HANNIBAL – With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of same-sex “marriage” later this year, Missouri Baptist churches should prepare by developing policies that clearly define their biblical stance on marriage.
“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure – and much better than getting pounded in the courtroom someday,” Michael Whitehead, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) chief legal advisor and principal of Whitehead Law Firm LLC in Kansas City, said.
Whitehead will be one of the featured speakers at the MBC’s Worldview Conference at Hannibal-LaGrange University here, April 2. During the conference, he will discuss how churches should prepare for the possible – and, according to some experts, probable—Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex “marriage.”
After this ruling, if a church were ever to be sued by a “same-sex” couple, it would be important that the church has written proof of its biblical views about marriage.
“In court, lawyers defending churches must present evidence to prove a church’s biblical belief and consistent practice,” Whitehead said. “Drafting and adopting bylaws and policies now can provide critical evidence in the future to help prove that the church holds biblical convictions about man-woman marriage, and thus is entitled to religious liberty protections. Deeply held convictions are more likely to be protected by the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause than are casual opinions. Stating such convictions in church bylaws shows their fundamental importance. They are not just after-thoughts.
“Whether a marriage policy fits best in the constitution, bylaws, church covenant, or statement of faith will vary from church to church, depending on the particular language of your governing documents. A lawyer may help to advise how best to insert policies into your documents.
“Generally, we recommend adding a marriage and human sexuality section to the statement of faith, which may be part of the constitution or bylaws. The bylaws and church covenant should require that members affirm the statement of faith. Then the policies regarding facilities use, employment, leadership, etc., may be added to particular policies addressing these topics. We will give more specific illustrations about how to package these policies at the Worldview Conference.”
At the request of MBC Executive Director John Yeats, Whitehead drafted a model policy in 2013 that churches may wish to consider. It’s available as a free download at www.TheWhiteheadFirm.com.
Alongside stating that “the church and its ministers will perform only a biblical marriage between a man and a woman,” policies on marriage should address the following questions:
• “Does the church perform weddings only for members or for non-members?”
• “Are church facilities available to the public for weddings or other events?”
• “Are ministers from other churches permitted to officiate?”
“All these choices carry various legal risks, and should be approached biblically and consistently,” Whitehead said. “At the Worldview Conference, we will be distributing for the first time newly drafted sample policies for churches on other issues including membership, leadership, personnel, and facilities use.
“In addition to the same sex marriage issue, we will provide biblical policy guidance on the issue of gender identity, including transgender persons who seek access to facilities and services in the church in disregard of their sex. Public accommodation laws may change in the future to apply both to sexual orientation claims and gender identity claims. We expect such claims will pose new challenges to churches with a biblical view of human sexuality as created by God. To insure they have a religious liberty defense, churches need to clearly state their biblical policies regarding these issues.”
Learn more about the 2015 Worldview Conference and register today on www.mbcpathway.com/worldview.