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Marriage. When you read that one simple word, what do you think of?  Perhaps you think of your own marriage and its joys and struggles. Maybe you think about the failed marriages you have seen among your friends or family. But today, you can’t say the word marriage without conjuring images of same-sex wedding ceremonies, court battles, and television pundits opining on the future of that one word. Alliance Defending Freedom is fighting every day to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

There is no question that America is in an intense debate over how culture, society, and law will treat marriage in the years to come. Is it, as it always has been, a life-long relationship between one man and one woman? Or will it be reduced to merely a transient relationship between two individuals with some added tax benefits?

At times like this in American history, the Church has spoken clearly and decisively, helping to frame the debate in moral and Biblical terms. Now, the Church’s influence is needed more than ever. America needs to know why God created marriage as the lifelong exclusive union between one man and one woman. America needs to understand that when God said that what he joined together, no man should separate, that He meant it, and that He meant it for our good and the betterment of society. And the Church has the answer to these pressing issues.

This month as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, why not use this opportunity, when the country is focused on love, to remind them about God’s design for marriage? Can you as a pastor take the opportunity to do some things to restore or promote a culture of marriage in your church? Here are a few ideas:

  • Show this video to your congregation that explains the big picture view of why the battle for marriage matters.

  • Preach a sermon on marriage and why it should remain the union of one man and one woman. Visit our website for resources to help prepare.

  • Launch a marriage ministry in your church to combat rampant divorce and its harmful effects on the family.

  • Sign up to participate in National Marriage Week in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.

These are just some ideas for ways to celebrate marriage and to work to strengthen it in your church.  The Church must lead the way in protecting and strengthening marriage if society will ever once again value marriage. Let’s take this opportunity this month, as the world focuses on love, to hold up marriage as God’s ideal and, as the Church, lead the way toward a restored and renewed culture of marriage.

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AP Photo/Seth Perlman

This week, Illinois became the 16th state to redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to “marry.”  These types of actions should never go without a response by the Church.  Throughout American history, pastors have stood in their pulpits and proclaimed truth to politics and the culture.  Pastors have not hesitated to call out unrighteousness and to clearly expound God’s truth.  But this type of prophetic proclamation requires pastors to know what is going on in their communities, states, and country.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, the Catholic Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, was not asleep at the wheel when Illinois’ Governor signed a law redefining marriage.  In response to the new law Bishop Paprocki preached a homily entitled “Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage.”  Even if you are not Catholic or disagree with Catholic theology, the homily is worth reading in its entirety.  You can read it on the Diocese website.

In the homily, Bishop Paprocki clearly and forcefully proclaimed biblical truth on the issue confronting Illinois.  He said:

Same-sex marriage is contrary to the plan of God, as described in the Bible. . . Since the legal redefinition of marriage is contrary to God’s plan, those who contract civil same-sex marriage are culpable of serious sin. Politicians responsible for enacting civil same-sex marriage legislation are morally complicit as co-operators in facilitating this grave sin. We must pray for forgiveness of these sins and deliverance from this evil which has penetrated our state and our Church.

Pastors are encountering a day when the clear proclamation of biblical truth is a necessity.  As American culture becomes increasingly secular, it is incumbent upon pastors to speak to that culture with uncompromising clarity.  Such preaching is not “political.”  Simply because a biblical issue has been swept into the realm of politics does not mean that it ceases to become a biblical issue.  No, biblical issues remain biblical.  And speaking biblical truth from the pulpit remains the particular province and calling of pastors.

Pastor, are you aware and engaged enough to know what is happening in your community, your state, or your nation?  Once informed, are you speaking truth to your people, thus equipping them with a biblical worldview that doesn’t shift when a Governor signs an immoral law?  If your answer to either of these questions is “no”, let me give you two practical resources to get you started.

First, an excellent resource to stay informed and aware of the issues of life, marriage, and religious freedom is the Alliance Alert, a daily digest of news stories from around the country, and the world, on these issues.  You can subscribe to the Alliance Alert to have it delivered to your email daily.

Second, Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of the battle to protect marriage.  Our website on this issue provides resources you as a pastor can use to become informed and to edcuate your congregation.  Watch the video on our website to get the big picture about the redefinition of marriage and its impact on our society and then show it to your people so they too can grasp what is at stake in this battle.

Bishop Paprocki stands as an example to other pastors to be aware, engaged, informed, and to speak out when the time demands it.  Pastor, are you willing?

