Church Membership is being pushed in The Gospel Coalition’s recent article. Whose rights are protected?
Christina Holcomb, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition (TGC), 5 Actions Churches Should Take in a Changing Legal Culture, which was published today.
I can’t help but perk up and take notice when I read about churches and legal counsel after having been sued by my former pastor, Chuck O’Neal, and the church, Beaverton Grace Bible Church. Please note that both my former pastor and the church were plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Here are a couple of screenshots from this lovely document that altered the course of my life:
Ms. Holcomb summarizes the new threats she sees in our current culture as it relates to religious rights and freedoms:
These new political, cultural, and legal realities directly affect the church’s freedom to live out its faith. While most church decisions about internal governance or doctrine currently enjoy constitutional protection, churches cannot assume that these protections will stand indefinitely. Maintaining a gospel-centered witness in today’s culture requires not only standing firm on the truths of Scripture, but also taking affirmative steps to protect the church’s freedom to continue peacefully teach and live out its faith.
She gave a brief paragraph for the following points:
1. Adopt a written statement of faith about marriage.
2. Establish religious employment criteria.
3. Create a facility use policy.
4. Establish a written marriage policy.
It is the last point, “Adopt a written membership policy,” where I would like to focus. Here is what she wrote:
5. Adopt a written membership policy.
Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them. As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline. Churches are encouraged to adopt a written membership policy that explains the procedure for becoming a church member, procedures for member discipline, and procedures for rescinding church membership.
Of course, this recommendation does not mean that a church should adopt a form of church government to which it does not subscribe. Churches can still have designated members who affirm they are committed to and part of a church body, even if there is no voting or say in church practices.
Okie-dokie, I have a couple of thoughts:
Notice in the first sentence: Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them
When you become a member, you are agreeing/consenting to the church’s authority over you.
Ok, now take a look at the second sentence: As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline.
Look again closely. Who has the protection? The member or the church?
Also please note that she’s encouraging all churches to adopt a written membership policy.
Christiana Holcomb lays it out for us pretty clearly. She says the church must protect themselves first.
But when abusive church leadership has the law on their side and they don’t agree with you, a covenant-signed church member, you could be hosed.
I was sued without being a church member (despite the fabrications you read elsewhere by Chuck O’Neal). We never signed any documentation, never went before the church body to say we were formally agreeing to be members. I have a copy of the bylaws and know what membership entails and we were not official members, but my daughter and I were still sued.
Imagine, however, being in an abusive church in which your church membership is hung over your head and you are reminded that you signed the dotted line. You may have forfeited some of your legal rights. Please think very carefully about church membership. It is not a biblical mandate. It is a modern cultural trend.
Edited to add: It looks like Dee at The Wartburg Watch blog also had a strong reaction to this article and wrote a blog post. There are some real practical helps here: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2015/04/09/further-proof-you-are-signing-a-legal-contract-not-a-membership-covenant-courtesy-of-the-gospel-coalition/