The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Alliance Defending Freedom published legal guidance to help Christian groups prepare for the religious freedom challenges likely to result from sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination ordinances, and the legalization of gay marriage.
According to a press release shared with The Christian Post, the guidebook is "for churches, schools and nonprofit organizations to use for their organizational structure in light of changes in the culture concerning marriage."
The resource, "Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits," is available for free on the ERLC website.
Though the ERLC represents Southern Baptists, the guidance is broad enough to help any church that has chosen to remain firm on the biblical teachings about gender, marriage and sexuality.
"Without soul freedom we have no other liberties," ERLC President Russell Moore said. "The church cannot outsource its convictions to the state. I am grateful to partner with the Alliance Defending Freedom to produce this resource to help equip churches on how to remain faithful to our mission in a culture that often disagrees with our message."
To best protect themselves from potential legal challenges, the guidebook offers specific suggestions depending upon whether the Christian organization is a church, school or ministry.
All Christian churches, schools and ministries, for instance, should have statements of faith, religious employment criteria and a facility use policy.
Since legal challenges will likely come from "sexual liberty" type laws, such as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances, the guide recommends that the statement of faith include a statement on marriage, gender and sexuality.
"Issues of marriage and gender now regularly confront religious organizations. Churches are receiving requests to use their facilities for same-sex ceremonies, in direct violation of their beliefs. Christian schools are being asked to employ persons who identify as transgender. And Christian ministries are facing difficult decisions concerning employees in same-sex relationships and employees who are confused about their sex. As a result, it is important that churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries develop a clear statement on marriage, gender, and sexuality within their statements of faith," the guidebook states.
Examples of all the statement recommendations are contained in an appendix to the guide.
Later this month the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the U.S. Constitution requires all states to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. While that decision could heighten the religious freedom challenges of faithful churches, the legal guide notes throughout that these challenges are already happening. Plus, sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances that have been, and may continue to be, passed at the state and local level present challenges of their own.
The legal guide also recommends that churches have a formal membership policy and marriage policy. Both schools and ministries should have a religious mission statement, code of Christian conduct and emphasis on their religious character. Schools should clearly delineate their admissions, disciplinary and dimissal procedures; and include the mission statement, statement of faith and code of Christian conduct in a handbook that all parents, students and employees must sign.
Additionally, students at Christian schools should recieve religious instruction, not only because it is good for the students, but because the school could lose its religious freedom protections if it becomes indistinguishable from a secular school.
"Adopting the action steps recommended in the previous pages cannot insulate your church, Christian school, or Christian ministry from all attacks by marriage counterfeits and those advocating for complete sexual license. But acting upon these suggestions will place your organization in a more defensible legal position should it face a lawsuit for discrimination," the guide states.
The book also contains a disclaimer noting that the advice is general and should not "be a substitute for legal analysis, legal advice, or consultation with appropriate legal counsel."
The guide recommends contacting ADF for any additional legal questions.