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

ReligionClause recently reported some good news out of New Zealand.  The Human Rights Tribunal there ruled against a discrimination charge by a man who was denied ordination in the Anglican Church because he was engaged in homosexual behavior.  Eugene Sisneros filed a lawsuit claiming that the Bishop of Auckland discriminated against him in violation of the New Zealand Human Rights Act.  The conflict came about because of the Church’s doctrine on chastity for those desiring to enter the priesthood:

To be ordained as a priest or deacon of the Anglican Church… a person must… “be chaste”. Chastity is defined by the Canons of the Church as “the right ordering of sexual relationships”. Such relationships can only occur within a Christian marriage which is defined by the Formularies as a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman…. Thus a person seeking to enter the ordained ministry of the Anglican Church must either be single and celibate or in a heterosexual marriage.

Sisneros admitted he was involved in a homosexual relationship and claimed in the lawsuit that the Bishop’s denial of his ordination amounted to discrimination on the basis of marital status and sexual orientation.

The New Zealand Human Rights Tribunal held that the Anglican Church was exempt from the Human Rights Act because of its status as a Church.  The Tribunal held that the law contained an exemption for churches that was intended to “preserve the institutional autonomy of organised religions in relation to their decisions concerning the appointment of clergy and ministers.”  The Tribunal noted that Sisneros’ claim would ”entirely negate that purpose.”  If Sisneros was allowed to pursue his claim,

“The Anglican Church would be required to ordain priests who taught that the right ordering of sexual relationships can only occur within a Christian marriage (defined by the Formularies as a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman) but who themselves did not ‘live’ that doctrine. Ministers would not be exemplars, nor would they be bound by submission to the Constitution of the Church or by their declaration of allegiance to its doctrine and Formularies. This would undermine in the most fundamental way the religious autonomy of the Church, its right to be selective about those who will serve as the very embodiment of its message and its voice to the faithful.”

The Human Rights tribunal got this decision right.  Although it may be surprising that a person engaged in an active homosexual relationship would attempt to use the rule of law to force the Anglican Church to accept him as a priest, these types of claims may become more common in the future.  Many countries, and almost every State in the United States have some form of “anti-discrimination” law that includes protection based on the categories of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”  These laws have remained largely dormant until now.  If these laws are used against churches, then the autonomy of the Church is most certainly in jeopardy.

The New Zealand Human Rights tribunal acknowledged the strong precedent of church autonomy.  This basically means that churches have the right to make their own decisions, especially in relation to the selection, credentialing, and firing of ministers.  The United States also has a strong history of protecting church autonomy.  The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged this autonomy in the selection of ministers in its decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.  In fact, the New Zealand Human Rights Tribunal cited that case in its opinion.

The overarching point is that a church has the right to decide who its ministers will be and government cannot and should not interfere with that decision.  The New Zealand Human Rights Tribunal ended its opinion with this quote:

First, to determine whether issues of race, sex, or sexual orientation are not “truly” religious or freighted with theological meaning is to embroil the courts in decisions they lack competence to decide. But the greater concern is not the comparative competency point. Rather, it is that this sort of issue is simply not the state’s business. We adhere to a strong version of religious group autonomy. Religious bodies have the right to reject candidates for ministry or discipline or expel an existing pastoral minister even if the grounds for doing so appear to liberals (and others) to be archaic, illiberal, or bigoted. The grounds for selection or dismissal are matters within the province of the religious community, and it alone, to decide.

Alliance Defending Freedom is working hard to protect the autonomy of the Church.  The Church Team’s mission is to protect the right of the Church to be free to minister the Gospel without legal restriction or hindrance.   That includes the ability of your church to select and control its own ministers without interference from the govrnment.  If your Church is threatened with legal action that calls into question its ability to decide matters of faith, contact Alliance Defending Freedom so our attorneys can review your situation.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Recently, almost 1,100 churches from all 50 states took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  On June 9, pastors in these churches preached sermons about the importance of traditional marriage.  Prior to the Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage, these pastors took the opportunity on Pulpit Freedom Sunday to set forth what God says about marriage.

