Obergefell v. Hodges: Some Questions, Options, and Resources for Churches
In June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. That case and the court’s ruling addressed whether or not persons of the same sex could be legally married in this country.
Following several inquiries from churches of Dover Baptist Association, Dover’s director of missions researched information about the ruling, its implications for churches, and possible actions churches might take. The director assumes that the church leaders’ inquiries grow out of their understanding that the Bible describes any sexual behavior outside of the marriage between one man and one woman as something other than what God, the Creator, designed. The resources listed in this report came to the director’s attention from the church leaders who made inquiries, publications, conversations with Baptist leaders, with peers, and with Dover’s attorney, and through personal research. The director has attempted to summarize information that helps to answer those questions in this report. However, this summary report cannot attempt to deal specifically with all the facets related to the court’s ruling and the resulting questions for churches. It should not be viewed as legal guidance nor as recommending any specific action(s).
Generally speaking, the questions from Dover churches seek answers to something their leaders view as urgent. They asked questions about what action they should take, if any, and how quickly they should take action. Those questions are part of the conversation, but, in the director’s view, they are secondary questions. In the director’s mind, church leaders might first ask, “Given what Christ’s followers call the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, how might Christ’s followers fulfill the mission Jesus gave us to teach, disciple, and baptize persons from all groups of people when we also understand from reading the Bible that those persons or groups with which they identify may practice or condone behavior that we understand the Bible says we should not condone?”
In the end, Christ-followers and their congregations have several key areas to address in prayer as we ask God how to proceed:
1. Christians are called to carry the Gospel to all persons, and all persons–including those in the Body of Christ–have sinned. How do Christians love the sinner and welcome that person into the Body of Christ without condoning the sin?
2. In the U. S., ministers may officiate at a state-recognized marriage ceremony. In some other countries, the state recognizes a civil marriage ceremony, and ministers conduct a separate religious marriage ceremony recognized by the congregation. Should Christians in the U. S. also make that distinction?
3. Jesus said to “give [the government what belongs to the government] and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25). In the U. S., churches enjoy property tax or other tax exemptions because of the First Amendment. If the courts were to ever say congregations and their leaders must act in a way contrary to the free exercise of their faith or risk losing that exemption, where is the congregation’s priority?
4. The Bible tells us that God gives us government and calls us to pray for those in authority over us. What other godly choices may Christian citizens make as we fill the place God has assigned us in our civic context?
Russell Moore wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which he stated, “First of all, the church should not panic.” (See “Why the church should neither cave nor panic about the decision on gay marriage” which was posted at www.washingtonpost.com on June 26, 2015.) He also says, “We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does—with mercy and with an invitation to new life.”
From its earliest days until now, the greater Baptist family has agreed that each congregation and each of the Baptist bodies with which it cooperates is autonomous. Various Baptist bodies have already made statements relating to the court’s decision (and other issues) that make their stances clear while also affirming the autonomy of the congregations that form them. For example, on June 26, 2015 the Executive Director and President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia issued the following joint statement:
“The Baptist General Association of Virginia honors the autonomy of the local church and of the individual believer. Each congregation and believer will have their own statements to make in response to the decision of the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage released earlier today. The BGAV has, in annual sessions, challenged every congregation to be caring and respectful to all persons while affirming its commitment to the biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Baptist News (www.baptistnews.com) published an article about First Baptist Church of Greenville, SC on August 17, 2015. The article stated that the church had approved the following statement:
“In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist, Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Given the inquiries from the churches, the director assumes that the church leaders making those inquiries would not consider such a statement as a biblical option.
What else might a church and its leaders do? They can do nothing. Several groups have published resource booklets and other materials (see “Some Resources”). The option to do nothing assumes the church will wait until some other challenge comes before the courts to further clarify what the current court decision may come to mean for churches.
Church leaders and members might gather information. The director found multiple sources. When gathering information, church leaders should examine the source of the information for themselves. The director found two summary documents which could provide information and lead to additional research. One of those came from the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty. The other came from Christian Legal Society. (See “Some Resources” re both documents.)
The summary document from the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty (“The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling: What you need to know now”) reminds us that the First Amendment has not changed.
“The way your church does marriage does not need to change. The Court’s decision does not remove the separation of church and state. Churches will continue to make their own decisions about the marriage ceremonies they conduct. This was true before the decision and continues to be true. The Court’s ruling can be an occasion for houses of worship and ministers to reflect on and educate members about the relationship between the civil and religious aspects of marriage.”
