Discrimination is a feared word in the employment world. It comes with the assumption of evil intent. In reality, the word itself is neutral to positive. A person with discriminating taste is thought to be refined and wise. That person is able to discern something good from something better.

On that basis, discrimination is good and desirable. We should  discriminate. And, in fact, we do it every day.

So what’s problem with employment discrimination? Well, nothing, unless it is illegal. The key phrase when discussing discrimination is “on the basis of”. Discrimination is illegal when we choose against a person on the basis of characteristics that are protected by law. The list of those characteristics seems to grow every year, but the most well known are things like race, gender, national origin, and religion.

There lies our challenge in the church. Can we discriminate on the basis of religion? Yes, we can. With pastoral staff, there is no question about this. Courts won’t touch a lawsuit brought by a pastor against a church. But what about secretaries and custodians? The cases that I have read have said that a church can require that all employees be of the same faith as the church.

You don’t have to require that, but if you want to do so, it should be in job descriptions and in your employee handbook. State that it is a requirement that employees subscribe to your statement of faith or be a member of your church. It should be fairly easy to justify why that is an important quality for employees, but before putting it in there, think about why it is important, so that if asked, you could justify it. Don’t be lazy. Be ready.

You discriminate every time you hire someone. You choose one person over others and in doing so you discriminate against every candidate that you don’t hire. Do your job descriptions and handbook well and religious discrimination will not be something you need to worry about. Yes, you will discriminate on the basis of religion. That will likely be an easy part of your decision.

Finding the best skills and team fit are a bigger challenge. Discriminate well.