Recently I was engaged in a conversation about the impending legal threats that are certain to come upon churches from the increasingly intolerant government of a morally depraved culture. The man I was speaking with made an astounding assertion; he said that his church would never come under any attacks over social issues including same-sex fake marriages.
Sadly, he’s right. His church is notably liberal. His church does not recognize the final and immutable authority of Scripture. They do and will continue to tolerate homosexuality among their members and they will perform same-sex marriages. Those kinds of tolerant churches are the churches the government is pleased to tolerate.
But, for the conservative, Bible-believing, God-honoring, churches, legal trouble seems imminent. Churches, their pastors, and their officers are at risk of fines, penalties, closure, and possibly even incarceration. Wise pastors should take a good, close look at their ministries and identify where the rocks are so they don’t shipwreck.
I am not an attorney and I certainly have no credentials that would convince any pastor or church to take my advice but I have given this subject some serious consideration. Perhaps there are some constitutional attorneys who specialize in the defense of religious freedoms and who might formalize these suggestions in a way that would be helpful to the churches.
Listed below are several thoughts, about how I think a pastor can keep himself out of jail and protect his church from catastrophic lawsuits:
1. STOP DOING WEDDING PRODUCTIONS. It’s time for us to get back to the biblical understanding of “Holy matrimony.” Your church’s policy ought to be iron clad in this sense; your purpose in accommodating a wedding ceremony is to be a solemn recognition of God’s work in His “putting together” one man with one woman so that the two become one flesh. This is not the time for entertainment.
2 KEEP YOUR CEREMONIES IN HOUSE. Your ministerial responsibilities are to your flock; those whom God has entrusted to your care. They are the regenerate members of your church.
And parenthetically, this might be a good time to start rethinking the importance of local church membership; something that too many program driven churches have neglected in recent years. In the context of regeneration, membership, and accountability, homosexuality, as well as all open sin, will be named and called out as matters of church discipline for the purpose of repentance and restoration or expulsion.
Purity and holiness is God’s design for His Church and in that kind of church, sinners will scatter like cockroaches when the lights are turned on.
3. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR MEMBERS TO WRITE OR PRODUCE THEIR OWN SILLY, CUTE, HUMOROUS, CLEVER, INANE, OR OTHERWISE IRREVERENT CEREMONIES. There is plenty of time for frivolity at the reception. The responsibility to address the congregation as to the reason and solemn meaning for the service rests upon the pastor. So for any Christian candidates who present themselves to engage in this thing called holy matrimony, these following words, or something similar, are instructive and God-honoring and they serve as a public testimony of the couple’s holy relationship to each other and to God.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocence, signifying unto us the mystical union that is between Christ and His church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with His presence, and first miracle that He wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of the apostle Paul to be honorable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
We recently learned of a Christian couple who owned a print shop. They sold custom printed T shirts. When a queer couple asked for something affirming their lifestyle, the owners declined. They were subsequently sued for discrimination. If the business only sold pre-printed shirts, the customer’s options would have been limited to the available products.
Similarly then, if you only have one standard, biblical ceremony patterned and purposed after the Word of God, the chances of a same-sex fake marriage issue arising will be greatly minimized. You don’t do custom services.
3. QUIT SELLING YOUR SERVICES. My heathen, atheistic brother-in-law told me years ago, that he was going to get a minister’s license from the state so that he could perform weddings for a fee. When you indiscriminately performing weddings, you expose yourself to a plethora of potential problems when you encounter unholy unions that violate your conscience (if you have one). There are lots of liberal clergy persons, witch doctors, Satanists, judges, and other goofy practitioners out there that can perform unholy rituals; you don’t have to be one of them.
Your calling, as a pastor, is to shepherd the flock of God. Teach, preach, and minister to their spiritual needs. Legitimate, God ordained marriage is part of that job description.
Don’t market it for a fee. Just do it. If those whom you serve give you an unsolicited, free will honorarium as a token of their love and appreciation, okay. But don’t put a price tag on it. If you don’t have a product to sell, you can’t be sued for discrimination when you don’t sell it.
4. DON’T RENT YOUR FACILITIES FOR UNHOLY ACTIVITIES. This should be a no-brainer. The facility belongs to God. Every use of it ought to be deliberately considered in view of your biblical mission and in harmony with your doctrinal statement.
5. DO NOT SIGN THE STATE’S MARRIAGE LICENSES – When you come to the close of the service and announce, “By the authority vested in me by the State of…” you are acting as an agent of the state. And as such, you will not be permitted to discriminate and you will be forced to perform same-sex fake weddings. The authority you have to perform a ceremony of holy matrimony is of God and only to recognize that which is ordained by God. Marriage is His institution and it should be observed by His standard; “one man and one woman" joined together by God and not to be changed or redefined by man.
Therefore it may be necessary for all your candidates to obtain a signed license from an independent, state-approved notary, clerk, judge, or even another, unprincipled clergy person. That might mean that they arrange for a contracted legal witness to attend the ceremony or have a separate state sanctioned wedding, with witnesses, apart from the church ceremony.
7. DENOUNCE SIN - Make a regular habit of bringing your congregation to the point of conviction and repentance of sin. Preach it once or twice a year. And in the context of sexual sin, that means ALL kinds of sexual immorality and perversions. Don't single out homosexuality while you are knowingly tolerant of other kinds of sexual sin within your flock. And make sure that your sermons are recorded to protect yourself from accusations of discrimination.
8. FORMALIZE YOUR POLICIES - Write them into your church's constitution and bylaws and then "PRACTICE THEM." Also, it would be to your advantage to cite the scriptural references for all the imperatives that govern your church's practices. And make sure your congregation knows the church's policies. It is a lot easier for knowledgeable members to direct their unsaved relatives to a heathen church down the street, than it is to suddenly surprise and upset them at an emotional time when you have to tell them that you won't allow or officiate the wedding ceremony of their darling daughter to the heathen scumbag who impregnated her.
9. FINAL THOUGHTS - It may just have to come down to all of this. You may have far fewer weddings but that’s not all bad. Most Christians will want to solemnize their marriage covenant in the presence of God and witnesses who will love them, care for them, and hold them accountable, in a formal ceremony. And those are the one's who willingly subject themselves to your premarital spiritual assessment and counseling. On the other hand, most people who want a same-sex fake wedding will want no part of it with you.
The church is not (or shouldn’t be) a public commercial enterprise. The world will not insist on “purchasing a product that your store simply does not sell.”