What Christian employers must know before job interviews

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what christian employers must know before job interviews
Two people sitting at table with resume interviewing third person on the other side of the table.

In many cases, Christian organizations want to hire Christian employees and will select people who share religious beliefs compatible with their organization. Most people can agree that pastors should believe and live out the values of the church that they lead.

However, what about the church janitor or the summer camp accountant? What about hiring requirements regarding lifestyle, sexuality and other tense topics, whose answers may be significant to employers but controversial more broadly?

These questions inevitably come up during the job interviews.

Wise employers will ask, “Are there legal limits on what interview questions we can ask?”

Short answer: You can ask about faith… usually

Christian organizations have the right to hire people based on “creed” in any position where it is essential. While “creed” is defined provincially, it generally includes any deeply held belief – religious, political, or otherwise. Therefore, it is technically legal to ask a job candidate questions pertaining to their Christian faith to assess their suitability for the particular position they are applying for.

Long answer: Proceed with caution

However, the current state of Canadian human rights legal precedent regarding freedom of religion is precarious. Employers should proceed cautiously and avoid antagonistic interactions at all hiring stages to avoid legal risk. An employer accused of discrimination may face social and financial costs, whether or not a court decides in their favour.

Employers should use discretion and ask appropriate questions for the nature of the job position. Questions regarding doctrinal issues would be considered appropriate for employees filling teaching or leadership positions. Those same doctrinal questions may be less appropriate for supporting roles in Christian organizations, particularly if the questions seem arbitrarily unrelated to the job description tasks. In all cases, employers should ensure that Christian faith is a bona fide occupational requirement of a given role before factoring it into the hiring decision.

For example, based on recent legal rulings in Canada , matters of sexuality should be handled with extra care. Interviewers should not ask direct questions about a person’s sexuality or gender. However, an employer may make an employee code of conduct available to potential employees and ask if they are in agreement. It is advisable to craft employee codes of conduct with utmost intentionality and to seek legal counsel, if necessary.

We recommend conducting a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR) assessment for each position in your organization, where you need to justify the need for staff with genuine Christian faith. CCCC offers a BFOR Assessment Package to help your ministry develop robust documentation in case your Christian job requirements are challenged.

If you are concerned about any of your employment requirements, start by consulting your provincial human rights legislation. You can find a list of each province’s policy on discrimination by creed in the CCCC Knowledge Base.

Worse than asking the wrong question

Be warned, however, that there is a mistake that is worse than asking too much in an interview: hiring someone who doesn’t align with your organization’s values. Once an employee is on board, differences in perspective on faith and lifestyle issues can cause internal tension, compromise your mission, and make you vulnerable to legal appeal.

A thorough, relevant interview can be a big piece of the puzzle to understand how a candidate might “fit” into your community. So, while discretion is called for, don’t waste your opportunity to connect by only asking superficial questions.

Sample questions

Here are sample interview questions to spark helpful conversations within the hiring process.

  • What is causing you to re-evaluate working for your current employer?
  • What are some teams you’ve served on that you were particularly pleased with? What made it work so well for you?
  • If you gave us a report on your role and contribution at [insert ministry name] five years from now, what would you like that report to say?
  • What was your most challenging job? Why? What did you learn from this experience?
  • Tell us about a leader that you admire.
  • Tell us about a leader who has disappointed you.
  • Describe a mistake you’ve made in dealing with an interpersonal relationship in the workplace. What did you learn from this experience?
  • Describe a significant change you made in your life. Why did you do it? How did it turn out?
  • How do you feel like your personal convictions fit with our organization’s mission to _______________?

CCCC members can find more sample interview questions here.

Need more guidance?

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