The summary document from Christian Legal Society (“Church Guidance for Same-Sex Issues: Frequently Asked Questions”) covers more questions. One of its answers includes the following statement (see Question 3),
“Distinguishing types of sin that suggests one sin is worse than another is not good theology but presents an even worse legal and public relations scenario. A church should clearly state its positive stance on Biblical marriage as between one man and one woman for a lifetime and that all sex outside of Biblical marriage is a sin and if not repented could be a bar to membership, leadership, employment, etc. But focusing only on homosexuality or just same sex marriage could be problematic in many ways.”
If the church decides to act, several of the resources suggest very specific actions. Most of these relate to governing documents, policies, and even membership covenants or documents which each individual member or staff member would sign. The director found booklets or templates for such documents from several sources (see “Some Resources”).
Dover’s attorney raises at least three questions. In the case of a church that has not adopted specific governance and/or policy statements, the attorney raises the question of whether that church would have the ability to successfully defend itself against a sexual orientation gender identity lawsuit. The attorney raises a similar question if the church has adopted general but not specific statements. In the case of a church that has adopted specific governance and/or policy statements but not applied them consistently, the attorney raises the question of whether that church could successfully defend itself against such a lawsuit.
Jeff Iorg, on Page 195 of The Painful Side of Leadership: Moving Forward Even When It Hurts, writes,
“To be sure, some issues, decisions, problems, and situations require a courageous stand. Some things are worth fighting for! But be sure you make a wise evaluation before you make such a momentous decision.”
Whatever our choices, may God help each of Christ’s followers to live out the love we know in Jesus as best we can while also staying faithful to the God he revealed to us.
The Holy Bible
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. www.bjconline.org. See the summary “The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling: What you need to know now” for an overview.
Christian Law Association. www.christianlaw.org. See “The Fundamentals of Church Bylaws” and note, for example, Page 80.
Christian Legal Society. www.clsnet.org/church-guidance-webinar. See the summary “Church Guidance for Same-Sex Issues: Frequently Asked Questions” for an overview and the booklet “Church Guidance for Same-Sex Issues” for templates.
Church Law and Tax. www.churchlawandtax.com. See, for example, “Court’s Marriage Ruling Creates Uncertainty for Churches, Clergy” by Matt Branaugh, June 30, 2015.
Liberty Counsel. www.lc.org. See “Churches and Laws Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” for an overview. Also see other documents re church bylaws, employment and administrative policies, facility use policies, etc. (Dover’s attorney called attention to the resources available from Liberty Counsel.)
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. www.erlc.com. See the booklet “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits: A Legal Guide for Southern Baptist and Evangelical Churches, Schools, and Ministries” (which is essentially the same booklet available from Alliance Defending Freedom) for templates.
Alliance Defending Freedom. www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org. See the booklet “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits: A Legal Guide for Churches, Christian Schools, and Christian Ministries” (which is essentially the same booklet available from The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) for templates.
Recovery from chemical dependence and addiction is a lifelong journey. Treatment for the substance addictions combined with community recovery support meetings are often helpful. Some recoveries are focused on chemical use. Other recoveries focus on addiction to certain behaviors. When the first steps into abstinence and behavior change have been well established, there are often life areas that need healing:
- Marital, family and other relationships
- Self-view and self-confidence
- Employment and career, work productivity, and
- Parent-child relating.
In order to facilitate the healing process, VIPCare is forming the Adult Addicion Recover Therapy Group, a counseling group for adults in recovery who would like to move further into the recovery journey. Rather than education or treatment, this is an ongoing means of continuing one’s work on life areas that have been weakened or strongly damaged by past chemical abuse, behaviors and resulting circumstances.
Chris Bowers, M.Div., CSAC, ASE has over 20 years group counseling experience in the addictions treatment profession, having worked in non-profit and for-profit organizations, psychiatric/behavioral inpatient facilities, and Intensive Outpatient treatment programs. He has counseling experience with adults and adolescents, and is knowledgeable about licensed or certified professionals in recovery.
Donald D. Denton, D.Min., LPC, LMFT has worked in counseling settings for over 30 years and has experience in doing therapy with veterans and others dealing with PTSD, substance abuse, marital and depression issues, and with families, teens, and children. He has led courses in the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program for over ten years (VASAP).
DETAILS: The Adult Addiction Recovery Therapy Group will meet weekly on Saturday mornings, 11:30am to 1pm at 2000 Bremo Road, Suite 105, Richmond. Group fee is $75 and insurance can be submitted (depending upon the company). A potential group member must have at least 2 years in recovery with full abstinence. Group size is limited to 10 and will be mixed in gender. A commitment of 12 sessions will be required for persons to start the group; participation is open-ended after the initial twelve. Given the group purpose, no breathalyzer testing or other screening will be done, and this group is not intended for those who are mandated by law or employment. A screening interview for group involvement is required.
