Public Health Director Eric Walsh of Pasadena, CA, is a bivocational minister. He works for a church, and he works for the City of Pasadena.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Walsh is an associate pastor at Altadena Seventh-day Adventist Church in California, and he was hired as Pasadena’s Public Health Director in 2010. But his employer, the City of Pasadena, has placed him on temporary paid administrative leave following statements he made to his church concerning homosexuality and evolution.
“In sermons uploaded to various websites, Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist preacher, calls evolution ‘a religion created by Satan,’ compares Disney to a ‘dark empire’ of superstition and witchcraft, and criticizes homosexuality. . . .
“[City spokesman William] Boyer said the city placed Walsh on leave because time is needed to review the online sermons and conduct an inquiry into his ability to lead the department.”
Here’s a question: What does a man’s opinion of the Disney corporation have to do with his ability to work as Public Health Director? Are his views on evolution affecting his ability to conduct restaurant inspections? Do his beliefs about homosexuality prevent him from working with low-income HIV/AIDS patients–something Pasadena’s Health Department has done under his watch? Or is this actually about expressing views the city finds disagreeable?
The city did not cite his job performance as the reason for placing him on leave. They indicated the sermons he delivered at church and uploaded to the Internet might affect his ability to lead the department. In other words, Walsh’s religious convictions may affect whether or not the city keeps him on the payroll. No matter what you think of his religious beliefs, that is a troubling prospect.
Pundits have accused Christians of bringing faith into the workplace or into politics. In the case of Mr. Walsh, the workplace and politics seem to be trying to worm their way into his faith. If a person can lose their job for publicly sharing their deeply-held religious convictions outside of work, that has the potential to put a chilling effect on free speech and religious expression.
This is a developing story that could change in the days to come, but if a bivocational minister in California can be placed on leave for something he preached on a Sunday morning, there’s really nothing to stop a bivocational minister in Arkansas from receiving the same treatment.