What Should Your Church Be Aware Of?

What Should Your Church Be Aware Of?

Executive Director
Rob Appel

The U.S. Supreme Court Decision Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 26, 2015, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. This decision also requires states to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state.

Although this seems to be a landmark decision, this ruling does not appear to take away any of the rights that religious organizations currently have under the law. The First Amendment ensures us that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so vital to their lives and faith, and to their own deep objectives to continue the family structure they have long valued. Still, this ruling leaves unanswered questions, and those questions could lead to confusion and concerns for our churches and their ministries.

With this in mind, what should our SDB Churches do? What should our SDB Pastors do?

So What Does This Mean for Churches?

This ruling does not appear to take away any of the rights that religious organizations currently have under the law. Still, the ruling leaves concerns for ministries. Common concerns include whether a pastor must perform a same-sex wedding ceremony or whether a church must make its facilities available for same-sex wedding events. We do have some things we should do in our churches to ensure we are being compliant with the law of the land.

Communicate Expectations

Your church should have Biblically-based beliefs and policies documented in the bylaws, articles, and other foundational documents. Stating the church’s belief, along with applicable reference to scripture in your governing documents, can help avoid claims of improper discrimination. Churches and ministries will do well to clearly communicate what the church’s positions and policies are based on sincerely held religious belief. This lays the foundation for the ministry to operate in accordance with its stated belief, found in the bylaws.

Your church must be consistent in its response to questions. The church or ministry cannot treat an individual or a group of people differently than it does another person or group. For example, if the church offers the sanctuary or event center for rent to the general public, yet declines to allow a same-sex couple to rent the facility, the individual whom the church declined may have a valid claim of discrimination. The odds of the church losing a lawsuit increase significantly. Your church would be better served only renting to members of the church.

Take Steps to Avoid a Lawsuit

To reduce the likelihood of an individual bringing a successful same-sex-related lawsuit against your church, your church might want to consider the following steps:

1) Include a spiritual purpose provision in the governing documents/bylaws. Be sure the organizational governing documents clearly state the ministry’s spiritual purpose,reliance on scripture, and the intent to advance the ministry in accordance with scripture. Where appropriate, quote scripture within the purpose statement.

2) Respond with sensitivity. Train the clergy, staff, and volunteers to approach individual needs and requests with empathy. Although the church cannot meet every request or demand, the manner in which it conveys its response is sometimes as important as what is decided.

3) Consult with local counsel. If your church is revising its organizational documents, ministry policies, and procedures, it should involve a local attorney. A wide variety of federal, state, and local laws apply to employment and facilities use. Consulting with a local attorney can provide guidance on any state-specific and local legal issues that the church may encounter.

I hope that this has been helpful. Following the steps listed above can help our churches continue to operate in accordance with their sincerely held religious belief

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