For complete information, please contact VIPCare at 804-282-8332 or email email@example.com
Storytelling Concert, Friday, November 6, 7:00 p.m. | Storytelling Workshop, Saturday, November 7, 9:00-3:00
Discover the power of story and humor to transform lives! Rev. Geraldine Buckley, an internationally known and award-winning storyteller, will guide participants in shaping and telling personal stories. Learn ways to use stories for outreach and ministry.
On Friday, November 6, the storytelling concert will show this in practice. On Saturday, November 7, the storytelling workshop will help you learn "how to" through discussion, participation, and fun. Buy tickets to the storytelling concert, "Hilarious True Tales: Stories to Make You Laugh and Think" with Geraldine Buckley, on Friday, November 6, 7 p.m. for $7.50 per person (in advance) or $10 per person at the door. Pre-register for the storytelling workshop ($40) on Saturday, November 7, 9:00-3:00 and use your registration ticket for free admission to the storytelling concert. The first 60 members of Dover Baptist Association churches who pre-register for the workshop will receive a $15 dollar discount. (Use the discount code: "DoverBaptistAssociation" when you pre-register, identify your Dover church, and Dover will pay $15 of your $40 workshop fee.) Your workshop fee includes all materials. You will want to bring a lunch or dine on your own at the lunch break.
- Antioch Baptist Church, a traditional but future-focused church (established in 1776) is looking for a full-time ordained minister. Candidate must be a graduate of an accredited seminary school, have good communication skills, and possess the ability to spread God’s word to a diverse and loving congregation of approximately 100 per Sunday. Interested candidates are asked to send résumés to: P.O. Box 935, Sandston, Va. 23150 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Corinth Baptist Church seeks a full-time Associate Minister of Education & Worship. Applications can be submitted at email@example.com. More information about the position is available on the church website at www.corinthbaptist.us/job-openings/
- Emmaus Baptist Church seeks a part-time Minister of Youth. Please e-mail a cover letter and resume on or before June 28 to Emmausbapchurch@gmail.com
- First Baptist Church, Richmond, seeks a part-time organist (20-25 hours per week) to accompany choirs and soloists and help lead two worship services each Sunday. The organist would prepare for and accompany regular weekly rehearsals (and extra rehearsals as needed) for the Church Choir and the Youth Choir, as well as seasonal services (e.g., Christmas Eve, Lenten, and Holy Week services) and Worship Ministry concerts. Bachelor’s degree in music required. Master’s preferred plus at least five years of service as organist on a church staff. Salary approximately $35,000 per year based on education and experience. Complete the application here or send resume to Susan Marshall, First Baptist Church, 2709 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23220, or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Four Mile Creek Baptist Church seeks a part-time Youth Minister. Please contact Pastor Sam Grozdanov at 804-795-2044 or e-mail email@example.com.
- Poplar Springs Baptist Church is seeking a Worship Leader to lead a worship/music ministry that includes praise teams, choirs, band, multimedia, instruments, musicians, artists, and other music considerations to create an inviting worshipful atmosphere where people encounter God. For Job Description and details please contact the church office at (804) 795-1238 or click here
- Shalom Baptist Church will be offering a NEW casual, contemporary worship service at 8:30 am beginning October 4. We are looking for talented musicians, specifically a drummer, for our Praise Team. If you want to share your talent with us, contact Jean Dart, Minister of Music & Worship, at 691-5893 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an audition.
We have already reached 20% of the “Raise the Roof in Macedonia” goal! I do not know how much money is on the way, but I know more is coming.
So far, I know that one church gave generously from its missions fund. I know that some donors have given through the e-giving link. I heard about emptying out the piggy bank, and I heard about sharing a refund.
I have been to Macedonia and met some of our Baptist brothers and sisters there. The unemployment rate is Macedonia is about five times higher than ours. Even so, they prove faithful stewards and make great sacrifices of time, talents, and money for Kingdom work. God multiplies what they have to share and honors their faithfulness by providing others to share the load.
That is where we come in as partners to help “Raise the Roof in Macedonia” (click here). If each Dover church shared a gift of less than $5 per person for (or from) everyone who attended Dover’s churches on an average Sunday, we could hit our $30,000 goal in one week!
Kathy and I have given a gift through our church. I hope you have taken the time to give a gift through your church or directly to Dover Baptist Association.
