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Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against Moody Bible Institute Will Proceed

Por Josh Pastor
moody bible institute sex discrimination
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Facebook)

An appeals court in Chicago has ruled that a discrimination lawsuit against the Instituto Bíblico Moody (MBI) by a former MBI professor may proceed. It’s the latest development in a six-year legal battle, pitting claims of sex discrimination against those of religious freedom.

For three years, Janay Garrick had taught communications classes at the prominent evangelical Bible school in Chicago, ending in late 2017. She sued MBI in 2018, claiming that “disparate treatment based on sex” and other Title VII civil rights violations motivated MBI leaders to fire her. 

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit desestimó una apelación that MBI had filed last year, seeking the dismissal of Garrick’s suit. MBI claimed Garrick was fired “because she rejected and publicly decried its core beliefs about church leadership.” 

Attorneys for MBI cited the “church autonomy doctrine,” a legal principle which protects the right of religious institutions to govern themselves. 

Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel, rejected that argument. “The church autonomy doctrine does not . . . bar courts from adjudicating todo disputes involving a religious institution,” she wrote. “Courts may exercise authority when the resolution does not require inquiry into doctrinal disputes.”

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At issue is MBI’s stated “core belief” in complementarianism, that men and women are different in function, and that Scripture limits the office of pastor to men. 

Garrick, an ordained minister who taught in MBI’s music and media arts division, holds egalitarian views, believing that women can serve as pastors. 

garrick sex discrimination
Janay Garrick (Photo: Facebook)

Garrick has stated that she told administrators her stance during her hiring process and expressed disagreement with the school’s “Gender Roles in Ministry” declaración. She claims this did not faze administrators at the time. 

Now this issue has become central to MBI’s position in the case.

The ruling on Monday cited past court filings on this point. “Moody’s own representation of complementarianism is that it ‘exclude[s] women from serving as ministers,’” wrote Judge St. Eve. “But it does not follow that Moody’s faith requires unequal treatment of women who work in secular roles.”

Garrick has represented herself for much of the legal process. Her original complaint filed in 2018 was dismissed a year later, because that suit “tied Garrick’s firing to disagreements over doctrine,” to quote Judge St. Eve. 

As of last year, Garrick has been represented in the case by public interest legal firm Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which in recent years has shortened its name to Americans United (AU). 

Last September, AU attorneys filed a brief that reframed Garrick’s discrimination claims to explicitly avoid any mention of church doctrine. This would sidestep the court using the “church autonomy doctrine” to weigh the Title VII discrimination claims. 

That brief claims that Garrick was subject to peer review in situations where male employees were not. Garrick also alleged that, while pursuing a dual degree herself, she was denied a request to reduce her teaching load—and instead asked to create new courses.

Regarding claims of “retaliation,” Garrick stated that several instances of discrimination occurred after she was rebuked for speaking out against perceived sexism on campus. 

Judge St. Eve stated that these “question(s) of disparate treatment between men and women can be evaluated apart from doctrinal differences.” 

In ruling that the case can proceed, St. Eve restated the central question before the court. 

The court will need to determine “whether Moody terminated (Garrick) because of its religious beliefs or whether its invocation of its religious beliefs was, in fact, a cover to discriminate against Garrick because of her gender,” stated the judge. 

moody bible MBI
Cover of the annual report for Moody Bible Institute. (Photo: Facebook)

en un declaración, Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, called the ruling “a win for the rule of law and a critical step in our fight to stop the weaponization of religious freedom.”

She added that Garrick was fired for trying to combat “rampant sex discrimination” at MBI. “Our courts should not allow religious freedom to be distorted as a license to discriminate against women and deny them basic civil rights,” said Laser.

Daniel Blomberg, VP and senior counsel at Becket, a public interest legal firm representing MBI in the case, emphasized Moody’s “almost 140 years” of Christian leadership training and education in a statement to El Informe Roys.

“That training requires teachers who practice what Moody preaches,” said Blomberg. “Monday’s ruling doesn’t change the commonsense rule that religious colleges and seminaries like Moody have the freedom to hire teachers who fully embrace the schools’ core religious beliefs.”

He added: “Moody is confident that courts will protect that freedom, just as they have since the nation’s founding.” 

Periodista independiente Josh Shepherd escribe sobre fe, cultura y políticas públicas para varios medios outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.

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5 Respuestas

  1. Here’s my conundrum—
    I believe, and am ordained in a denomination that places women in pastoral roles. I support that based on numerous scriptures.
    However, there are many denominations that don’t, and that is their right. To get secular courts, biased against God’s Word in so many ways, involved is a failure. 1 Corinthians 6:4-7 NIV
    [4] Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? [5] I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? [6] But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! [7] The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
    This likely sincere sister should just associate herself with a teaching organization that believes in women in ministry. Rather choosing to defer than sue.

    1. For starters, Moody is not a church, so those verses may not actually apply. Second, there is the render unto Caeser bit (which means if they take ANY federal student loans, etc.) you have to play by the rules. Third, this is not a _personal_ suit, by rather one against an organization (Tell me how is Moody Bible Institute a “brother” as indicated in Scripture?) Then there is that bit in Romans 13 about following laws, etc. Finally did Paul defer or did he avail himself the rights he had under Roman Law?

    2. You left out the rest of the verses, in order to skew what the scriptures actually say in context. There is supposed to be justice for Christians, by righteous judges who are Christians. Some of our court justices are Christians, but even if this one is not, you are arguing that there should be no justice. The problem is the Church, which is the whole point of this scripture, not telling someone that because they are Christians they have no right to any justice whatsoever. We are supposed to see that justice is done, not cover for jerks in robes pretending to be Christians while throwing out both the life examples of Jesus Christ and His Word in context. Jesus Himself condemned men like these neo-Pharisees in charge, and He still condemns them. God is NOT A RESPECTOR OF PERSONS! Not of men or women, Jew or Greek, rich or poor, ruler or ruled.

  2. As a graduate of MBI, my opinion is that Moody has always been patriarchal in fulfillment of Gen 3:16. The problem is that patriarchy is the outcome of sin. So why does Moody keep sinning? They keep sinning by perverting the Pauline teachings in direct conflict with Paul’s teachings in Gal. 3:26-29. This passage is the ONLY teaching that allows us to honestly interpret Paul’s instruction to men/women. If scripture is to be authoritative, as Moody professes in its doctrinal statement, then make it authoritative and not reinforce the curse in Gen. 3:16. Is Moody under Law or under Grace?

    1. Bill: As a fellow graduate of MBI, I have a sincere question for you. How do you reconcile the use of pastor/elder in the Epistles, as it is always in the male form rather than female? I continue to wrestle with this issue, especially as it as become more of a hot button. Thanks.

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