Churches need to protect themselves legally from gay activism
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
RALEIGH – A church refuses to consider a homosexual man for an advertised job as organist. The daughter of the head deacon and a member of the church since childhood demands to use the sanctuary for her lesbian commitment ceremony, but the church says no. These are just two of a myriad of situations that could lead to drawn out legal battles unless church leaders take precautions.
“I’ve thought for some time that the Christian Action League should provide some information concerning what churches needed to do to protect themselves from gay activism,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the CAL’s executive director. “It is important that they make sure they are prepared for such a threat and that they have what they need in place to protect themselves legally, especially as the political climate becomes more hostile to organizations of faith.”
According to Barbara Weller, an attorney with the Christian Law Association, although North Carolina employment law doesn’t currently include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, there are a growing number of local ordinances that do. And if President elect Barack Obama keeps his promise to usher the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the federal law will force Christian businesses across America to put aside their own convictions and hire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers. Though the current version of ENDA includes an exemption for religious organizations, there are gray areas, and it’s impossible to say exactly what the fallout will be if the bill passes. Therefore, Weller says church leaders would be wise to re-examine their job descriptions and make it clear that all their staff members are engaged in ministry.
“The real issue with employment is not with the minister, but so-called non-ministry staff like an organist or secretary,” Weller said. “That’s why it’s important for churches to make it clear that all of their jobs perform ministry functions. If a job is qualified as a ministry position, then you can have your religious requirement.”
In other words, the church could specify that the person they would hire for that position would have to adhere to standards consistent with the church’s beliefs.
Weller pointed out that although some might see support roles – such as clerical or custodial posts – as secular, the truth is anyone working for the church may be called on to answer religious questions or offer aid to those in need who show up at the church door. Secretaries often wind up counseling those who phone the church before they get a chance to speak with the pastor. So the ministry label isn’t inaccurate.
As far as situations involving homosexuals demanding membership privileges or insisting that churches open their doors to gay commitment ceremonies, attorney Carolyn Gramlich, also with the CLA, says the First Amendment goes a long way in protecting churches’ freedom to carry out their religion as they see fit.
“As a rule, the courts are not going to entangle themselves in church business,” Gramlich said. “What they will do is step in to see if a church is following its own rules.”
Gramlich said that even in states like Massachusetts where homosexual marriage is allowed, ministers and churches may exclude homosexuals, deny membership and refuse to marry them based on the churches’ “own sincere belief.”
What’s important then, she said, is to make sure that those beliefs are made “crystal clear” in the church constitution and bylaws.
Specifically, the CLA, a “ministry of legal helps” affiliated with the Gibbs Law Firm in Seminole, Fla., recommends that churches include the following “Human Sexuality” provision within their Statement of Faith section.
“We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of Marital, sexual intimacy. We believe that God disapproves of and forbids any attempt to alter one’s gender by surgery or appearance. (Gen. 2:24; Gen. 19:5, 13; Gen. 26:8-9; Lev. 18:1-30; Rom. 1:26-29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9; 1 Thess. 4:1-8; Heb. 13:4). We believe that the only Scriptural marriage is the joining of one man and one woman. (Gen. 2:24; Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:10; Eph. 5:22-23). ”
“If a church were hauled into court by a same-sex couple saying they are being discriminated against, the church can point to their bylaws and show that this is a sincerely held belief and that they have Scripture to back it up, and the courts will defer to their First Amendment rights,” Gramlich said. “In the event that the church didn’t have it written, it could just depend on the magistrate and how he views the situation.”
Gramlich said churches that don’t spell out their beliefs about sexuality might still be able to prove that those beliefs are part of their practice, but “it could go either way.”
That’s why she said the CLA “strongly recommends the really black and white language” that should leave no questions about the church’s stance.
Congregations should also make sure those beliefs are reflected in the policies that govern use of their facilities, as an ongoing legal battle in New Jersey illustrates. A church organization there – the United Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association – is facing a discrimination case brought by two lesbians who wanted to rent the group’s facilities for a ceremony. The association had allowed the public to use its land for years under an agreement with local government, but that was before the state set up a same-sex civil union law.
“The clash between same-sex unions and religious freedom has arrived, and that clash will increase,” Mathew Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel told World Net Daily in an article published Dec. 30, 2008. “We’ve seen a pastor arrested in Sweden for preaching that homosexuality is contrary to biblical principles. When the alarm was sounded, some thought it was all hype. But when a church has to sacrifice its religious convictions in order to invite the public to use its facilities, the threat to liberty is not hype.”
Nor are concerns over the employment issue. In Wales, homosexual activist groups celebrated a decision against the Church of England when a 42-year-old gay man applied to be youth officer for the Diocese of Hereford and claimed discrimination when he didn’t get the job. Although religious groups were supposed to be exempt from England’s “Sexual Orientation Regulations,” the Church lost the ruling and was ordered to pay the man more than $68,000.
“These cases, abroad and here in America cannot be taken lightly,” said the Rev. Creech. “We urge churches to take action on the fronts mentioned: shoring up their job descriptions to reflect how they relate to ministry and adopting the CLA’s recommended Human Sexuality provision as part of their constitution. Too often, churches don’t take action until an issue arises, but by then it may be too late. These are ways we can be proactive.”
Christians should also contact their Senators and urge them to vote no to ENDA, which passed the house late in 2007 as H.R. 3685.