Last year we were jolted when the Supreme Court struck down one of the central pillars of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” effectively releasing whatever brake was still restraining same-sex marriage. This week we moved one step closer to trouble for our churches when a lawsuit was leveraged against a pair of Idaho ministers who operate a wedding chapel and refused to accommodate a same-sex couple.
No, the situation does not involve a church (it’s a commercial wedding chapel) or pastors (it’s a mom and pop ministerial team peddling their wares); still, the threat to our churches just slid closer. Pastor, are you ready? And is your church ready? If not, consider the following:
- If you rent out your church buildings commercially to marrying couples outside your membership (i.e., publicly), recognize that the time bomb is already ticking. It’s just a matter of time before your church is faced with a compromising situation—which is to say, assuming you don’t bend under pressure, a potentially litigious situation. My advice? Get out of the wedding chapel business entirely. This policy may well put a dent in your church’s budget and/or damage a relationship or two, but it will also close a door that potentially leads to catastrophic litigation.
- No matter what you do decide, document your policies carefully to avoid problems and implement them consistently. Is the building available for the marriage of members only? Document it. For a church member and a non-member of like faith and practice? Document it. For other believers who submit to marriage counseling and to specific protocols? Document it. And having prepared your documents, do not make exceptions to them, even when your most influential deacon brings his gushing niece by to rave over the flowing lines of your cute little sanctuary. The enemies of the Gospel are actively looking for churches without governing policies, and also for churches that inconsistently implement their governing policies. Take the time to shore up this vulnerability.
- Finally, Pastor, if you have been licensed by the state to perform weddings, realize that you are in some sense an officer of the state. With that position come privileges and advantages for both you and your church. Make preparations now for the possibility that you may lose those privileges and advantages if you and/or your church refuse to do all that the state asks of you.
I would like to think that the distant drums are a false alarm. And I hope that you don’t hear me announcing that all churches everywhere need to PANIC! But we’d be foolish not to prepare for the possibility of such problems as the nation continues to stumble and “slouch toward Gomorrah.”