Everything Has Strings Attached

May 30, 2012

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

Thousands of teenagers all over the world are saying that phrase to their parents right now.

And it’s that phrase, or something like it that pretty much makes America what it is today.  Did you know Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included this quotation:

“Yo, Brits.  This is America, and we do what we want.  So get off our jock.”

This original patriotic spirit of independence still runs thick through our plaque-encrusted veins, and you can usually count on someone exercising their first amendment right to gripe and moan whenever someone tells them what to do.

My friend, David, sent me this story, where dozens of employees at a Christian university resigned over a “lifestyle contract.”

So, are these brave men and women, sacrificing their own welfare to make a statement true patriots…or just complete idiots?

Time to Make a Point

The school in question is Shorter University, a Baptist school in Georgia.  So what can employees of the school no longer do, now that they have to sign a “morality clause?”

The school now demands that employees refrain from “drug and alcohol use, adultery and homosexuality.”

And over two dozen employees have resigned in protest.

So, either the school has been full of drunks, potheads, cheaters or closeted gays, and now it has been theoretically cleansed of all their bad apples.  Either that, or two dozen people just wanted to make a meaningless point.  They have already been replaced.

Real American Heroes

So maybe you think that the teachers who quit were real Americans, standing up for their rights.  They’re telling those narrow-minded Baptists, “Don’t tread on me!” and whatnot.  Maybe the Baptists are excessively legalistic.  Telling grown adults not to drink alcohol when it’s legal?  It sounds to me like this is the kind of place that would drive me to drink.  I spent five years at Baptist schools, and they didn’t manage to convert me.  I don’t think I’d work for one.

But…as absurd as you might think the Baptists’ morality clause is, the teachers who quit in protest are not the heroes.  The school is.

The school has every right to assert who they are.  They have every right to tell their employees the kind of people they want working for them.  The school didn’t raid faculty homes looking for booze or anything.  These people quit.  And the school didn’t back down under pressure.  That’s heroic.

It’s hard for me to believe that I’m standing up for them, because I don’t really want to.  But my employer requires that I sign a “lifestyle statement.”  Chances are, your employer does too.  Even if your employer is completely liberal and secular, they expect you to uphold those value and not embarrass the company.  If you work for a company that prides itself on being “tolerant” and “celebrating” different lifestyles, they probably don’t want you going to anti-gay protests.

There’s Always Strings Attached

The story of a couple dozen faculty members quitting their jobs illustrates the lunacy of our culture.

We don’t want anyone to believe anything.  We almost intrinsically believe the Baptists don’t have the right to tell their employees not to drink.  That was my first instinct.

We don’t want Boy Scouts to just be for boys or FCA to just be for athletes or Christians.  We want them to be inclusive.  We want churches to be charitable and good, but we don’t want them telling us what’s right and wrong.

Kids want their parents to pay for their rent, food, cars, video games and weed until they are thirty, but they want to call themselves “independent.”  Adults want employers to give us great salaries and benefits, but we don’t want them telling us what to do.

We want corporations to create jobs, but we don’t want them to create profits.  Jobs = good.  Money = bad.  We demonize corporations just from our vague sense that they are making too much money.  Here’s a clue: you can’t have one without the other.

We want the government to keep us all healthy for free, but we don’t want them telling us we can’t have school bake sales.  Here’s another clue: this is only the beginning.  Just look at New York.

We want to drive our cars, but we don’t want to pay for gas.  We want a small government that protects us from every conceivable danger.  And we want free speech, but we don’t want to be offended.

Basically, we want everything, but we don’t want any strings attached.

And if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re always going to be offended, unhappy and left out.

What do you say?  Do you or would you work for a company that required a “lifestyle contract?”

