Here are several examples:
Until long after the law said otherwise, the church officially paid a pastors wives about 1/2 the wage a regular church employee would get for the same Job. My grandmother worked as a grade school teacher in the Adventist church school system for many years and received abjectly paltry wages because my grandfather was a career Adventist pastor. In her later years, she said, “That wasn’t right. They did a lot of things like that back then they shouldn’t have.” She was right.
There’s the famous MeriKay case, where the church, after refusing to follow the law, was taken to court by Federal government - the EEOC -, lost, and “had to” pay $600,000 in back wages to women who had worked at the Pacific Press. This was in 1979, and for violating TITLE VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964, and the church went down kicking and screaming and whining they couldn’t possibly pay women as much as men, because they couldn’t afford to. Reportedly, the church’s lawyers actually stated, in court, that the church couldn’t pay women the same as men at the Pacific Press because their business model wouldn’t support it and they’d go out of business. The judge was so infuriated by this that he threatened the lawyers with contempt of court, or something similar, if they ever made such an argument again. Basically, for wasting his time with an argument that made no legal sense. Amateur hour, at its worst.
Then there’s the current state of affairs in the Central California Conference (CCC). As it turns out, there are a bunch of special allowances for clergy within the law. There are many labor laws that don’t apply to clergy, and that sort of makes sense. Think of a priest or monk or nun, who work for the church - are “employees” - and may receive only a paltry allowance and room and board, basically for life. The Adventist church officially states that it has no clergy. But, at the same time they tell the government that they do, in order put SDA Pastors into that legal bucket, so that they get the exemptions allowed for clergy. These exceptions might apply, and they certainly benefit the church, both financially and because then they don’t have follow a bunch of rules that they don’t want to follow.
- Within this context, if that wasn’t bad enough, the CCC has put teachers into this category, claiming that they are also clergy. In order to support this claim, they force the teachers to go to Fresno and attend a yearly training for missionary pastors. Presto! All the teachers are now missionary pastors. Even though, of course, they’re predominantly women and the CCC wouldn’t ordain them as pastors if they asked. For one thing, they don’t have the required education, and also most are missing that magical Y chromosome that’s so important for a pastor to have.
- And finally, the kicker: Because teachers are clergy, supposedly, the CCC can (and does) require them to pay tithe to the CCC (not any other conference, mind you) with the promise that if they don’t they will be fired. And, they actually follow up on that and track the teachers! There was one case where the teacher’s husband lost his job and in order to pay their rent in Silicon Valley - which was probably more than her salary - she didn’t pay her tithe. She was promptly threatened with losing her job, even thought the CCC was aware of the situation. They didn’t care. It was more important to them to get their money than it was for her to continue to have a place to live.
For a rather balanced review of the SDA church and the law, see Seventh-day Adventists and the U.S. Courts: Road Signs Along the Route of a Denominationalizing Sect. Note the section “Personal Suits against the Adventist Church and its Institutions”, which discusses the Merikay Silver and related cases at some length, and touches on special treatment for clergy, which apparently the church has abused in the past more than once. I found it quite enlightening.