When Gertrude Krighoff's new boss at the Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Northeast Washington demanded last fall that she take off her wedding ring or face demotion to a nonsupervisory job, Krighoff, and employe there for 23 years, quietly resigned.
Her boss, Harold F. Otis Jr., says he was simply enforcing the "standard of the church" when he ordered persons in supervisory positions to refrain from wearing "adornment and jewelry," including wedding rings.
Since church rules threaten members with possible expulsion if they take their disputes to the courts or the press, Krighoff made no protest outside the church.
But, an organization of black activists within the church field a complaint for Krighoff, who is white, with the District of Columbia human rights office. The complaint is now under investigation.
"The public expects married people to wear their wedding rings and would tend to look with suspicion on those who are married and do not wear their rings," said Donald G. Morgan, head of the International Laymen Action Committee for Concerned Adventists, in a series of protest letters he wrote to the publishing house earlier this year.
When appeals to church leaders by Morgan and the committee failed to changed the ring policy, Morgan filed the complaint with the human rights office.
Morgan charged that the publisher's ban on wedding rings "is being imposed as a harassment tactic against minority group member employes and women," who make up most of the 350 publishing house employes.
"There is no reasonable business purpose for this rule and it adversely affects the promotional opportunity for married employes," Morgan contended in the complaint.
Walter Carson, an attorney on the staff of the church's legal department, said earlier this week that church officials are waiting to meet with an investigator from the human rights office. "we are still optimistic that the matter can be resolved," Carson said.
Otis, the general manager of the publishing company, sais that he decided to enforce the ring rule for supervisors because "this is a leadership position and we would like our leaders to set an example."
The controversy stems from the church's adherence to the admonition of St. Paul against "unnatural adornment" for women, which the church applies to men as well.
But the question of wedding rings is "a friction point here," said James Gallagher, official spokesman for the church whose North American headquarters is located in Takoma Park.
The wedding band "as an index of marital status has been accepted among Adventists overseas," Gallagher said, "but it's never become acceptable among church members here." He said the church's policy amounted to "a little more than a dress code but less than [a point of] doctrine."
Krighoff, a native of Brazil, has worn her wedding band for the 38 years she has been married, according to Morgan, including the last eight years during which she has been assistant manager of the typing department of the publishing house.
Krighoff was said to be out of town and unavailable for comment.