31 responses to Everything Has Strings Attached

  1. My wife and I worked at an international Christian school through a missionary board that has schools all over the world. Not all their schools did this, but ours didn’t allow alcohol. The specific area we were in was notorious for bars, partying and the like, and it was ostensibly a major temptation for our students. Seeing their teachers hitting the bars (it was a tight-knit area) might have set a bad example or confused the students, so we were told. We didn’t whine too much about it because it made sense. I didn’t whine because I was raised baptist and amazed that other schools through the board allowed drinking at all. If the morality cause was for a good reason, I wonder if people would have quit in droves. If there’s no perceived point,just control for its own sake, then people tend to lose it.

  2. Matt-

    I suspect that you’re neglecting a bit of the nuance of the story in an attempt to shoehorn it into a sermon, but in all fairness I had a tough time finding out more background on the case that didn’t come from either a conservative Christian blog or the Huffington Post. Actually, when I googled the story, not one “real” newspaper came up. No wonder our country is so screwed up.

    At any rate, before classifying anyone as a “hero” or a “villain” in this situation, there’s a lot more information I’d want first–namely, how did the school administration decide on this “behavioral contract”? Were any of the faculty members allowed to have any input into drafting it? Was it something that was written into their employment contracts when they were hired, or did it get passed later?

    Yes, a private company has the right to make whatever demands on their employees that they choose. If this were a case where the faculty knew about having to sign a “lifestyle contract” when they were hired, but then made a stink about it after the fact, that would be one thing.

    However, if an employee had been hired (and signed an employment contract) under a certain set of terms, and the employer decides to unilaterally change those terms on a whim, I think that’s another matter entirely. And, no, the employer is not being a “hero” in that case.

    Here’s another link I found about it–
    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/05/14/shorter-university-faculty-leaving-over-new-lifestyle-statements
    —granted, it’s probably not completely unbiased, but it did raise some concerns–namely that these aren’t just “young punks that don’t like being told what to do” that are leaving–these are tenured faculty members who were not asked to sign on for this sort of thing when they were hired and it sounds like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. Not okay in my book.

    • That is why every employment application says something to the effect: “employee at will” followed by a “right to change” clause.

      • Sure–my contract had one of those too. I’m curious as to what sorts of protections are in place to keep an employer from employer from abusing that clause, however.

        Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that I’ve been working for the same company for a couple years, and they decide that now they’re going to issue a “lifestyle contract” that says all female employees have to wear lipstick to work every day.

        So, I’m guessing they’d be within their rights to fire me if I failed to show up wearing lipstick, and I wouldn’t have much of a case if I decided to sue (I’m not a lawyer so I’m guessing here.)

        It might be legal, but it still feels sleazy to me.

        • I’m with you on your hypothetical scenario. And truthfully, if my workplace suddenly instituted a lifestyle clause, I don’t know what I’d do. As it is, the contract I signed hasn’t been an issue because it doesnt ban any activities that I engage in.

        • As long as it is not discriminatory, or threatening IE: “If you start a union, I will fire you or put you on the worst shift,” it is legal to change “expected behavior.”

          These scenarios are often in response to some sort of behavioral issue. It happens in lawmaking everywhere. Some one gets killed by a drunk driver in a pink car, so we outlaw pink cars.

          The school has a right to “expect a certain behavior” as long as it is not discriminatory.

    • Wait. Employers should NEVER be able to change the way they do things? Suppose you were hired on 50 years ago when whose kid you were determined who was promoted. THAT should never change? Because the people who were in those jobs would feel like the rug was pulled out from under them?

      I think you’re right when you say there are no heroes or villains. Here’s what I think really happened: colleges are competing for a dwindling number of paying customers. They can’t charge cheaper than state so what do they do? One-up on the morality thing and hope parents cough up on the dough. Just business. It really doesn’t even have to do with morality, you know?

      The teachers should be happy because in other fields? Just business means extra work for zero extra pay, weekend hours, beeper duties, phone calls and conferences during “off” hours at home, etc. etc. etc. All these people have to do is sign a morality clause and then go do what they feel like anyway in secret…

    • I did not intentionally leave anything out. You are right, details are scarce and there may be more to the story. I’d be curious to know just what the faculty members found so objectionable, or was it just the offense of being told what to do in their private lives.

