“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
– Genesis I
The Cultural Battleground over Gay Marriages and Gay Rights.
Rainbows scattered the nation from coast to coast, celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v Hodges dictating marriage equality for same-sex partners. Discarded was the centuries-old definition of marriage, now replaced by a judicial determination that gay marriage is a fundamental constitutional right.
In addition, state after state has begun to add sexual orientation and gender identity to civil rights laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression. These changes have upset long-standing societal norms and opened a veritable Pandora’s Box. As society rushes headlong to embrace the morals and views of a post-Christian nation, the church is poised to enter an unprecedented season in this nation’s history.
While the politics of these decisions and the declining spiritual state of our nation are to be lamented, the question presents itself: Now what?
How does a church in the United States remain true to the Biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman? Will pastors be forced to perform same-sex marriages that run contrary to their religious beliefs? Will churches that disagree with new laws on gay marriage and sexual equality be targets of lawsuits?
We have answers….read on.
Religious Freedom in America.
In the United States today, the free exercise of religion is not dead despite serious attacks. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice your own religion in your own way, free of government mandates and intrusion. Citizens have broad autonomy to gather together and worship according to their shared religious beliefs. This right is not, of course, unlimited; churches must still comply with laws on non-religious matters such as building codes, zoning ordinances and the like. However, in matters of faith, belief, and governance, the church enjoys a First Amendment right to structure, govern, and worship as it pleases.
The highest courts in America have repeatedly reaffirmed the tenet that the government and court system must practice a “hands-off policy” towards a church’s religious beliefs (“religious doctrine”) and its form of government (church “polity”). However, a civil court cannot recognize religious doctrines and forms of church government that have not been clearly defined. In this new era, it is a mistake to assume your church is protected from government meddling simply because of the First Amendment.
What will you do?
- A minister, elder, or member begins living an openly gay or lesbian lifestyle. Does your church have a written policy to handle this type of situation?
- Suppose a same-sex couple asks to use your facilities for their marriage reception. What is your response?
- A transgender attendee or church member begins using the opposite gender bathroom. Will your church bathrooms become unisex to accommodate such shifts in sexual orientation (as happened in public schools in New Jersey)?
Prepare your Church.
Christians have been called by God to be the salt of the earth. Perhaps you are confident in your stance socially, spiritually, and doctrinally. But will your corporate documents and written policies hold up to legal scrutiny?
Public policy and the Holy Scripture are increasingly at odds. The church is in a unique place, as it must stand firm in its beliefs while coexisting in an environment that is becoming more hostile. Churches and Christian ministries must take affirmative steps like never before to protect themselves. In this litigious age, lawsuits are a threat to your church. Not only is it incredibly expensive to fight a lawsuit, but cases can take years to resolve. Defending a lawsuit can deplete untold emotional and spiritual resources and seriously impede your ministry.
The good news is there are specific, intentional, proactive steps a church can take to minimize unwanted lawsuits and governmental intrusions into its affairs. Aside from prayer and trust in God for protection, maintaining comprehensive and up-to-date corporate documents and written operating policies is the greatest protective step a church can take to protect itself from internal and external forces. Bylaws and articles of incorporation must be written and frequently updated. The church must begin to follow the policy and procedure model set by non-religious non-profits and secular corporations.
At a minimum, your church should have the following set forth in a written document:
- a written shared statement of beliefs;
- a written and detailed system of self-governance;
- a written sexual orientation and marriage policy;
- a written facilities use policy;
- a written religious mission statement.
Typically these policies and procedures are contained in your bylaws, the governing document for your ecclesiastical corporation. Having guidelines and beliefs contained in a written format will provide definitive standards on which decisions can be made. With it, the legal system must defer to those religious beliefs and policies and thus uphold the First Amendment.
A Wise Steward has his House in Order.
Although it would be easier to dismiss the societal turmoil as the ‘outside world’, the recent changes will not stop at the door of the church. Your church needs to be prepared. A church that has its beliefs and policies clearly delineated can lovingly, firmly, and legally decline to bless, or officiate at same sex marriage ceremonies, rent its facilities for same sex marriages. Such clear policies also provide legal procedures to remove members or staff who no longer subscribe to the common core beliefs.
We Can Help.
We have helped churches for years with reviewing, revising and updating their corporate documents. We can help you develop clear, written policies and procedures that will safeguard your shared beliefs and internal system of self-governance.
You need professional assistance to ensure your bylaws and operating procedures are in conformity with your organization’s common beliefs and creeds.
Whether you hire us or not—do something.
For more information on how to put our years of legal experience to work for your church or faith ministry, contact the Church Law Attorney through our Contact Page or call us at (616) 676-8770.
Our wisdom and ability comes from years of hands-on experience advising and assisting countless churches and leaders throughout Michigan. We have served on church elder boards and committees, and represented churches, church leadership, elder boards, deacon boards, classis, session, board of trustees, and church members throughout Michigan. The Church Lawyer attorney has extensive trial experience in both civil and criminal cases. The Church Lawyer wants to join you in building a strong foundation for your church and its greater mission to help complete the Great Commission.