By now, you have heard that the Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated decision, which imposed a 50-state same-sex marriage mandate. Pastors and churches have exhibited a great degree of uncertainty preceding the decision, wondering what the impact of the decision will be on their ministry. But now that the decision has been released, we can respond with greater clarity.
Here are the immediate things you need to know.
The Court’s decision
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, held that the Equal Protection Clause requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a same-sex marriage entered into lawfully in another state. In so holding, the Supreme Court struck down the state constitutional amendments of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The decision redefines marriage for the entire country to include same-sex couples.
The majority opinion stated with respect to religious opposition to same-sex marriage:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.
The Court’s statement is welcome to be sure. But the greatest threat for churches lies in the application of the Court’s decision to believers who live in jurisdictions covered by so-called “non-discrimination” laws and ordinances. Everywhere that marriage has been redefined in the last several years has seen an awakening of non-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, or places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws are peppered throughout the states and local governments and are a lynchpin of the sexual revolution’s broader legal and political strategy: to establish non-discrimination laws at all levels throughout the country and to “to ensure that religion is not used as an excuse to discriminate.”
In the coming days, the threat from these non-discrimination laws will materialize in numerous ways as same-sex couples marry. But there are proactive steps your church can take to protect itself.
What should your church do?
1. Churches should update their statement of faith on the issues of marriage, human sexuality, and gender
Now is the time for churches to maintain a clear witness to the biblical truth about marriage, human sexuality, and gender. Churches should update their statement of faith to include the church’s beliefs on these issues. Doing it in the wake of the Supreme Court decision will not be viewed negatively by a court if a legal issue ever arises. Instead, putting clarifying language in the statement of faith merely serves to codify a church’s long-standing religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom has sample language in ERLC/ADF's Protecting Your Ministry manual on these issues that provides a starting point. Clarifying the statement of faith can help a church in numerous ways. If your church has not done that already, now is the time.
2. Pastors will not be legally compelled to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies—for now
In the near term, no pastor will be forced to officiate any wedding ceremony with which he disagrees. Pastors remain free to make a theological determination about who they will marry and who they will not. For example, pastors will normally not marry a believer to an unbeliever and many will not perform ceremonies for someone they know did not have biblical grounds for a previous divorce. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion changes the freedom of pastors to continue to make those theologically-based decisions about who they will marry.
Consequently, pastors should refrain from retreating from marriage ceremonies. Some have suggested that pastors disengage from “civil marriage” and only perform religious ceremonies. This type of reaction is not only legally unnecessary, but it sends a message that pastors have “abdicated the field” on the battleground of marriage. Instead, pastors should engage more fervently in advocating and expounding the truth about marriage by maintaining a faithful, Gospel-centered witness to who they will marry and who they will not.
3. Churches should ensure their facilities usage policies are revised to allow only uses consistent with the Church’s religious beliefs
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, some churches may be approached by same-sex couples seeking to be married in the church facility. Churches should not feel as if they have to close their doors to the community just to prevent wedding ceremonies with which they disagree. Churches must continue to be a welcoming presence in the community and can do that through updating or revising their facility usage policy. The key point is to tie usage of the church’s facility to the statement of faith and religious beliefs of the church. And then to make clear that uses inconsistent with those religious beliefs will not be allowed. Alliance Defending Freedom has a sample facilities usage policy available in our Protecting Your Ministry manual, available for free download.
There are other suggestions for churches contained in ERLC/ADF's Protecting Your Ministry manual. Now is an opportune time to download the manual and follow the suggested guidelines to ensure your ministry is protected.
Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, marriage has not changed. Society may suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it cannot anymore change the truth than it can the color of the sky. The Church has always proclaimed the Gospel to cultures and societies who have rejected truth. Now, more than ever, the Church must fulfill its mission. We may not know in every detail how the marriage decision will impact America’s churches, but we at Alliance Defending Freedom do know that we will continue to work aggressively to keep the legal door open for the spread of the Gospel. You and your church are not alone. If you have legal questions or an issue arises where Alliance Defending Freedom can help, please contact us.
Editors’ note: For more resources on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, visit Equip, a joint initiative of The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to provide a broad range of resources on homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues to prepare your church for this changing culture.