JEFFERSON CITY – With the U.S. Supreme Court weighing the issue of gay marriage and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, now is a good time for Missouri Baptist churches to develop policies that clearly define their biblical stance on marriage.
That’s the advice of Michael K. Whitehead, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) chief legal advisor and principal of Whitehead Law Firm LLC in Kansas City.
“Southern Baptist churches around the country are considering ways to reaffirm God’s unchanging Word regarding Christian marriage,” says Whitehead. “At the same time, some politicians are embracing an ‘evolving’ legal definition.”
Religious liberty advocates like Whitehead are encouraging churches to practice “preventive law” by clearly defining the biblical basis for their marriage policies and by placing such policies in their important governing documents, such as bylaws or articles of incorporation.
Such policies may become important evidence of the deeply held religious beliefs of the church concerning marriage and sexuality if these issues arise in a legal context in the future, according to Whitehead.
At the request of MBC Executive Director John Yeats, Whitehead has drafted a model policy churches may wish to consider. It’s available as a free download at www.TheWhiteheadFirm.com.
The policy is brief, simple, and straightforward. It may be adopted at a church business meeting as an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation, or the church constitution, or bylaws, and/or in a stand-alone wedding policy, says Whitehead.
While the MBC cannot give legal advice to a local church or its members, Yeats recommends that Missouri Baptist churches review the model policy online and consult a qualified non-profit attorney.
“Churches with deeply held convictions about the sanctity of marriage as defined in Scripture would do well to take the steps necessary to clearly define their position on marriage and their policy regarding weddings on church property,” says Yeats. “Adoption of such a policy does not mean a church is anti-anything. However, it does mean that a church desires to maintain its congruence with biblical standards.”
Whitehead underscores the importance of a church deciding to take this step – or not to take it. “A church adopting such a policy on marriage may attract the attention of activists, raising the risk of a complaint some day, but it also raises the likelihood that the church will win if a legal complaint is made,” he says. “That’s why it’s necessary for local congregations to carefully weigh these decisions. And that’s why we call it ‘preventive law.’”
The MBC has asked Whitehead to begin developing additional model policies for churches on other issues that may be impacted by non-discrimination laws, including membership, volunteers, employment and facilities’ use.
Our statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, expresses our fundamental biblical conviction that Christian marriage is, by definition, the spiritual and physical uniting of one man and one woman in an exclusive covenant commitment for their joint lifetime. Christian marriage is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His Church. As such, this local church believes that wedding ceremonies on church property are spiritual observances of worship of God who created this divine institution. As worship services, weddings on church property shall be officiated by one or more ordained ministers of the gospel. The church may decline to make its facilities or ministers available for any wedding if it is determined that one or both of the parties are not biblically and/or legally qualified to marry. Such determinations may be made by [the pastor, church council, the wedding committee, etc.], subject to the direction of the church.
No minister [or employee] of the church shall officiate at any marriage ceremony unless such marriage is consistent with this policy.