This was the sixth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  It began in 2008 as a direct challenge to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 addition to the tax code that prohibits pastors from preaching freely on the issue of candidates and elections.  Every year pastors participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday preached sermons that evaluated the candidates running for office in light of Scripture and made recommendations to their congregation as to how they ought to exercise their right to vote.  The pastors recorded their sermons and sent them to the IRS in hopes of sparking a legal challenge to the Johnson Amendment.  To date, not one of the over 2,000 pastors who have participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday has been investigated by the IRS or punished for their sermons.

Because of the lack of national elections this year, pastors were encouraged to preach about the importance of marriage.  That issue was front and center in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage in June.  Put simply, before the Supreme Court had its say about marriage, the Church had its say about how God designed marriage and intended for it to function.

Now that the Supreme Court has decided the marriage cases, it is clear the battle over same-sex “marriage” will continue and the voice of America’s pastors is even more necessary.  If you are a pastor and did not get the opportunity to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, now would be a great time to sign up.  We are leaving registration open for the remainder of the summer to allow pastors an opportunity to discuss the issue of marriage from the pulpit.  If you need resources on how to prepare a sermon on the issue, please visit our website.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, it is clear that the Church has a lot of work to do.  Taking part in a Pulpit Freedom Sunday this summer is a perfect opportunity to educate your congregation about marriage and why it should be protected as God intended.

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Shortly before leaving for its summer break, the United States Supreme Court issued two decisions affecting the status of the future of marriage in America.  In United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage, for federal purposes, as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”  In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court held that the proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which recognized only marriage between a man and a woman, did not have standing to defend the law.

In the wake of these decisions, it may be easy to be confused about their effect on marriage and religious freedom.  Some pastors have expressed concerns over the potential impact of the decisions on their churches.  Here are some short key points regarding the impact of the decisions:

1.  Same-sex “marriage” is not the law of the land.  The Supreme Court decisions did not mandate same-sex “marriage” on the country.  The marriage decisions did have an impact on the future status of same-sex “marriage” to be sure. But it is important not to overstate the impact of the Court’s decisions.  It did not establish same-sex “marriage” as a rule for the entire country.

2.  The Federal DOMA remains largely intact.  The Court only struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which is commonly referred to as the definitional section.  Striking this section down now allows for same-sex couples who are considered “married” in their home states to receive federal benefits previously reserved for married couples.  Section 2 of DOMA remains intact and enforceable.  That section allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed under the laws of other states.  This means that North Carolina, for example, does not have to recognize the same-sex “marriage” of a Rhode Island couple. For now, each state continues to retain authority to define marriage.

3.  The same-sex “marriage” battle will continue.  The Court’s decisions left open some important questions.  Perhaps most importantly, the question of the constitutionality of state DOMAs was left unanswered by the Court’s decisions.  That issue is currently pending in some court cases in states like Hawaii and Nevada.  These battles will continue, and it is likely the Supreme Court will confront that issue in the future.

4.  Same-sex “marriage” remains a real threat to religious freedom, as my colleague Kellie Fiedorek points out in a recent blog:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, said, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.” In other words, Justice Kennedy suggests in his opinion that the only reason Congress and President Clinton had for protecting marriage when they passed DOMA in 1996 was a bias towards couples in same-sex relationships. That is a chilling statement that poses an immediate threat for future lawsuits against anyone who believes marriage exists only between one man and one woman. It wrongly implies that those of us who recognize marriage to be the unique union of a husband and wife – something recognized by diverse cultures and faiths throughout history – are motivated by dislike rather than a desire to affirm the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father.  Simply astounding. Justice Scalia said it best when he called this, ‘jaw-dropping.’”

Same-sex “marriage” poses a threat to religious freedom.  If you doubt this, ask the owners of Elane photography, or Arlene’s Flowers.  These are just two of the recent cases where Christians have been accused of “discrimination” simply for abiding by their religious beliefs concerning sexual behavior.  More cases like this may occur in the future in the wake of the Supreme Court’s opinion striking down DOMA.

This is why it is important for churches to act now to protect themselves from the possibility of such claims.  Visit our website for some important resources, such as our document Seven Things all Churches Should have in Their Bylaws, or our Sample Facilities Usage Policy that ensures churches may maintain use of their facilities in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court’s decisions did impact marriage and religious freedom.  The battle will continue and the threat to religious freedom has intensified.  That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom is here.  We stand ready to protect the Church from attacks that threaten its freedom and independence to share the Gospel.  Please visit our website or contact us if you need help or legal counsel on these important issues.

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