After last week’s disasterous ruling by the Supreme Court, here are some important thoughts and proactive steps your church can take to protect itself.
The Court’s decision
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, held that the Equal Protection Clause requires a state to license a marriage between two people 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.
What should your church 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 the biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality, and gender. Churches should update their statement of faith to include the church’s beliefs 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 ERLC/ADF’s Protecting Your Ministry manual on these issues that provides a starting point. Clarifying the statement of faith can help a church in numerous ways. If your church has not done that 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 who they will marry and who they will not. For example, pastors will normally not marry a believer to an unbeliever and many will not perform ceremonies for someone they know did not 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 who they will marry.
Consequently, pastors should refrain from retreating from marriage ceremonies. Some have suggested that pastors disengage from “civil marriage” and only perform religious ceremonies. This type of reaction is not only legally unnecessary, but it sends a message that 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, Gospel-centered witness to who they will marry and who 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 that 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.