Our overly litigious society has taught many of us the importance of being careful about what we do and say, as well as how important it is to know a good lawyer. Churches have felt the brunt of a lot of those same legal actions.
It’s the nature of being a church. Churches are places where corrupt human beings congregate not out of obligation but of choice, and people come from all walks of life and with many differing personalities. In a church, people with disparate personalities and behaviors will begin to wear on each other and oftentimes feelings are easily hurt and relationships become broken.
When there is a contentious split in a church, some people can react in a poor manner (in fact many people do). If they feel as though they are being judged or that the church has “ganged up” on them, they may seek redress through the courts. We know that because of our use of the Bible as the basis for our interaction that outside society can sometimes (oftentimes) see us as strange and even countercultural.
So churches have learned to write bylaws and constitutions that new members must give their assent to as a way to protect the church from future litigation. It’s a sad commentary on our society when religious organizations must go to such great lengths to protect themselves from people who would take advantage of a group of people willing to open their hearts to anyone who walks through the door.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage may make things even more dangerous for conservative traditional marriage believing assemblies. As we have seen in the world of business, Christians who refuse to offer their services for gay marriages (such as florists, bakers, photographers, etc.) have been harassed legally by gay couples and the state. If the state (and gay couples) has this much power to force Christians to work for them against their religious beliefs, how far off do you think it might be before the government seeks to force churches to perform gay weddings?
Conservative lawyers are now advising churches to write clear standards and guidelines about what types of services are acceptable in their churches. Churches are being forced to explicitly say in their bylaws that the Pastors are not allowed to perform non-traditional marriages in their church. Traditional marriage supporting Christians hope that this extra layer of legal paperwork will help to insulate them from being forced to participate in acts the church considers immoral.
Some opponents believe that Christians are simply being paranoid, but there is precedent for the concerns of these churches. In both Britain and Canada, religious leaders do not have absolute freedom to speak what they believe about certain cultural and social issues. For example, speaking out against the homosexual lifestyle and calling the activity sin could land a preacher in prison for hate speech. Churches in these nations no longer enjoy absolute freedom of religion and speech.
Erick Erickson of RedState recently argued that the “right” to gay marriage is incompatible with religious freedom in America. The conflicts that Erickson was concerned about have already begun to happen. Simply thinking through the debate may have saved us a lot of problems. If you have the “right” to marry, then I cannot keep you from your right… even if it conflicts with my “right” to practice my religion freely. These two “rights” cannot exist simultaneously. It’s impossible.
So what happens now?
Christians, be vigilant, because they are already singling us out for attack. It’s only a matter of time before the government and the Left come for our churches.