Same-Sex Marriage, Now Transgender Bathrooms; What Churches Should Know

Written by Raul Rivera on Jun 23, 2016 in Tough Laws

This Sunday, June 26, marks one year since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The Court’s ruling left many pastors and church leaders concerned about the possible implications the ruling would have upon their sincerely held religious beliefs as well as their churches.

Many pastors were asking, and are still asking, questions such as:

  1. “Can I be forced to condone or perform a same-sex wedding ceremony?”
  2. “Should we strengthen our church’s bylaws?”
  3. “Is there anything else I should do to protect my church and our sincerely held religious beliefs?”

These questions are still valid and should remain a part of a continuing conversation between pastors and church leaders. In a blog post I wrote last year as a response to the Supreme Court ruling, I attempted to answer these questions based on what we knew at the time, as well as speculation.

Now that it has been a year since the Court’s ruling, I want to take some time to reassess this cultural and legislative shift in our country, and reevaluate the strategies you should consider implementing in order to protect what God has given you to lead.

What has happened since the Supreme Court ruling

After the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage last summer, many pastors, church leaders, and church compliance experts were left speculating as to what the future might bring.

Yes, our hope and trust rests in the sovereignty of our God, but living in a culture that is becoming more and more hostile towards the Church has left many pastors wondering, “What is going to happen next?”

In March of this year, the state of North Carolina made headlines when the state’s legislature passed its infamous House Bill 2 (HB2). This is most commonly known as North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill”.

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The bill was passed in response to a regulation passed by the Charlotte City Council that required businesses to allow individuals the use of a bathroom, shower, or locker room based on the gender they identified with, rather than the sex assigned to them at birth.

Soon after, several government agencies released two announcements regarding bathroom access and transgender individuals. Although both announcements have little direct effect on churches, they are significant enough to necessitate the attention of every pastor.

Two announcements regarding bathrooms

Shortly after North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” made headlines, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Education and Justice Department (as directed by the Obama Administration) released two significant announcements regarding bathroom access and transgender individuals.

Our hope and trust rests in the sovereignty of our God.

1. The EEOC Announcement:

On May 2, 2016, the EEOC issued bathroom guidance that prohibits employers from requiring their employees to use the bathroom associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. The EEOC’s announcement also prohibits employers from requiring transgender individuals to use separate, single stall bathrooms. This would be interpreted by the EEOC as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

This announcement from the EEOC did not specifically exempt churches from this interpretation of Title VII; however, this announcement only pertains to employers who have 15 or more employees.

There are some exceptions to who is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for religious organizations. However, it is imperative for your church to implement an employment practice that is consistent with your church’s bylaws, written doctrines, and sincerely held religious beliefs.

2. The Department of Education and Department of Justice Announcement:

On May 13, 2016, as directed by the Obama Administration, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued a directive to public schools and educational institutions that receive federal funds regarding bathroom access for transgender students.

Under this directive, a school must allow transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms that is “consistent with their gender identity.” The implications for schools that refuse to do so is the potential loss of federal funding and/or a civil rights lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It is important to note that both of these directives do not apply to bathroom facilities provided for church members or guests, nor do they apply to private schools (preschools and daycares included) that do not receive federal funding.

Regardless, now is not the time for churches to idly sit by and wait for something else to happen. Pastors and church leaders must be proactive and strategic to protect their churches from hostile legislation.

3 Active measures your church can take today

Since the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling on same-sex marriage last summer, many states have been attempting to implement Religious Liberty Laws and/or Pastor Protection Acts. As we have seen, there is much opposition to these laws.

Because of this, pastors and church leaders must be proactive in implementing measures and strategies to protect that which God has given them. As we teach at all of our conferences, now is the time for the Church to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Pastors and church leaders must be proactive and strategic to protect their churches from hostile legislation.

Below are 3 active measures your church can take today:

1. Review your church’s governing documents.

One solid course of action you can take today is to review your church’s bylaws and other governing documents. Many churches and ministries that have gone through our StartRIGHT Program have found it advantageous to add strategic language to their bylaws. One example is what we call the prohibited activities clause.

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The prohibited activities clause states that your church is prohibited from participating in activities that violate its written doctrines, and in addition, your church is prohibited from allowing any of its assets to be used for activities that violate its written doctrines.

As pointed out by our General Counsel, Attorney Damon Moore, the prohibited activities clause points to the church’s written doctrines as a guide to the church for how to use assets, such as the church building, vehicles, cash, and other possessions.

In their doctrines, many churches dictate that only the marriage ceremonies that fall within the church’s doctrinal position of marriage can be conducted in the church building. It is within the written doctrines that many churches find comfort and protection concerning same-sex marriage and other possible public definitions of marriage that may come.

Additionally, if your church has a sincerely held religious belief regarding gender identity or expression, you will want to incorporate that belief into your written doctrines.

Provided here is a link to a sample set of written doctrines that you may use as a template to help guide you and your church in drafting, adopting, and implementing written doctrines. This is a topic that we discuss at all of our conferences.

2. Consider religious expression liability coverage.

In a previous blog post, I had the chance to sit down and have a conversation with Nolan Jackson regarding liability insurance for churches. Nolan has been in the insurance business since 1988, and he is able to provide liability insurance to churches in more than 20 states.

During our conversation, he mentioned an additional liability coverage for churches called religious expression coverage. In the instance your church gets sued for refusing to perform or allow a same-sex marriage (or anything of the like), the religious expression coverage will provide legal council throughout the lengthy legal battle. This is a $250,000 policy for only $100 per year.

3. Attend our Ultimate Church Structure Conference

I am not aware of a single pastor in America who does not want to protect his church. The fact of the matter is that most pastors simply lack the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to implement the necessary strategies to do so in today’s legal environment.

At our one-day conferences you will be empowered with the knowledge and strategies needed to lead and protect your church in today’s world. Click below to check out our upcoming conference schedule and to register for a conference in a city near you.

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Keep fighting the good fight!

There is no doubt that we are living in a legislative culture that is hostile towards the Church. At times it may seem like we are continually fighting an uphill battle with little progress to show. And if we are not careful, it may be easy to slip into an apathetic state of existence, which can further lead to us not continuing to fight the good fight.

But as the Scripture tells us, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV)

Do not be discouraged, but rather, be encouraged in the fact that we serve the Living God who is faithful; for if God is for us, who can ever be against us?


Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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