Christian Reformed Church executive director Steven Timmermans sent a memo in August to U.S. congregations in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision making same sex marriage legal across the country. (Same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for more than a decade.)
Synod 2016 (the annual general assembly of the CRC) will receive a report from the Study Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance to Churches Re Same Sex Marriage. In the meantime, many are turning to the denominational office for advice.
“The purpose of this memo is to provide such advice, to situate it in our positions on marriage and homosexuality, and to offer it to our churches in the United States,” Timmermans wrote.
In considering the near-term impacts the court’s ruling may have on local congregations, the church turned to material by Carl Esbeck, a key legal advisor to the National Association of Evangelicals.
Esbeck advises churches, mission agencies, and schools to adopt positions and policies to strengthen their ability to exercise their religious freedom, including adding a statement of faith into their articles of incorporation and bylaws. That statement could be modeled on the Public Declaration of Agreement with the Beliefs of the CRCNA adopted by Synod 2013.
Further advice includes adopting a position statement focused on the church’s position concerning marriage and same sex attraction. The memo includes a sample position statement drawn from existing denominational positions.
Churches are also advised to adopt a policy about marriage ceremonies conducted by the church and a facilities use policy clearly defining the facilities as private property, not public accommodation. A church’s marriage policy could affirm that the church views marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman and that any marriages that take place on the church’s premises must fall in line with that policy.
A sample facilities use policy could establish that use of the building must be compatible with the mission and identity of the church and that the church’s consistory or council has non-appealable authority over a decision whether a use is consistent with Christian theology, doctrine, and witness.
“Our denominational attorneys very much agree that member churches should be responding to the present circumstances through constructive and balanced decision-making, which should include proactively formulating and implementing relevant statements and policies,” Timmermans wrote.
Timmermans’s memo and the sample policies can be found here.