith-based entities stifles diversity. The opposite is true. In the area of Australian education, for example, parents can choose from a wide range of options. Roughly 7/10 children attend state schools, 2/10 attend Catholic schools and a little more than 1/10 go to independent schools—which themselves are broken into a variety of educational opportunities ranging from secular private schools through to Jewish, Muslim and a wide range of distinct Protestant school options.
If governments deny faith-based entities their hiring rights, it destroys the diverse educational options offered by this broad range of schools, as the ethos of schools is directly tied to their staffing. When we lose the unique character of these schools, we homogenise the education sector—destroying diversity rather than enhancing it.
In addition, faith-based entities provide employment for people often excluded from the more general workplace. For example, an Adventist teacher interviewed for a position at a Sydney school did extremely well in the interview until the issue of Saturday work came up. When she indicated she could not work Saturdays, she was turned down for the job. She now teaches at an Adventist school, where she is making an outstanding contribution. The unique, faith-based community with its specific ethos and culture created a position, that, because of her faith, she was barred from elsewhere. The workforce is more diverse, more efficient, fairer and more inclusive, when faith communities can hire along faith lines.
Faith-based hiring rights are an indispensable component of a healthy, diverse, free society. And maintaining these rights is essential to the survival of the precious ministries God has entrusted to the Adventist Church.
James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.