Protection from anarchy
How Can Churches and Ministries Protect Themselves in the Wake of the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Ruling?
By now, you have heard the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long- anticipated decision that imposed a 50- state same-sex marriage mandate. Pastors and churches have exhibited a great degree of uncertainty preceding this moment, wondering what the effect will be on their ministry. Now that the decision has been released, though, we can respond with greater clarity. Here are the immediate things you need to know. The Court’s Decision The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that the Equal Protection Clause requires a state to license a marriage between two persons of the same sex and to recognize a same-sex marriage entered into lawfully in another state. In so holding, the Supreme Court struck down the state constitutional amendments of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The decision redefines marriage for the entire country to include same-sex couples. The majority opinion stated the following with respect to religious opposition to same-sex marriage: “Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.” This statement is welcome to be sure. But the greatest threat for churches lies in the application of the court’s decision to believers who live in jurisdictions covered by so-called “non-discrimination” laws and ordinances. Everywhere that marriage has been redefined in the last several years has seen an awakening of non-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws are peppered throughout the states and local governments and are a linchpin of the sexual revolution’s broader legal and political strategy: to establish non-discrimination laws at all levels throughout the country and to “ensure that religion is not used as an excuse to discriminate.” In coming days, the threat from these non-discrimination laws will materialize in numerous ways as same-sex couples marry. But there are proactive steps churches can take to protect themselves. What Should Churches Do? 1. Churches should update their statement of faith on the issues of marriage, human sexuality, and gender. Now is the time for churches to maintain a clear witness to biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality and gender. Churches should update their statement of faith to include the congregation’s belief on these issues. Doing it in the wake of the Supreme Court decision will not be viewed negatively by a court if a legal issue ever arises. Instead, putting clarifying language in the statement of faith merely serves to codify a church’s long-standing religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom has sample language in itsProtecting Your Ministry manual that provides a starting point. Clarifying the statement of faith can help a church in numerous ways. If your church has not done so already, now is the time. 2. Pastors will not be legally compelled to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies—for now. In the near term, no pastor will be forced to officiate any wedding ceremony with which he disagrees. Pastors remain free to make a theological determination about whom they will marry and whom they will not. For example, pastors will often not marry a believer to an unbeliever, and many will not perform ceremonies for someone they know didn’t have biblical grounds for a previous divorce. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion changes the freedom of pastors to continue to make those theologically based decisions about whom they will marry. Consequently, pastors should refrain from retreating from marriage ceremonies. Some have suggested pastors disengage from “civil marriage” and only perform religious ceremonies. This type of reaction is not only legally unnecessary, but it sends the message pastors have “abdicated the field” on the battleground of marriage. Instead, pastors should engage more fervently in advocating and expounding the truth about marriage by maintaining a faithful witness to whom they will marry and whom they will not. 3. Churches should ensure their facilities usage policies are revised to allow only uses consistent with the church’s religious beliefs. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, some churches may be approached by same-sex couples seeking to be married in the church facility. Churches should not feel as if they have to close their doors to the community just to prevent wedding ceremonies with which they disagree. Churches must continue to be a welcoming presence in the community and can do so through updating or revising their facility usage policy. The key point is to tie usage of the church’s facility to the statement of faith and religious beliefs of the church. And then to make clear that uses inconsistent with those religious beliefs will not be allowed. Alliance Defending Freedom has a sample facilities usage policy available in its Protecting Your Ministry manual. Other suggestions for churches are contained in the manual as well. Now is an opportune time for ministries to download the manual and follow the suggested guidelines to ensure they are protected. Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, marriage has not changed. Society may suppress the truth, but it cannot any more change the truth than it can the color of the sky. The church has always proclaimed the gospel to cultures and societies who have rejected truth. Now, more than ever, the church must fulfill its mission. We may not know in every detail how the marriage decision will affect America’s churches, but groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to work aggressively on the legal front to keep the door open for free speech, including the spread of the gospel. You and your church are not alone. Erik Stanley is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. Stanley leads the litigation team specializing in defending churches and ministries from state encroachment on their mission and witness. He obtained his MDiv, summa cum laude, from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013.
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