A new equality bill before the British Parliament is stirring debate about the extent of freedom religious organizations should be allowed to exercise in their hiring policies. Defending the bill after criticism from Pope Benedict XVI, Harriet Harman said,

“Employment and non-discrimination law applies to religious organisations when they employ people in non-religious jobs in the same way that it does to all other employers,” she said. “We have never insisted on non-discrimination legislation applying to religious jobs such as being a vicar, a bishop, an imam or a rabbi. However, when it comes to non-religious jobs, those organisations must comply with the law.”

Harman’s distinction of religious from non-religious jobs is widely held in secular western society at large. Unfortunately, it is a dichotomy that has increasingly entered into the Church as well. A pastor is a “religious” job; being a secretary is not. But this type of distinction is one that neglects theology of vocation. For Christians, all jobs, all positions in a community, all aspects of life are vocations (or callings) from God.

All Christians have a divine vocation. To have a vocation you don’t need to be involved in something overtly ‘religious’. Pastors are called in their role as pastors, but so are mothers called in their role as mothers. Marriage is a vocation and so is singleness and celibacy. We are not called to marriage or singleness, but in our state of being married or single we are called to serve God and our neighbour.

In short, Christian vocation embraces all aspects of life: family, community, work paid and voluntary, citizenship, short- and long-term responsibilities of various kinds, the church, the arts, and leisure. In whatever place and role we find ourselves, there we are to work faithfully and responsibly for the good of the neighbour and thus to the glory of God, using whatever gifts God has given us for the task. 1

With such an understanding of vocation, we become better equipped to explain why Christians must resist the type of bill Britain is currently trying to pass. For the Christian who takes the doctrine of vocation seriously, the job of a secretary is equally as important to God’s will in the world as is the job of a pastor. In each, God works through the believer to benefit our neighbours and bring glory to Himself. To forbid religious organizations from restricting employment to orthodox believers is effectively to order them to abandon their theology of vocation. Can the heterodox or non-Christian be expected to fill positions in God’s work in the world?


1Quotation from chapter four (“Vocation”) of Dr. John G. Strelan’s book Of Some Earthly Good. Read it online here.