The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Faith

August 25, 2013

Churches changing bylaws after gay marriage ruling

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  Worried they could be sued by gay couples, some churches are changing their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible allows only marriage between one man and one woman.

Although there have been lawsuits against wedding industry businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, attorneys promoting the bylaw changes say they don't know of any lawsuits against churches.

Critics say the changes are unnecessary, but some churches fear that it's only a matter of time before one of them is sued.

"I thought marriage was always between one man and one woman, but the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said no," said Gregory S. Erwin, an attorney for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, an association of Southern Baptist churches and one several groups advising churches to change their bylaws. "I think it's better to be prepared because the law is changing. America is changing."

In a June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. A second decision was more technical but essentially ushered in legal gay marriage in California.

Kevin Snider is an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense group that specializes in conservative Christian issues. His organization released a model marriage policy a few years ago in response to a statewide gay marriage fight in California. Snider said some religious leaders have been threatened with lawsuits for declining to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Dean Inserra, head pastor of the 1,000-member City Church Tallahassee, based in Florida, said he does not want to be alarmist, but his church is looking into how best to address the issue.

Inserra said he already has had to say no to gay friends who wanted him to perform a wedding ceremony.

"We have some gay couples that attend our church. What happens when they ask us to do their wedding?" Inserra said. "What happens when we say no? Is it going to be treated like a civil rights thing?"

Critics, including some gay Christian leaders, argue that the changes amount to a solution looking for a problem.

"They seem to be under the impression that there is this huge movement with the goal of forcing them to perform ceremonies that violate their freedom of religion," said Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, a nonprofit that provides support for gay Christians and their friends and families and encourages churches to be more welcoming.

"If anyone tried to force a church to perform a ceremony against their will, I would be the first person to stand up in that church's defense."

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage.

Some Christian denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, accept gay marriage. The Episcopal Church recently approved a blessing for same-sex couples, but each bishop must decide whether to allow the ceremony in his or her local diocese.

The majority of Christian denominations, however, view homosexual relationships as sinful. In more hierarchical denominations, like the Roman Catholic Church or the United Methodist Church, individual churches are bound by the policies of the larger denomination. But nondenominational churches and those loosely affiliated with more established groups often individually decide how to address social issues such as gay marriage.

Eric Rassbach is an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest legal group that defends the free expression rights of all faiths. He said it is unlikely the government would try to force a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage, but churches that rent out their facilities to the general public could face problems if they refuse to rent to gay couples.

Although his organization has not advocated it, he said it could strengthen a church's legal position to adopt a statement explaining its beliefs about marriage.

"A number of groups don't have a written doctrine," Rassbach said. "Say a group like the Primitive Baptists — they don't want a written-down credo, but the courts like written-down things."

Rassbach said it was important for churches to get their beliefs in writing before a dispute arises, otherwise it can look to a court as if something was done after the fact as an attempt to cover up hostility to gays.

Airline Baptist Church Senior Pastor Chad Mills said members of the public use their facilities in Bossier City, La., for many activities, including Zumba classes. In the past, anyone who could pay the fee was allowed to reserve the space. But recently, the church changed its rental policy to allow wedding-related events only for male-female couples.

Some denominations are less concerned about the Supreme Court rulings. The Assemblies of God, the group of churches comprising the world's largest Pentecostal denomination, sought legal advice after the rulings. An attorney for the group distributed a memo to ministers saying there was no reason to change their bylaws.

However, the memo also said that "doing so is not inappropriate, and may be warranted based on future rulings by the Supreme Court and other state and federal courts."

The bylaw changes are coming at a time when many churches are wrestling with gay marriage in general and are working hard to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians.

"It's probably one of the most difficult issues our churches are facing right now," said Doug Anderson, a national coordinator with the evangelical Vineyard Church. "It's almost an impossible situation to reconcile what's going on in our culture, and our whole theology of welcoming and loving people, versus what it says in the Bible."

 

1
Text Only
Faith
  • FEA - HB0823 - Florida Station COG - JC 29a Relationships for God Jerry Hilligoss, the pastor at Florida Station Church of God, said he’s learned over the last 18 years not to beat people over the head with the Bible.

    August 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church News: Aug. 23 The following are brief Church News items of local interest.

    August 22, 2014

  • NWS - HB0822 - AU move in - 021 Rainy move-in doesn't dampen freshman spirit

    In the 14 years he's taken part in freshmen move-in day, Stu Erny, director of Campus Ministries and International Student Services at Anderson University, said this is the first time the weather has been unpleasant.

    August 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Davis, Verna mug Verna Davis: Got a song stuck in your head? Just surrender Ever have a song stuck in your head? You find yourself thinking about the song at random times during the day. Or humming the song at odd times during the day. Or worse yet, when stopped at a traffic signal you find yourself belting it out only to realize that even with the windows rolled up, the person in the car beside you can hear your not-so-musical rendition.

    August 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • FEA - HB0816 - church news - Azzato, Jennifer Church News: Aug. 16 The following are brief Church News items of local interest.

    August 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Judge: Church of God fraud case closed No objections have been filed preventing the closure of a decade-old investment fraud case involving the Church Extension of the Church of God. The deadline for objections to a plan resolving the case was Aug. 4.

    August 8, 2014

  • FEA - HB0809 - United in Christ - DH 4 Uniting to serve A meaningful relationship with God can grow within the walls of a church, but for the congregation at United in Christ Church, that connection happens by taking time to step away from the pews and walk into the community.

    August 8, 2014 4 Photos

  • Verna Davis: Asking and answering some rhetorical questions

    A rhetorical question implies its own answer so in order to make a point. Sometimes, rhetorical questions are meant to engage us in...well…umm…some sort of rhetoric. Just for the fun of it, let’s ask (and answer) some rhetorical questions.

    August 8, 2014

  • Church News: Aug. 9 The following are brief Church News items of local interest.

    August 8, 2014

  • FEA hb0802 World Race 1 Called to serve Life right after college is a time of uncertainty and scrambling for a full-time job for a lot of recent graduates, but Holly Smith has known in her heart for a while what she was destined to do after commencement.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
More Resources from The Herald Bulletin