Lexington—Churches can protect themselves from lawsuits for refusing to host same-sex marriages by taking some simple steps, including adopting written policies that clearly spell out their biblical objections, an attorney told church leaders Aug. 22.
Kentucky Baptist attorney Bryan Beauman said the first line of defense is to put everything in writing.
“Some think that by adopting a formal policy they are stirring up a hornet’s nest,” said Beauman, but not doing so, he said, makes the church an easy target.
Beauman, who led a training workshop at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, spelled out the steps churches should take in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
The workshop will be offered again in coming weeks at “Super Saturday” conferences in Bowling Green and Louisville.
“We want to have written protections and policies in place that communicate what the church’s views are both in the church and with the community so that if any legal claims are ever made the church’s stance is crystal clear,” Beauman said.
Beauman said churches should:
n Add language about gender, sexuality and marriage to their confessions of faith.
n Establish formal policies for church membership and discipline.
– Adopt policies spelling out the circumstances under which pastors will participate in weddings and under which churches will host weddings.
n Adopt employment standards that require employees to agree with the confession of faith and uphold standards of conduct.
n Create a policy for who can use church facilities.
Beauman said he expects Christian organizations that receive government funding to be next in line to face legal challenges from gay rights groups.
“I would be concerned about the private schools, the colleges and universities, any recipients of federal funds, food pantry services or soup kitchens and homeless shelters,” he said. “They really need to be on the ball and get protections in place.”
But that doesn’t mean church leaders can relax, thinking they won’t be dragged through the courts, Beauman cautioned.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said. Just ask pastors in Europe, he said, who are feeling the heat from activists for refusing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“If you think you can lay low and not make yourself a target,” Beauman said, “when that wolf comes knocking at the door, you’re not going to have a defense.”
Beauman’s workshop was one of more than 70 offered at “Super Saturday,” the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s largest training event of the year. Other “Super Saturday” workshops deal with such topics as church health, discipleship, missions, Sunday school and church planting. There are also age-related sessions for ministering to preschool through adults.