Many Dover Baptists make sacrifices every week or every month to support Dover’s churches. Some of that money supports the association, its staff (including me), and our work. I am deeply grateful. Other than our General Budget and the annual Association Missions Offering, I rarely ask Dover Baptists to give more to something we promote.
Today, I am asking Dover Baptists to give more. If you can, give your gift now or by Easter Sunday. This is the right time to help our our brothers and sisters get the exterior of their second site in Skopje finished! Together, we can help them do this. It will only happen if we share the news of this opportunity and encourage Dover Baptists (and others) to give.
Please, pray for the Baptists in Macedonia and make your gift. Please, invite others to pray and give too. Sacrifice something, then give the money you did not spend to this campaign instead. Thank you for doing whatever God leads you to do about this.
Step 1: Get information of the unchurched children and parents into the hands of the Sunday School (SS)
- Before parents night get information from registration cards to the church Sunday School outreach director. The information is entered into the SS prospect file.
- The SS outreach director then forwards the information to the appropriate SS classes. For the children it is the directors, for the parents is a class outreach leader or teacher. They now have the information they need to be good hosts on parent’s night.
Step 2: SS directors, teachers and/or outreach leaders (depending on age group) attend the parent’s night activities and meet the children and their parents.
- Teachers and/or outreach leaders invite the children and parents to join them at Sunday School or Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday morning.
- Agree to meet the parents and children in the church parking lot or welcome center on Sunday morning. The person who meets them at parent’s night should be the one who meets them on Sunday morning.
Step 3: Sunday morning assimilation.
- Meet the parents and children on Sunday morning as agreed, escort them to their appropriate class rooms and introduce them to the class.
- Offer to enroll them in SS. This should be done by the teacher or outreach leader of the class. (See information about starting a new class on reverse.)
Step 4: The Sunday School outreach team continues to follow up.
- In the children’s department it is the class teachers who are responsible for making contact on behalf of the SS class. In the adult classes the class outreach leader should assign each parent to a class care group leaders.
- Continue follow up with various contacts.
- Invite parents and children to fellowship or special events as opportunity presents.
- Continue to pray for and network with parents and children as appropriate.
- Parents and children remain on the prospect file for at least six months.
Profession of faith follow up
Special attention should be given to children who made a profession of faith during VBS. This will include a counselling visit by a church staff person and/or a church deacon. An alternative is for the VBS teacher to provide that counselling. It should be done in the home and with the parents present and in a timely fashion.
Start a new adult SS class before VBS begins
- It is easier to invite and assimilate new people into new groups when everyone is new rather than attempting to introduce new people to existing classes with existing cemented relationships.
- In advance enlist a teacher, class outreach leader-secretary, and two to three care group leaders. These leaders are enlisted from existing classes.
- Train the new leaders with job descriptions and support resources.
- On parent’s night invite the parents to attend the new adult class.
- Follow suggestions in step 3.
Step 5: Enjoy a well-deserved vacation. Now VBS is over!
Associate for Church Development
Dover Baptist Association
(click here for the PDF version)
Dover churches may send voting messengers to this meeting (see below). In addition to voting messengers, the Association invites any Dover Baptist and their guests to share in this inspiring meeting.
Location: Mount Olivet Baptist Church
15583 Coatesville Road, Beaverdam 23015
Time: 3-5 pm
Elect your Messengers! Article 4 of Dover’s Constitution states:
Each member church shall be entitled to send two messengers to Annual, Semiannual and special Called Association Meetings. A church that contributes at least $400 to the General Fund during the Association’s previous fiscal year shall be entitled to have three (3) messengers. An additional messenger is added for each additional $400 contribution to the General Fund up to a maximum of seven (7) messengers for any church.
What is Operation Inasmuch?
Operation Inasmuch is a national nonprofit that employs proven models to motivate, train, and equip churches to move more congregants out of the sanctuary seats and into the streets to serve the neediest in their communities.
Operation Inasmuch is also a movement of churches across America, a Compassion Revolution. Over 1600 churches in 21 states have joined the Revolution. 405 of these churches reported that they collectively sent out more than 22,000 volunteers in 2011 to minister to 116,000 people in their communities, representing $3M in labor hours and material costs. Lives within and without these churches changed!
A training session for churches that want to hold an Inasmuch Day will be held Saturday, March 7 from 9:00 a.m.-Noon.
Location: Parham Road Baptist Church
RSVP to Dover Office (550-1980) or email@example.com by Tuesday, March 3
Where can I learn more?
To learn more about Operation Inasmuch, go to www.operationinasmuch.org