Growing Legal Challenges Underscore Need for Churches to Prepare
In the months since the U.S. Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, imposed a false definition of marriage on the entire country, many Christian leaders have finally awakened to the real legal perils now endangering their ability to conduct their daily ministry according to biblical principles.
Pastors, denominational leaders, directors of Christian ministries and nonprofits, and administrators of Christian schools and colleges find themselves wondering how to cope with the spate of sexual orientation, gender identity non-discrimination laws (or SOGIs) that have been or are being passed in the wake of the High Court’s decision.
"Now is the time for churches to maintain a clear witness to biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality, and gender."
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley
Many looking at what to do next are finding their most practical legal resource in Protecting Your Ministry, a guide produced by Alliance Defending Freedom specifically to equip Christian organizations during these changing times.
"Now is the time for churches to maintain a clear witness to biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality, and gender,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who leads the legal team charged with helping Christian organizations resist state encroachments on their religious freedom. But it’s also crucial, he says, for churches and other ministry groups to put their own legal house in order if they are to maintain the freedom to reach out to the lost and hurting of their own communities.“
The greatest threat is in jurisdictions covered by so-called ‘nondiscrimination’ laws and ordinances,” says ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. Those laws—which over the last few years have proliferated as marriage has been redefined—“prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” They’re also being used to prevent Christian ministries from hiring or otherwise operating in a way consistent with their biblical beliefs on marriage and human sexuality.
Which is why “leaders of every church, every ministry, every faith-based organization need the Protecting Your Ministry guide,” says Kyle Hawkins, senior director of marketing for ADF. “Our hope is that they will take it and use it now—before the lawsuits come up … while the issue is hot, and while it’s on their mind. This is something they can take to their church leaders, or to whomever is in charge of their school or ministry or organization, and act on now.”
Protecting Your Ministry maps out three simple, clear steps any church or Christian organization can follow to prepare itself for potential legal action related to non-discrimination laws.
- Update the organization’s statement of faith on the issues of marriage, human sexuality, and gender. “Putting clarifying language in the statement serves to codify a church’s long-standing religious beliefs,” Stanley says.
- Ensure that the organization’s facilities usage policies allow only uses consistent with their religious beliefs. “The key point,” Stanley says, “is to tie usage of the church’s facilities to the statement of faith and religious beliefs of the church.”
- Pastors should not stop performing marriages —but should clarify their theological stance on whom they will and will not marry. For at least the near term, Stanley says, “no pastor of a church will be forced to officiate any wedding ceremony with which he disagrees.”
“ADF has always made itself available to defend churches that get into a legal battle over these laws,” Stanley says. “But we will be much better positioned to represent churches if they have already taken the actions prescribed in this guide.”
The guide is available in both English and Spanish and has accompanying video materials. It is drawing major attention not only from churches and religious schools, Hawkins says, but also from other ministries all over the country. Even groups not normally aligned with ADF, he says, have shown strong interest in the guide’s message.
"The greatest threat is in jurisdictions covered by so-called ‘non-discrimination’ laws and ordinances."
ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb
“They’re interested in the content,” he says, “and in the straightforward nature of what it’s saying: ‘Hey, here’s a legal group that wants to help you stay out of a lawsuit.’ That really speaks to people.
“This is why ADF exists,” Hawkins says, “to keep the door open for the Gospel. And Protecting Your Ministry is one of the best ways we can do that right now, practically … by helping ministries, churches, schools, and nonprofits stay focused on what they do—on the people they serve—and not have them getting embroiled in something that takes them off their mission and that they’re simply not ready for.”