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Defending Your Church in a Hostile Environment – Part 2

Posted by Ted Hoppe | Oct 14, 2016 | 0 Comments

In Part-1 of the Blog Post – Defending Your Church in a Hostile Environment – I talked about the threat that faces churches today. In Part 2 of the Post I wanted to go over some steps that churches can take to defend themselves in a hostile environment.

So now that we have determined that churches can no longer just sit back and do nothing in the face of the changes we are saving in today's social and legal environment, what is a church to do? There are steps that a church can, and should, take to avoid being a target. These steps are not a silver bullet or guarantee, but if your church follows these recommendations, it will be in a stronger position if it is faced which a legal challenge.

Every church should have in place written By-Laws, governing documents and policies.

  • As a corporation, your church should have written By-laws and a constitution. If your church has these documents, then they should be reviewed and updated if necessary.
  • The governing documents should include a Statement of Faith which clearly sets forth the church's doctrinal beliefs and provides Biblical support for those beliefs. If the church has members, new members should be required to affirm this statement as part of the membership process. If the church does not have members, volunteers and staff should be required to affirm the Statement. The Pastor should talk about the Statement of Faith from the pulpit.
  • The Statement of Faith should include a statement regarding the church's position on marriage and gender with Biblical support.
  • Also, importantly, once you have the governing documents and policies in place – follow them consistently.
  • Make sure the church corporation functions as a corporation – hold annual meetings and keep minutes. If the corporation takes an action, i.e. sells an asset, make sure there is an appropriate resolution, etc.

Religious employment criteria

Your church should have a written employment policy. At a minimum, the employment policy should:

  • require all employees to sign the statement of faith
  • establish religious job descriptions. These descriptions may be unique to each organization and position, but they should explain:
    • how position furthers organization's religious mission;
    • the duties and responsibilities of the position; and
    • the characteristics or skills necessary for the position
  • The job descriptions should also include the religious grounds for limiting employment opportunities, especially if the limitations involve any categories protected by law (e.g., religion, sex). For example – if the church believes that only men may hold certain positions; this criteria should be clearly stated in the job description with scriptural or ecclesiastical support.
  • When possible, employees should be assigned duties that involve ministerial, teaching or other spiritual qualifications – duties that directly further the religious mission
    Once your church has these employment policies in place, it is important that they be consistently applied and that similar cases be handle alike. For example, organizations might be legally vulnerable if they terminate an unmarried, pregnant female on religious grounds, but do not terminate a male employee known to have engaged in extramarital sexual relations

Facility use policy

  • The church should have a facility use policy that covers how the church property and facilities may be used and by whom.
  • The church should create a policy that covers situations unique to ministry and mission, buildings or facilities, and religious beliefs.
  • The policy should identify the religious nature and purpose of the facility.
  • The policy should restrict facility use to those acting consistently with your beliefs.
  • The church should implement a detailed application/ approval process.
  • The policy should contain facility use guidelines.

Formal Membership policy

Churches are encouraged to have a membership policy that explains

  • procedures for becoming a member,
  • procedures for member discipline, and
  • procedures for rescinding membership.

Becoming a member includes signing and agreeing to the Church's statement of faith.

Note: This does not mean that a church should adopt a form of church government to which it does not subscribe. However, if the church does not have formal membership, then it is important to have staff and volunteers sign the Church's statement of faith and have specific policies in place regarding serving within the Church so that the church can control who does and does not serve.

Marriage policy

Churches should adopt a comprehensive policy concerning the marriages their pastors or ministers may solemnize or otherwise participate in. This serves to add a layer of protection for the pastor. The policy should also note that the facilities and property of the church shall only host weddings between one man and one woman.

Churches and other faith based ministries are on the front line in the culture war and are targets of the LGBT movement. It is important that churches take steps to protect themselves against the real possibility of legal challenges to the faith and practices.

About the Author

Ted Hoppe

Hi, my name is Ted Hoppe and I have been an attorney in Pennsylvania for more than 30 years. One of the things I enjoy best about being an attorney is meeting and getting to know the clients who come to my office. I have been privileged to build long-term relationships with many of these clients and am honored that they come back to me for advice when legal issues arise in their lives. Many of them have also referred their families and friends to me for legal services which, frankly, is the best thanks an attorney can get.


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