      • Well, I can’t say what all of the faculty members objected to, but I did come across one of them–

        (Keep in mind I think I saw it on HuffPo) One of the folks that left was the librarian that had been hired around 15 years previously. He is actually gay but for some reason that had not been an issue when he was first hired (no details as to why–maybe the school took more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward it back then or maybe he just didn’t let anybody know.) So when the “lifestyle contract” came out, he apparently couldn’t, in good concience, sign it. (As an aside, maybe someone can tell me which would be the bigger sin here–this guy being gay, or if he had decided to lie about it to keep his job?)

        So, they’ve got at least one gay employee who had been working there for at least 15 years, and the school only just now decides to make sexual orientation a condition for employment? Did I miss anything?

        Like I said earlier, they’re within their rights to descriminate against whoever and all this may be legal, but it still strikes me as kind of underhanded. Maybe that’s just me.

        • I think it’s a new President or something like that. I could be wrong.

          • I buy Happy Elf Mom’s theory–this is probably just a cheap ploy to look “holier” than the competition and bring in some extra money in the process. (Dropping a bunch of tenured educators and hiring a bunch of new folks at a lower pay grade probably doesn’t hurt the bottom line either.)

    • The lipstick clause is a funny example. A not so funny example is my husband’s company and a different company my brother-in-law works for reducing their vacation policy to “more reflect industry standards.” Another not-so-funny example is my former company deciding that they wouldn’t give me the rest of my back pay when I gave them a month’s notice to leave the company due to impending motherhood. The company had delayed giving merit-based pay raises for a quarter and then took the lump sum and pro-rated it across the year. I didn’t stay the year, so I didn’t get all of my back pay. I could have left them hanging and carried out my six weeks of time off with pay before “deciding” that I was not returning like another co-worker had done. But my decision was to help my company as much as possible and their decision was to keep as much money as possible.

      So here is the rub. I decided to leave early and take the consequences. My husband and brother in law is deciding to stay with his company, with the reduced vacation time, at least until God shows him where to go next. The people who quit over a change in conduct policy are making a choice. No one is a hero or villain. We are all just making choices and will be bound to experience the consequences of our choices, both good and bad.

  3. Wow…after the last post on Driscoll vs Gay we have this one. I work for the big three; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and they have definitely laid down some morality clauses that I must submit too, and I do willingly because God knows better then me.

    Again this reflects on your last post; can the church unashamedly declare Bible truth and uphold the crystal clear teachings of scripture or will people (like at the college) quit in protest of an infringement on their rights (or sin) that they say is nobody elses business?

    The whole message of Christ smacks of this: believe in me, submit to me, live for me or miss out on life and the afterlife. He makes the rules, we try to change them to suit ourselves. He outlines morality, we try to justify and explain why we are exempt.

    • I totally agree with you about God’s lifestyle rules. I think the problem comes in deciding what us lawful or not. Personally, alcohol is not offensive or sinful, and I could cite scripture to justify my clear conscience. However, this school takes alcohol so seriously that they want a completely teetotaling faculty.

      • I grew up Baptist. They generally make a huge deal about drinking, because they believe it is morally wrong. So if it’s what they genuinely believe, and they enforce a lifestyle clause that includes it, it makes sense. I went to a Baptist college, and the more I read the passages they wanted us to read to prove drinking was wrong, the more I came to understand that it was not what the Bible was saying.

  4. Interestingly, every employer has “expected” behavior whether documented or not. I work for a law firm and we have a dress code, parking restrictions, employee code of conduct, a code of ethics, customer service policies, privacy policies, break-room rules, and; believe it or not, a policy on what topics cannot be talked about in the office which include politics, religion and lifestyle choices. They have a “available public information” policy as well. This was brought to my attention when I considered running for governor a few years ago.

    As far as the school goes. Bravo for them for having a moral code of conduct which reflects classic biblical morality. I worked for a school like that. I was questioned about my stand on alcohol, and I said, “I don’t think having a drink is sin, but I believe drunkenness is.” They replied, “You’ll keep that to yourself, isn’t the right?”

