Protect your church regarding marriage

Published Aug 01, 2013

FRESNO – Two proponents of Proposition 8 agree it is important for church leaders to take steps to protect the “theological integrity” of their congregations by implementing policies and amending church bylaws related to marriage.

Kevin P. Snider, chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, recommended in a July 1 memo that the “senior or executive pastor immediately review, edit and implement” marriage policies for churches. He noted the policy can be brought before a church or one of its approving bodies for “review and ratification or modification.”

Due to recent Supreme Court rulings and bills passed by legislatures relative to marriage and sexual orientation, Snider emphasized the importance of protecting the church related to marriage ceremonies, counseling and other related activities, such as the use of church facilities, employees and membership.

Snider noted a marriage policy “should not be included in the church bylaws.” Instead, bylaws should address “marriage and human sexuality.” He noted this language “needs to be added to the (church’s) Articles of Faith (sometimes called church tenets, Statement of Faith, Declaration of Faith, etc.) and inserted into the church bylaws.”

He strongly encouraged churches to “make certain that proper procedures are followed for amending the bylaws as required by that document such as bringing it before the church board or congregation for a vote.”

Phil Kell, president of California Baptist Foundation, an attorney and a moral/legislative advocate, agreed with Snider and encouraged churches to “implement, as soon as possible, both marriage policies and bylaws related to ‘marriage and human sexuality.'”

A simple bylaw amendment can avoid confusion and could protect a church from future legal battles, he noted.

Kell said a church is incorporated in California when its articles of incorporation are filed with the Secretary of State. Those articles of incorporation contain basic information about the church such as its name and purpose. But it is church bylaws that contain the rules for how the church will operate, and it is the bylaws that should contain clarifying language about what the church believes about marriage.

Kell explained that while it was common practice in the past to have a constitution and bylaws, there is little justification for it today.

“California law defines bylaws as the code of rules (other than the articles of incorporation) adopted for the regulation or management of the affairs of the corporation, regardless of the name or names by which such rules are designated,” Kell said.

“So even if the church has a constitution and bylaws, under California law they are considered just bylaws.”

He noted bylaws should have a section dealing with doctrinal matters.

“It is in this section that many churches make reference to ‘The Baptist Faith and Message.’ By adding a simple statement about the biblical definition of marriage, the church clearly denotes its belief that God established and defined marriage as described in the Bible. It also makes it clear this is not just the opinion of the pastor but the doctrinal position of the church.”

A church may also choose to state in this section of the bylaws that every member is in agreement with the provisions of the doctrinal section in both faith and practice, Kell said.

“The church also can state that its staff will not participate in same-sex unions and its property will not be used to promote such purposes,” he noted.

Sample policies and bylaws are available at www.csbc.com, and can be found by using the “search feature” at the top of the home page. Simply type in “biblical marriage” to find the article, “Sample policies & bylaws to help churches defend biblical marriage.”