For Christian leaders serving in prominent positions personal matters often become public. Consider the recent debate surrounding Abilene Christian University president Phil Schubert, whose wife filed for divorce recently, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Trustees at the university, which is associated with the Churches of Christ denomination, ”agonized” over whether to keep Schubert on staff, but have decided that the college president, who was married to his wife for 22 years and who has three small children, will keep his job, according to Christianity Today.
An email reportedly sent this week by Barry Packer, chairman of the board of trustees, to the school’s 400 faculty and staff addressed the matter, noting that officials at the school have been praying for the family and are “deeply saddened about the situation.”
“We believe the covenant of marriage is created by God,” the letter read. “We also believe strongly in the power of grace in a broken world and the call to be peacemakers.”
Packer, who said that the board is trying to respect the family’s privacy, explained that the board was tasked with assessing and considering Schubert’s leadership abilities and the school’s best interests in the wake of learning about the divorce.
“The trustees have agonized with the decision, praying fervently and investing significant time in dialogue,” the letter read. “Based upon our discussions with Phil, we are confident he is a man of deep integrity, is pursuing God, and that his leadership will continue to bless ACU.”
It continued, “As a result, the Board of Trustees has concluded that we will continue to support Dr. Schubert in his role as president, while ensuring ACU’s mission is being fulfilled and its heritage upheld.”
Schubert has been president of Abilene Christian University since 2010, according to the Christian Chronicle.
Details of the trustees’ struggles over the divorce proceedings provides a lens into the oft-times more complex employment situations that exist at Christian and faith-based institutions.
A divorce, if not deemed appropriate by denominational or Bible-based teachings, can sometimes mean the end of one’s career. In many circles adultery is considered one of the only permissible reason for terminating nuptials.
In Schubert’s case, termination didn’t happen and the private details of the matter are not known, but Christianity Today has reported in the past that terminations have, indeed, happened in the past surrounding divorce.
Consider the case of Wheaton College English professor Kent Gramm who resigned in 2008 rather than share the personal details of his divorce with school administrators.
And also keep in mind conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza who resigned in 2012 after it was revealed that he was engaged to another woman while reportedly separated from his wife of 20 years.
“I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced, even though in a state of separation and in divorce proceedings,” D’Souza said at the time.
This issue is complex and one that will likely continue to emerge and be debated, though the Supreme Court has affirmed that faith-based organizations and churches have the right to hire and fire based on religious tenets.
In 2012, the high court affirmed the existence of a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws — a doctrine developed in lower court rulings that says the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves religious employees of these institutions.
Read more about that here.
(H/T: Christianity Today)
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