by Brad Dacus
Newly enacted laws, as well as recent court decisions, offer new challenges to churches regarding how they define and address issues surrounding sexual behavior and gender orientation. Consequently, churches should take precautionary steps to protect themselves from legal challenges to their theology, governance, and activities.
Such precautionary steps involve a wide range of issues like church employees, marriage ceremonies, facility usage, counseling, and other church-related ministries. While all of this can seem overwhelming, churches must not become preoccupied or be immobilized in their ministry endeavors by the “what-ifs” of potential legal challenges.
Pacific Justice Institute has prepared a number of generic documents to assist churches with managing the growing number of today’s legal challenges. For example, bylaws dealing with marriage and human sexuality need to be changed or drafted as soon as possible. This type of documentation needs to be added to a church’s statement of faith (sometimes called church tenets, articles of faith, declaration of faith, fundamental truths, etc.) and inserted into the church bylaws.
Additionally, a model marriage policy covering applicants, clergy, and facility usage should also be addressed. This kind of document is an administrative policy and, as a stand-alone document, should not be inserted into the bylaws.
All policy statements should be reviewed by an attorney familiar with a church’s mode of government, legal status in its state, and other pertinent local legal issues. As you consider these policies, Pacific Justice Institute is also available to consult about legal questions or concerns (free of charge) to churches and religious organizations.
It is also important to note these policies are by no means intended to create barriers to reaching out to those seeking redemptive help. Rather, they are necessary in assisting a church to deal with those who are opposed to church doctrine, do not respect church authority, and are willing to use legal means to challenge the church’s ability to minister to those struggling with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
BRAD DACUS is the founder and president of Pacific Justice Institute. He is also a contributor to Ministry in the New Marriage Culture from which this article is adapted. Used with permission from B&H Publishing, 2015.
The book, edited by Jeff Iorg, releases October 1, 2015, but is available for pre-order now.
For more information on protecting your church during this time, read the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission‘s 44-page booklet titled “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits.”