Facing legal action, churches have a ‘spirit of power’
Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer
August 11, 2015

Facing legal action, churches have a ‘spirit of power’

Facing legal action, churches have a ‘spirit of power’
Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer
August 11, 2015

In the Aug. 1 edition of the Biblical Recorder, I wrote a column about how churches should respond to the June 26 Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision. I called attention to the negative statement in 2 Timothy 1:7. Paul, writing to young Timothy, proclaimed, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear.” After identifying what God has not provided, Paul identifies three things that God has provided.

The first gift from God Paul identified for Timothy is, “a spirit of power.”

Regardless of the actions of the Court, the church still has a great deal of power in determining how its ministers and members engage in disciple-making through missions and ministry. The ultimate governing documents of the church, the scriptures, are not perceived as such by the government.

But the government recognizes that non-profit entities – including churches – have the power to establish their own policies.

Sadly, many churches do not utilize this power as they have few policies, poor policies or no policies at all.
I am currently leading seminars across the state, meeting with church and associational leaders, to help them understand the power they have in creating wedding policies and facility-use policies. In these seminars I explain the distinctions between the various governing documents that churches may develop, beginning with articles of incorporation and moving downward in legal authority through constitution, bylaws and day-to-day policies.

Many pastors are concerned their policies do not carry sufficient legal authority. Some church leaders have been led to believe that wedding policies belong in bylaws or other documents.

It’s important to remember that bylaws provide a framework for the church’s major decisions – such as annual decisions or matters that only take place occasionally. For example, the bylaws should address how church committees are elected, but the details of how these committees conduct their day-to-day activities are better placed in policies.

Certainly, providing an overview of their assignment and expectations is appropriate, but the details of how a committee completes specific tasks are better placed in a policy. The same is true for pastors; bylaws should identify how they’re called and broad references to responsibilities, but how they conduct day-to-day ministry is better addressed in personnel policies.

Some churches have mistakenly placed day-to-day responsibilities for ministers, committees and other church ministries in bylaws. Now is a good time to review all governing documents and move content to appropriate locations – specifically as it relates to marriage.

Neglecting to review the congregation’s governing documents is never a problem, until there’s a problem.
The matter of same-sex weddings and facility-use reveals potential problems for many churches since their policies are outdated or simply do not exist. Allow me to explain why addressing marriage matters within the policies is preferable, beginning with the legal aspects and moving to the practical.

Church leaders are concerned with how weddings are conducted, how the church’s facilities are used for weddings and how their ministers engage in the ministry of weddings. By updating existing policies, or developing new ones for each of these matters, it’s easy to link the policies. For example, a facility-use policy – which should focus on all the potential uses of a facility, not just weddings – can refer to the wedding policy for those wishing to reserve church facilities for weddings.

However, problems arise when policies are scattered throughout a congregation’s governing documents.
If wedding matters are placed partly in the bylaws and partly in a policy manual, then those portions located in the bylaws will bear more legal authority in the event of a legal challenge. Potential conflicts can be avoided when these guidelines are all placed in well-worded and consistently implemented policies.

However, some may feel that potential conflict is the very reason that wedding matters should all be placed in the bylaws; due to the increased legal authority of the bylaws. It’s at this point that we move to the practical advantages of utilizing policies to address matters related to weddings.

First, day-to-day policies provide churches the ability to update content more quickly and easily. Bylaws, constitutions and articles of incorporation are much more difficult to update – and they should be, as each of these documents outline a congregation’s major decision-making processes.

However, the issue of marriage will continue to develop as our society continues to grapple with issues of sexuality. For example, prior to the passage of the marriage amendment to the constitution of North Carolina in 2012, some churches updated their marriage and facility-use policies to address same-sex marriage. But at that time, the concern was limited; few were considering about transgender matters. As a result, these churches now have a blind spot in their policies in light of the ever-changing landscape of sexuality.

Second, ministers need a clear and concise document they can place into the hands of any couple that speaks with them regarding marriage. A wedding policy provides a single document that outlines the church’s positions. All the couple needs is the wedding policy, they really do not need the full constitution and bylaws. Again, a policy that is clearly worded and consistently followed provides sufficient legal authority when approached by individuals or groups inquiring about weddings and/or the use of church facilities.

Clarity is of utmost importance. In the next installment I will address the content that should be included in church wedding and facility-use policies.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian K. Davis is associate executive director-treasurer at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

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