Steps Every Church Can Take to Defend Biblical Teaching on Marriage

Posted on May 13, 2015 in Marriage, Religious Freedom by

protecting your MinistryAs I discussed yesterday, the Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the issue of marriage. More specifically, whether or not it should be legal in all 50 states for homosexuals to marry. This decision will have a major impact on every person regardless of which way the court rules.

Several years ago I was involved with educating churches and pastors on what steps they could take to protect their churches from lawsuits due to changing cultural norms. While many churches were receptive to such instruction, some churches believed it unnecessary. Few churches today seeking to protect their religious freedom think being educated is unnecessary.

Groups like The Gospel Coalition have been more cautious in recommending to churches steps that can be taken to protect their pastors, facilities, and religious freedom. So when I see recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, in conjunction with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), I take notice.

In a blog post not long ago, The Gospel Coalition recommended five ways churches can protect their religious convictions and freedom amidst a changing culture. These are five steps groups like ADF and the one I worked with were encouraging years ago; they are more critical today than ever.

The five steps are:

  1. Adopt a written statement of faith about marriage.
  2. Establish religious employment criteria.
  3. Create a facility use policy.
  4. Establish a written marriage policy.
  5. Adopt a written membership policy.

These are not out of the blue or unrealistic steps. These are common sense defenses that every church should have in place BEFORE it faces a lawsuit. The reality is that any church rightly teaching and adhering to biblical principles is a target, and only proactive measures will properly prepare that church for the battle that’s ahead.

The seriousness of this matter can be summed up in remembering the words of Chai Feldblum from 2006 when she made it clear that when religious freedom and sexual liberty collide, sexual liberty should always win. She said:

“I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win… Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that’s the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.”

Feldblum is now an appointee of President Obama to the EEOC.

Boyce College Professor Denny Burke is also urging churches to take specific steps to guard its doctrine and practice. He wrote a blog recently advocating a resource by Alliance Defending Freedom designed to for such action. Burke wrote:

“Lately, I have been getting a number of requests from Christians about how they can prepare for what’s ahead…In particular, folks want to know what steps their church or Christian group needs to take in order to defend themselves from legal action against them. For that reason, I want to highlight an important resource created by The Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that defends religious liberty claims across the country. It’s a 44-page booklet titled Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits. It’s a legal guide explaining how churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries can get ready for the inevitable challenges to come. This booklet is very practical and provides a checklist that leaders should work through based on the kind of organization they serve. You can download the booklet here for free.”

I’ve downloaded the booklet and can recommend it. It is not only practical it is thorough. It will help church leaders and pastors to create strong protections for every facet of their ministries. This doesn’t mean, of course, that someone won’t try and sue the church. But it does mean that such a lawsuit will likely be thrown out.

I understand that churches don’t want to think about these things. Pastors want to focus on helping broken people find healing in Jesus. And that is their primary mission. I get that. However, it will be hard to help people if you’re spending a lot of time in court with lawyers because someone decided to sue you. It will be hard to help people if your church is closed due to massive legal fees or government action. Taking these steps doesn’t mean you aren’t giving primary focus to your mission as the church; if anything it means you care so much about that mission that you want to ensure it continues.

I hope churches will download the free resources in this blog post and use them wisely. It may also be helpful to contact The Alliance Defending Freedom to speak with one of their world-class attorney’s concerning your church and context. With attorneys across the nation I am certain they would be familiar with your state and what specific steps would be most helpful for your church.

The last thing I want to see is churches being unprepared for the culture war taking place. Once the lawsuit has been filed things are a lot tougher. It makes far more sense to take a little time right now to develop sensible policies and procedures for handling these delicate situations. It is also worth the time to walk your entire congregation through the process of how the church will handle situations should they arise.

One thing is for sure, attacks on religious freedom will not slow down. Those seeking to change the culture and erase the traditional convictions and values that helped shape our country won’t stop. Being prepared just makes sense.

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