By John S. Rohwer
Clerics who don't believe, can't answer call
To the Editor:
This letter is in response to Erin Stein's article ("Do priests have religious freedom?," Apr. 21) which raises the complex questions associated with a priest who does not believe in God. The main question is: Can he be asked to leave his position on the grounds of his religious beliefs?
The author of the article addressed the issues quite well, though there was one thing I found to be not true. She wrote "The rector is still perfectly capable of performing his duties." Most Christian doctrine, and I believe this is true with the Episcopal Church, holds that the office of ordained ministry is a call from God. The priest, or priest-to-be, needs to be called by God, recognize that call, and answer that call. The job then is not a career, but a vocation. The job description is to serve God through his Holy Church. If the priest does not believe in God, he or she can neither recognize the call nor answer it. The priest, therefore, cannot perform his or her duties. In fact, by not believing in God, the priest cannot believe in his or her own job. This, I believe, demonstrates an inability to perform his or her own duties.
In this country, we do not believe that people should be discriminated against because of race, faith, gender or disability. But what if one's race, faith, gender or disability makes them incapable of performing their job? In the example of physical disabilities, discrimination is determined to be acceptable or unacceptable based on the relatedness to the particular purpose at hand. An example of discrimination that is acceptable is that of the armed forces prohibiting nearsighted persons from being fighter pilots. This discrimination is relevant. Discriminating against nearsighted persons being lawyers, on the other hand, would be unrelated to the purpose at hand, and therefore unfair.
My conclusion is that priests who don't believe in God are incapable of performing their job. Discrimination therefore is warranted. I recognize that we all come from different religious backgrounds, and, therefore, am interested in hearing alternative viewpoints.
John S. Rohwer