Churches' marriage policies being tightened
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Churches are beginning to add a stipulation in their bylaws that their ministers perform only traditional marriages on their premises, in response to the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decisions in late June.
Greg Erwin, a Baton Rouge attorney who represents the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Baptist Message state paper and several Louisiana Baptist entities, said it is hard to speculate on what the decisions may mean for churches.
"The ruling means the same for Louisiana churches as for churches in all states except that in states where they have banned discrimination based upon sexual orientation, churches are more at risk than churches in states that would not pass such a law," Erwin said.
If the Supreme Court becomes reliably liberal by losing one conservative judge to a liberal, Erwin said, the court in a future decision could require that churches marry homosexuals.
"It would seem that the law now is that churches do not have to perform marriages that violate its beliefs," Erwin said. "However, if a church rents out its facilities for weddings to anyone but same-sex couples, then a court could find that the church is discriminating in violation of law by only refusing to rent to homosexuals.
"The free exercise of religion guaranteed by our Constitution is subject to future restriction by Congress, legislatures and the courts under the guise of balancing competing rights," the attorney said. "We are at risk by staying true to our biblical principles."
Stacy Morgan, a church administration strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, is working with Erwin to develop a standard policy that churches may adopt regarding the use of facilities and church membership.
Morgan advised churches to start a conversation on how they will address the issue.
"Specifically, we need to examine how we can continue to be a good neighbor in the community and honor God with the resources He has entrusted to us," Morgan said. "How can we uphold a high standard of holiness that honors God and still be integrated with the community? That is what we'll have to deal with."
Some churches acted before the Supreme Court rulings to include wording in their bylaws that they would recognize marriage as only between a man and a woman.
"We did it because we saw this coming several years ago," said Tom Carlton, pastor of Grawood Baptist Church in Keithville, which made a change four years ago. "Many churches have been preparing for this for a while. It's sad but necessary."
Airline Baptist Church in Bossier City added a policy in May that addresses weddings, receptions and other events.
"Our culture is changing and the standards are being lowered," said Chad Mills, Airline Baptist's pastor. "We wanted to be proactive and address the church policies and to put something into action that would protect our church and our values.
"We don't want to be legally forced to recognize, to allow or to host any kind of marriage that is not a marriage as defined by the Bible as one man and one woman," Mills said.
Ridge Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell decided in June to recognize only traditional marriage and said no one is allowed to perform a same-sex marriage on their property.
"It is a shame that we have to vote on something like this," said Paul Dabdoub, Ridge Memorial's pastor. "But for protection, it is a must."
First Baptist Church in Blanchard changed its bylaws in June after reading a Baptist Press article on the need to include a traditional marriage definition.
Randy Davis, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hammond, said he planned to meet with other pastors in his area to discuss making proper bylaws changes dealing with marriage.
"Whatever statement we make, I want to affirm human dignity, which applies even to homosexuals, who like all of mankind [are] made in the image of God," Davis said. "Homosexuality is more than a sin; it is a degradation of the image in which we are made."
Neil Caver, pastor of Cedarcrest Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said the church's bylaws already define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the church is considering adding a stipulation that no pastors affiliated with the church will be allowed to perform gay weddings.
First Baptist Church in Calhoun plans to add relevant language to its bylaws in the near future.
"Our bylaws will state the biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman and that marriages outside those parameters will not be performed by church ministers or on church property," said Neil Everett, First Baptist Calhoun's pastor.
The current policy at First Baptist Church in Westlake requires premarital counseling with the pastor. Wayne McEntire, the church's pastor, said they're adding a precaution for the same reasons as other churches -- "to protect ourselves from the possibility of having a possible scenario where someone joins the church and demands use of the facilities for a same-sex ceremony."
"As it is now, our policy would prevent that because it requires premarital counseling sessions and I would deny access to an unbiblical wedding," McEntire said. "A stated bylaw would further articulate the position of the church should it ever be challenged in a legal manner."
Brian Blackwell writes for the Baptist Message, (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).