Your Silence or Your Job

Can an American be fired simply because of his moral beliefs? Surely not, you say. We enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of speech. But the tragedy is that those freedoms are rapidly eroding. Consider the case of a man named Karl Mertz. For seven years Mertz was an Equal Employment Opportunity manager for the Department of Agriculture (the USDA). Not long ago, while on vacation, Mertz gave a television interview in which he expressed disapproval of some USDA policies. In particular, he disagreed with a department policy granting homosexual partners the same benefits given to spouses of heterosexual workers. Mertz made it clear that he was speaking as a private citizen. But reaction from the thought police was swift. That very evening a senior USDA official called to say the department had received complaints from gay-rights groups. Just weeks later Mertz was handed a letter informing him that he was being removed from the Equal Employment Opportunity staff. He was reassigned to another job for which he had no training, no experience, and no interest. "Getting that letter was a shock," Mertz told reporters. There was "no due process," and "I had broken no laws." The letter questioned whether Mertz could effectively handle his duties as an EEO manager. But it was never part of Mertz's job to promote gay rights in the workplace. His job was to enforce the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination based on race, sex, age, or religious beliefs. Nothing there about sexual orientation. The truth is that Mertz was removed for private beliefs having nothing to do with his job performance. The incident is an ominous warning of what could happen to Christians everywhere when they disagree with the secular ethic dominant in American public life. In essence, Christian ethics are being banned from the public arena. Those who express a biblically based morality are being shunted aside—"marginalized," as current lingo puts it. No culture can exist or has ever existed without an underlying unity of belief—some shared vision of right and wrong, some common ethical standards. Throughout history, societies have discouraged deviation from their shared vision through stigmas and social disapproval. Today the centers of public power are dominated by an ethic of moral subjectivism and personal autonomy—and anyone who deviates from that ethical philosophy is subject to stigmas and social disapproval. Even outright exclusion. That's why a Karl Mertz can lose his job for his moral stance on homosexuality. The good news is that Senator Jesse Helms has come to Mertz's defense. He proposed an amendment—passed by the Senate 59-41— requiring public hearings before any government employee can be removed from his position merely for expressing personal views on personal time. So Mertz has his job back. But the culture war is still raging. You and I need to be prepared—and to prepare our children—so we won't be taken by surprise when it happens to us. We'd better make sure we're putting on the full armor of God. Because at its heart the culture war is a spiritual war—a struggle over which vision of right and wrong will prevail.


Chuck Colson


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