    I simply choose to live my life in public and private before God. You can check with my wife. You can also find some areas where I could improve. I hope that I am good example. The point is I believe it, and work at it because the grace and love of God is such an awesome gift.

    The real point is this. If we cause someone else to sin even when our actions are legal, it is still sin.

    • I made the mistake of not keeping that tidbit to myself when I was a Baptist youth pastor. That created a bit of controversy in the office the next week. But I was asked a direct question, and I wasn’t about to lie to the person.

  5. I would sign a lifestyle contract.

    I understand what you mean, when you say companies who hire people are expecting certain things from them. And it’s true. If I ran a business, I would want certain things from my employees.

    If I’m running a family business, I wouldn’t want to read in a paper that one of my employeess ran a meth lab and just got busted for it.

    I agree with the school.

  6. I work for a church. I didn’t sign a specific lifestyle contract, but within my employment contract, it does say that I will live out a Godly, Biblical lifestyle. I agreed to it. Any pastor that doesn’t agree to that is a fool and a hypocrite. You cannot get up and relay God’s demands for holiness if you’re not willing to be held to a standard. You may disagree over what is and isn’t Godly, like the alcohol issue. I’m personally okay with moderate alcohol consumption, since the Bible clearly doesn’t teach against it and almost supports it.

    If I were working outside of a church again, and a company wanted me to sign a lifestyle agreement, I’d sign. I’d love it, actually. Knowing up front whether the company I work for is going to support what I am convicted about or not is great. I left a job after learning what the company was doing with its profits, because I was in a profit driven position. I made a lot of money for them, and I didn’t like what I found out they were doing.

  7. I don’t see how this is a problem at a Christian school…when I attended Bible college I wasn’t allowed to drink or listen to secular music. I was willing to make those “sacrifices” (I never liked alcohol anyway) to attend there. Employees have the right to not work there and the school should have the right to set reasonable guidelines for how their employees behave as they are representatives of the school 24/7.

  8. Excellent article. We all have boundaries and limitations, though no one wants to admit it. I will never be an Olympic figure skater. The homeschool group that I belong to has certain guidelines for behavior and email ettiquette, like “don’t bad mouth a product or service in our group email, but rather, email people personally to register a lack of satisfaction” and “don’t express political opinions.” We can bring up political issues, but we need to keep the focus on facts and without inflammatory rhetoric.

    And Christians are even more limited because we are not our own–
    “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

  9. if the school was actually concerned about the behavior of their employees then creating a “policy” is the least effective way to affect change in people’s lives. If they were concerned with their image (which is much more likely) then simply discarding people who aren’t “holy” enough to maintain a sin-free image is disgusting and abusive. Defining people out of relationship (Employment IS a relationship, one of the most basic) is the exact opposite of the gospel of Jesus. If you want a “Godly” image than recognize that God himself was best friends with the “worst” kinds of people. Hero is the last thing I would call an organization which claims to partner with God and Discards all the people who are honest enough to admit that you don’t just stop being who you are because someone wrote a policy.

  10. I believe that both the school and the employees are true Americans – standing up for what they each believe in. The school is not a public institution, so they can ask for whatever “morality clause” they want and they will attract and hire the people who will abide by the clause (or live in such a way that violating it isn’t discovered…as many homosexuals have done for generations). The employees who quit apparently couldn’t abide by the clause, either because they know they would violate it or because they don’t agree with all or part of it. Personally, I enjoy whiskey every now and then so I wouldn’t be able to adhere to that exclusion, and I don’t know if I could work for any company that seeks to exclude homosexuals.

    I DO want the Boy Scouts to be just for boys. And I want the Girl Scouts to be just for girls…because that is part of what makes each of those organizations special.

    Do people really want everything at no cost? I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person but it is so very clear to me that we cannot have our cake and eat it too – at least not without giving up the ice cream or working up a sweat while turning the crank on the ice cream churn.

