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John F. KavanaughMay 25, 2009

Until recently I thought certain people were being unduly alarmist in their worry that Catholic hospitals may be forced to shut down if they refuse to supply abortions. I still think the threat is remote, but maybe it is closer than I had thought.

What brings this to mind is the political pressure play that some members of the American Philosophical Association are putting on such Christian "covenanted” universities and colleges as Biola, Calvin College, Pepperdine and Wheaton.

Almost 1,500 philosophers have signed a petition calling for censure of these schools by banning them from advertising in the A.P.S.'s "Jobs for Philosophers” listing and giving them some kind of black mark for unjust discrimination.

The signers’ mission is, they say, to "protect homosexual philosophers.” On his blog site, the originator of the petition cites the offense of these schools by quoting from the Wheaton College "Community Covenant”: "We believe that these Christian standards will show themselves in a distinctly Christian way of life.... This lifestyle involves practicing those attitudes and actions the Bible portrays as virtuous and avoiding those the Bible portrays as sinful.... Scripture condemns the following:...homosexual behavior.”

Even from this very ive quotation, it is evident that homosexual philosophers are not in need of protection. They certainly can be hired by the institutions in question. What is sought by the petition is the insurance that philosophers, whether homosexual or heterosexual, be hired by those schools even if such philosophers want to perform sexual acts that go against the school's creeds and moral codes. The "Statement of Faith” at the end of Wheaton's employment application cites Scripture as forbidding "pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The section on sexual morality is only a tiny part of Wheaton's impressive credal covenant, some sections of which appear to exclude committed Catholics and surely exclude Jews. Should the American Philosophical Association have filed a discrimination complaint against Wheaton for this prejudice? Or should Calvin College be sanctioned if it requires Catholics or Jews to "affirm the confessions and respect the rich traditions of Reformed believers worldwide, and, in particular, those of the Christian Reformed Church”?

It seems, then, that if the American Philosophical Association censures these explicitly Christian institutions as unjust and discriminatory, it will officially condemn any institution whose members, in conscience and with reasoned defense, want to labor in a community of shared faith and moral commitment.

One may agree that homosexuals have been subject to discrimination and hate crimes, especially in the past, more rarely in our country presently, and more frequently in certain other countries right now. One may also question the wisdom of colleges and universities that by their covenant would exclude groups, whether Catholics, humanists or unmarried persons in a sexual relationship.

But to censure and threaten such institutions and exclude them from an association of philosophers that presumably affirms diversity and justice is strange indeed. These schools are not against homosexuals. They merely want, in conscience, to remain communities faithful to the Gospel according to their shared Protestant understanding of it. If the price of approval by the A.P.A. is the betrayal of their conscience, it is not a stretch to imagine the day when other believers will be candidates for censure and exclusion because they refuse to affirm actions that violate their consciences.

Another group of philosophers, in a new petition by Mark Murphy of Georgetown University, has challenged the wisdom of censuring the institutions in question. In "A Letter to the American Philosophical Association,” available on the Internet, you will find a courageous defense of the Protestant schools&ampmdashnot of their positions but of their right to live out their covenants without penalty from the A.P.A. It strikes me as courageous, because in these times of celebrating diversity and freedom of conscience, some diversities and consciences are not welcome.

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14 years 9 months ago
To be honest - why is this a surprise? And it's only going to get worse.
Marie Rehbein
14 years 9 months ago
This is a little different from an authority requiring someone to act in opposition to his or her conscience or an institution to provide services it considers immoral. It seems to me that the issue could be resolved by making it clear in the publication that some adverstisers discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Similarly, the solution to the conscience exemption is for it to be made clear to those receiving services that certain services are not offered because they are considered to be immoral.
Darrin Snyder Belousek
14 years 9 months ago
Thank you John Kavanaugh and Mark Murphy. I've read the petition to the APA and Murphy's letter. Perhaps I've missed the point, but it seems to me that the petition is premised upon an elememtary error in logic-the failure to distinguish between orientation/disposition and behavior/action. The APA non-discrimination policy concerns explicitly only "sexual orientation." The institutional policies in question, as far as I am aware, concern explicitly only sexual behavior and apply to persons of any sexual orientation, heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual. They impose the burden of an ethical standard, religiously defined, but do so equally and with reasonable justification as religious institutions. How my fellow philosopher's lose their logic when politics is in play!
James Lindsay
14 years 9 months ago
The orientation vs. behavior dichotomy is a sophisticated escape clause. It seems the APA is taking a position on the reasonableness of a form of religious employment discrimination allowed by law. They probably should not take such a position, since that position is likely offensive to the phiolosophers employed at the Christian institutions in question, who I would expect are members of the denominations where they teach - or at least agree to seem to behave as if they were to be members of the faculty. I would expect a backlash by such faculty members and would expect that schism would be a likely event in the APA. What a pity, since it seems more likely that a schism will occur than the Colleges changing their employment covenants. The other possibility is that these schools will answer the censure by refusing to pay the professional dues of their faculty members. If Catholic schools decide to follow suit in sympathy with their brother Christian schools, the APA could take quite a hit over this policy. The Covenants do miss one of the points of the Gospel - that the seeking of moral perfection is a personal enterprise. Jesus did not say, if your brother is looking lustily at a woman, pluck out is eye - he gave that instruction to individuals only. We can correct the conduct of our bretheren only if they are doing us harm, not merely because they offend our sense of morality. In other words, both sides are wrong. On the issue of homosexuality, Christian demoninations will more and more recognize gay marriages as the state does so, since weddings serve the needs of the family to mark that one of their members is leaving to start a new family unit. Jesus said as much in the scriptures. Although he did not use gender inclusive language, the underlying principle is as applicable to gay marriage as it is to traditional marriage. Refusing to recognizing such marriage is therefore as offensive to the families involved as it is to the gay couples. As gay marriage becomes common, the families of gay children will realize this and churches will adapt, since like the APA they know where their money comes from.
Edward Visel
14 years 9 months ago
I must question whether the defenses of discrimination against homosexuals is truly "reasoned". This is not Kantian morality, but moralities based on a text. While the moral codes contained therein are certainly based on something more fundamental, as visible in Jesus' simplification of the commandments into two, the moral codes in force in these contracts look no further than the text. This is a dangerous basis for morality, as it can condone slavery and the mass drowning of people chasing you in chariots-neither of which these groups _choose_ to endorse. At the same time, I do not understand the moral authority of the APA any better. While I acknowledge that discrimination is wrong, they seem an odd arbiter of the issue, which seems better served by a judiciary ruling, which will inevitably occur. Further, on a practical level, the whole argument is surprisingly banal, despite its sizable moral ramifications. In reality, no homosexual philosopher would possibly take a position at Wheaton; no one could live a psychologically healthy life under that sort of abuse. Instead, the clause seems to be a ground for the firing of professors who dare-or are forced to-come out on campus. If such an event were to occur, I am certain a Supreme Court-worthy case would spring up immediately. The alternative is firing outed professors on other pretenses, which would make the court case much less forceful, thought the practice is certainly more common. In this light, I am not sure that the elimination of overt discrimination is in the best interest of the gay-friendly APA, as covert discrimination is much harder to combat. Addendum: After some brief research, it looks like such clauses are likely illegal in Illinois and California at least, though evidently no one has challenged them yet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_States#Anti-discrimination_laws

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