LIBERTY, Mo. (BNC) by Stephen Lord — On June 26, 2015, in the Obergefell vs. Hodges case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were a constitutional right. Eighteen days later, on July 14, our church secretary was visibly shaken when I came in the office. She had just ended a call with a lesbian asking if our church building would be available in October for their ceremony. That certainly didn’t take long.
In this instance, it was not an activist looking to pick a fight. In fact, the caller did not even identify herself as a lesbian. However, perhaps by coincidence, our secretary recognized the name and number revealed on Caller ID. The young woman on the other end of the line was our secretary’s neighbor from three houses down. Her partner had once been a member of our congregation as a teenager and had been a close friend to one of our secretary’s daughters. So our secretary knew the domestic situation.
Essentially, we side-stepped the matter. The date the couple wanted was already booked. The caller thanked our secretary and said that they were calling around to various venues to see what was available. If they discovered they had to change their date they might call back.
Upon hanging up the phone our secretary immediately emailed all our elders seeking for guidance in how to handle the situation should the couple call back in the days ahead.
Our eldership had already been in the processes of revising our building use policy as well as our bylaws. Yet this is a spiritual matter as well as a legal matter, so the call generated quite a bit of discussion among our elders.
On the spiritual side, we need to recognize that not every gay couple that might seek to use our facilities is looking for a fight, though all it takes is one.
My maternal uncle lived the homosexual lifestyle up until his death. Yet he never took an activist approach and didn’t parade his lifestyle before the family. So we should not be hasty in assuming the worst when we receive such a call.
Instead, our response should be measured. The gay person is created in the image of God just as is the straight person, and the gay person is someone for whom Jesus died as is the straight person. The practicing homosexual will not be assigned a deeper, hotter level of hell than the practicing thief, liar, adulterer, drunkard, pornographer, or divisive person. “It is the sick who need a physician.” So we need to communicate our stance in a way that stands for God’s truth on moral issues while also breathing God’s grace to the sinner.
On the practical and legal side, there are several considerations. One thought was to immediately change our building-use policy to restrict it to members and their immediate family. This would not work as we have at least three member families with immediate relatives who have expressed that they are gay or born the “wrong” gender. Likely, there are a few more such member families who have just not disclosed this delicate family matter to others. So a building-use policy that limits access to “members and their immediate relatives” would not permit us to avoid the request of gay couples to use the building. Further, the more we restrict the use of facilities to just members, it renders hollow the claim that the building is a tool to serve the community and reach the lost.
Our facilities are private property. If we have not publicly promoted the availability of our facility and staff for such services as weddings, funerals, etc., we are not obligated to let whoever wants to (regardless of the situation) use the building or contract with our staff. We can say no to whomever we wish without having to justify the answer. We are, for now, a different sort of animal, legally, than a cake-decorating or wedding-photography business. In our state of Missouri, “sexual orientation” has not yet been added to the state’s basic non-discrimination law, the Missouri Human Rights Act, but that change will unquestionably be coming. Even so, it will be a while before the freedom of religion clause is restricted.
One of our elders is a civil law attorney. He drafted the following building use policy and section of our by-laws pertaining to our stance on same-sex marriages.
Building Use Policy: We acknowledge the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Obergefell case that expanded the definition of (civil) marriage to include “same sex marriages.”
However, as God’s representatives on Earth, we are responsible for teaching and behaving in ways that are approved by God and rejecting thoughts and behaviors that God condemns (including engaging in sexual activity outside a one-man/one-woman, God-joined marriage). Thus, we will not make our facilities available for use in same-sex ceremonies for two reasons: First, we believe we would violate God’s teaching on this subject; and second, because to do so will cause the community to think we approve of these types of relationships when we in fact believe they violate God’s law.
By-laws: 2.7. Marriage. 2.7.1. In the Beginning. God created marriage “in the beginning” (Matthew 19:4-5) and he alone has authority to define what constitutes a valid marriage (see, for example, Matthew 5:31-32 where Jesus defines some “marriages” as adulterous with the implication that those “marriages” are not recognized by him). The marriage that God pronounced “very good” is one in which he joins one man and one woman (Genesis 1:31).
2.7.2 Our Position. Sexual activity outside a one-man/one-woman marriage is fornication or adultery (Hebrews 13:4). Unless repented of, fornication (sexual activity between persons not in a marriage created by God’s joining) and adultery (sexual activity between persons, at least one of which has been joined by God in marriage to another) will cause the sinner to spend eternity separated from God (Matthew 15:19-20; Revelation 21:8). Thus, we do not accept as Members any person engaged in pre-marital sexual activity or any person who is in a “marriage” not joined by God, (such as a so-called “same sex marriage”).
Stephen has been an evangelist for 26 years. He currently serves as the evangelist and one of the elders at the Liberty, Mo., congregation.
Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us