How to keep LGBTQ people from becoming ‘spiritual orphans’
DALLAS — Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins” video played on the…
So warns minister and lawyer Melvin Otey in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Despite declarations of support for religious freedom by President Barack Obama and the high court’s majority, Christians “definitely should be concerned,” Otey said.
“I believe churches and Christian institutions will be significantly affected by the larger movement that has ushered in the acceptance of same-sex unions,” said the former U.S. Justice Department attorney, now an associate professor of law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala.
Read the full text of the decision.“It is at least possible that churches and organizations that speak against homosexuality, for example, will lose their tax-exempt status because the exemption is a benefit bestowed by the government,” added Otey, who preached for the Georgia Avenue Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., for eight years.
For members of Churches of Christ — most of whom believe God ordained marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman — the ruling has sparked myriad questions and concerns:
• Will the government try to stop churches from limiting marriage to heterosexual couples?
• Will Christian universities that maintain policies against same-sex relationships by students and staff lose their tax-exempt status?
• Will faith-based foster-care and adoption agencies that refuse to serve homosexual parents be stripped of public funding?
Harold Shank speaks at the National Urban Ministry Conference earlier this year. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)“The recent ruling … follows the well-established pattern of removing Christian values from public law,” said Harold Shank, a longtime minister and president of Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va.
He cited previous decisions outlawing school-sanctioned prayer, allowing the teaching of evolution and granting women the right to abortions.
“The Exodus story reminds us of those occasions when a new pharaoh arises that does not know Joseph,” said Shank, previously a professor of Old Testament at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City. “Many, if not all, of the faithful people in the Bible lived in times when their morals and values were not reflected in the law of the land.”
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AT ISSUE
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.
Justice Anthony Kennedy“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered,” Kennedy added.
But in his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said the decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty.”
“The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage,” Roberts wrote. “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”
Chief Justice John RobertsIn addition, Roberts indicated that the tax-exempt status of religious institutions could become an issue: “Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage — when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples.”
President Obama praised the same-sex marriage ruling as an affirmation “that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.”
However, Obama noted in his June 26 remarks: “Opposition, in some cases, has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.”
TAX EXEMPTIONS AT RISK?
At the recent Red River Family Encampment in New Mexico, Ralph Gilmore, a Bible professor at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., addressed the ruling.
Gilmore urged church leaders to take advantage of resources such as a free, 40-page guide produced by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
The “Protecting Your Ministry” guide offers legal advice for churches, Christian schools and ministries to protect against lawsuits.
“Basically, the reason is to be very clear and concise about what we believe Scripture teaches,” Crosspointe minister Scott Johnson said. “Our new documents are simply restating all the things we already believe but adding a special section specifically about marriage, gender and sexuality.
“It protects the church from folks who genuinely want to be malicious about all this,” Johnson said. “We aren’t seeking to be hateful, judgmental or rude — just protecting ourselves and our beliefs.”
Shapri LoMaglio serves as vice president for government and external relations for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which includes a half-dozen universities associated with Churches of Christ: Abilene Christian, Faulkner, Lipscomb, Oklahoma Christian, Pepperdine and York College.
“The most important thing that all religious organizations can do right now is to ensure that all of their policies are clearly tied to their religious beliefs,” LoMaglio said.
THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
Christian universities that rely on government funds — in the form of loans and grants for their students — could face a dilemma, Otey said.
Read Melvin Otey’s advice for churches in “Now that Same-Sex Unions Have Been Legalized.” “For instance, if they declined to affirm that they would not discriminate based on sexual orientation in educational programs and activities, they could lose the benefit of some federal funding,” he said. “If they go along in order to maintain their funding, these schools could wind up with same-sex clubs and organizations on their campuses, which would be contrary to their missions. I do not mean to suggest that this is imminent or certain, but it is possible and needs to be looked at carefully.”
Phil Ellenburg, president of Middle Tennessee Christian School in Murfreesboro, said the Supreme Court decision has raised many unanswered questions for Christian schools — including the 62 members of the National Christian School Association, a K-12 accrediting body associated with Churches of Christ.
Ellenburg, who previously served as general counsel for Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., said those questions include: “Will protected religious practice extend beyond actual churches? Will religious preference in hiring as it relates to sexual liberties still be permitted? Will Christian schools still be able to honor admissions policies that reflect the mission of the school and the ideals of the individual school community?”
Phil EllenburgRather than wait for a lawsuit or court ruling, Christian schools should act now, Ellenburg said.
“The administration and board, along with legal counsel, should be reviewing documents for clear adherence to the school’s tenets and beliefs,” he said in an email. “Such documents would include: mission statement, charter, bylaws, statement of faith, hiring policies, admissions policies, student codes of conduct, facilities use policies, etc.”
Along with his work in Christian higher education, Shank serves as spokesman for the Christian Child and Family Services Association, a group of more than 50 child-care agencies associated with Churches of Christ.
“With the rise in the number of children in state custody and the inability of foster and child-care agencies associated with Churches of Christ to find suitable homes for these children, institutions that reject the biblical definition of marriage have risen up to take up the slack,” said Shank, who spent 32 years ministering for the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn.
The funding issue aside, Shank urges church leaders “to teach their members about the biblical nature of pure religion and the responsibility of God’s people to vulnerable children and individuals in society.”
Bruce McLartyRegardless of the ramifications, Christians must remain united and committed to the mission of God, said church leaders interviewed by The Christian Chronicle.
“While we are obviously disappointed in the ruling by the Supreme Court, we are neither surprised nor are we unprepared for the implications of this decision,” said Bruce McLarty, president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark. “We embrace the Bible, not the Supreme Court, as our ultimate authority.
“Because of this, we are confident as we face the future,” McLarty said, “and we are ready for the challenge of standing for ‘the truth in love’ in these difficult times.”
FREEDOM OF RELIGION SUMMIT
The Washington, D.C.-area District Heights Church of Christ in Maryland is organizing the Freedom of Religion Summit, featuring Melvin Otey, associate professor of law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, Aug. 14. For more information, call District Heights minister Willie Hubbard at (301) 568-1071 or email him at [email protected]
• Rainbows, Rebels and Revelation
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