“Same Sex Marriage, Sexual Conduct, and Gender Identity: Legal Implications for Religious Organizations”

Greg Strand – October 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Yesterday (October 8) ECFA/CLS (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the Christian Legal Society) sponsored a Webinar on “Same Sex Marriage, Sexual Conduct, and Gender Identity: Legal Implications for Religious Organizations in Light of Recent Court Decisions” with Kim Colby, of Christian Legal Society, Stuart J. Lark of Bryan Cave HRO, and Steve McFarland, Chief Legal Officer for World Vision.

This was an important and helpful Webinar which provided education, information and guidance into how to respond in the midst of significant cultural and legal changes. Here are some summary notes taken by one who participated in the Webinar.

Broad Summary:

  • The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rationale in United States v. Windsor was that opposition to same-sex marriage can only be animus (bigotry).
  • Several court rulings have expanded the “public accommodations” definition from essential commercial services (food and housing) to include “all activities in commercial life” (e.g., coffee shops, conference centers, wedding photography).
  • With these trends, conventional Christian views on sexuality and marriage may be at risk.  The religious exemption and first amendment rights of free speech are not considered the issue in the courts and give way to “accommodation rights.”

Strategy:

  • Carefully consider and articulate religious beliefs on human sexuality, with numerous scriptural citations (not relying on tradition as an argument) as it relates to employees, independent contractors who appear as our face, and the organization’s facility use.
  • Have the above written white paper approved by the board.
  • Articulate in such a way (e.g., conduct that will glorify Christ) that a court will not want to adjudicate on an organization’s evaluation of how that plays out.
  • Have the board authorize management to carry it out.
  • SCOTUS ruling on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that there is a broader definition than one would think for whom can be considered “ministers” as it relates to the religious purpose of the organization – use that.

Boards should engage/respond proactively as if they are already in a court case and how they would present a consistent biblically-based position and course of actions.

As one EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America) pastor wrote, “This is helpful, but also disturbing. I don’t think churches will be affected directly yet, but certainly any commercial enterprises will be required to toe the line or suffer grievously. This will be hardship for many.”

Since this was an exclusive ECFA-member (not EFCA) only webinar, of which the EFCA is a member, I am unable to provide the links or Webinar recording for the local congregations. However, they will be offering a similar Webinar on the same topic early in 2014, specifically geared toward local churches and non-ECFA members. If you are able, I would encourage you to avail yourself of this resource.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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