  11. If this post is about the school…meh.
    If this post is about “you can usually count on someone exercising their first amendment right to gripe and moan whenever someone tells them what to do”…then yes, I agree. We have become a nation of entitlement, (translation:PRIDE) and it greatly saddens me.
    There seems to be no humility, even in the Christian community.
    “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
    I admit I struggle with this, but I do desire to have this attitude.

    In Wisconsin, they have a recall vote out the Govenor. Why? Because he balanced the budget by busting the union! There are bumper stickers out that say something like “Recalling Santa” i.e. “i didn’t get what I want, so I’m going to get a new Santa” Is this now a national anthem?

    • All good points, of course, but I’m left wondering how you balance humility with protecting yourself?

      Being humble is great. The thing is, it only seems to “work” if everyone does it. The problem I see is that there’s an overabundance of people who are doing everything “out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” and they seem to be perfectly willing to screw over the folks trying to be “humble”.

      In your mind, how do you differentiate between “entitlement” or “pride” and just simple self-preservation?

      Call me cynical, but I think to a lot of folks (not necessarily you) the difference depends on the class, race, and political affiliation of the person in question.

      • “In your mind, how do you differentiate between “entitlement” or “pride” and just simple self-preservation?”
        Great question Abby! My response: ugh! I don’t know! Like I said, I’m still working on it.
        A little about me: My blue collar father died when I was 12, leaving my blue collar mother trying to figure out how to support her 3 children. She used to say “we may not have much, but we have our pride”. I (obviously) didn’t grow up in a home of Christ followers, but I can tell you it has been a process for me to put humility as a higher priority than pride.

        I cannot speak for all of humanity, but I can tell you of my experiences. Recently, we were in a business deal with a man from our church. We had just relocated to a new state, thus it was a new church home for us. The deal went sour, and we were preparing to take the man to small claims court to get $5oo back which we felt he had unlawfully kept. We were discussing the situation with a church leader and he suggested we take the matter before the church elders, rather than the court of the ungodly. (1 Corintians 6) We did, and the matter was handled by the church elders. Did we get our money back? No. Was God’s kingdom furthered? Yes.
        Because I’m older than many on this blog, I’ve witnessed beautiful restoration when I ‘deny myself and pick up my cross daily’. I’ve seen it in my relationships with people, with other people’s relationships, but most often with my relationship with the LORD. Please remember, I was not taught this mentality by my family. We were ALL about self preservation, but now I am more focused on kingdom preservation. I fail miserably. Often. But I have a goal. Yes, I do get taken advantage of and “screwed over”.
        But to live for Christ, means to live for the time when “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him from the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

  12. Very interesting conversation!

    The university I attend is privately owned by a church, and each year I sign a mandatory agreement to live by certain moral standards. I don’t have a problem with signing the agreement, for the same reason many people here have discussed–I already live by those standards.

    But I am interested in the idea of whether or not businesses or schools SHOULD have agreements like that. If the business or school is privately owned and does not receive government funding or support, then they should never be denied the right to ask for such behavior from their employees/students.

    However, once the school is owned by the state, or once the organization is funded by the government, some different rules start to apply. We don’t want to impose religiously motivated obligations on people if we in any way represent the government or are affiliated or financially supported by the government. Once we begin to require religiously grounded morality in the name of a government in which there are many different belief systems, we open the door to losing control over exactly WHICH belief system’s morality is required.

  13. I’m scared to read thru the comments on this one, but I’m inclined to agree with you.

    “We don’t want anyone to believe anything” – dead on. Would this be called “militant relativism” or “aggresive tolerance”?

    I work for a company that has a unspoken “lifestyle contract” of sorts, but I would never quit over it. Very thought provoking.

  14. I got to this discussion months later. I just read this today (just found the website today too). You know, I don’t know if I would stay at a place that made me sign a lifestyle clause. I probably live what many would call a “squeaky-clean” lifestyle but I don’t want to be told I can’t do something if it isn’t in the Bible. I think the Holy Spirit and the Bible are all the guidance we need in how to live…..I’d have a problem with a church telling me I can’t do something if that something isn’t a sin…