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Pastor’s Legal Seminar
November 9, 2013 @ 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
A seminar for pastors, church leaders, elders, deacons, leaders of Christian organizations that will address the following topics:
1) With the recent Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), what might be next and what can we do?
2) As a church leader, what are your legal rights? How should you respond in various legal situations? (ie. If a same-sex couple asks to be married at your church or a non-believer applies for a position on your staff?)
3) How can pastors minister to the gay community and help couples or family members who are struggling with their sexual identity?
Pastor’s Legal Seminar Recap
(by Elizabeth Mak)
Last Saturday, pastors from Chinese churches from all around the Los Angeles area joined us at the Garfield Worship Center in Alhambra to hear the political, legal, and pastoral aspects of recent legislation regarding homosexuality. Dr. Scott Waller and Dr. Kevin Lewis from Biola University opened the morning session with a discourse on the political and legal ramifications of DOMA and related legislation. Dr. Bill Tam of the Traditional Family Coalition and Agnes Chiu, Esq., with Agnes Chiu & Associates followed with more information on how churches can protect themselves against being sued for discrimination.
Dr. Waller pointed out that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage heterosexually, was deemed unconstitutional because a majority of the supreme court justices believed that the act was motivated by hatred and discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals. The supreme court ruled DOMA as infringing upon the freedoms of citizens of a certain sexual orientation. Dr. Waller pointed out, however, that freedom is to have the liberty to do what you ought to do, not to do whatever you want to do without consequences. In our culture today, concepts and definitions that were once widely held have evolved with the changing times.
As a lawyer, Dr. Lewis prefaced his statement saying that the advice he would be giving that day was not actionable, but rather general legal advice. He encouraged individual churches to obtain specific legal advice for their unique situations. As a theologian, Dr. Lewis began with a theological basis for his practice of law, saying that one can test Godâ€™s law against manâ€™s law because all authority comes from God. No pastor, governor, or father can command someone to do something that God forbids. The problems in our culture, therefore, started with bad theology on the part of Christians and everyone else. Because Christians reduced calling and vocation only to the realm of church and religion, weâ€™ve allowed God-haters, atheists, unbelievers, etc. to shape our culture. When Christians removed themselves from secular culture, it only became more and more secular. We as Christian individuals have a role to play in standing for justice and freedom as God defines it.
In regard to practical law affecting churches today, Dr. Lewis encouraged the pastors with good news. Based on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, itâ€™s not considered discrimination if a church hires only Christians. Furthermore, although professional counselors/psychologists cannot counsel those under the age of 18 regarding a change in sexual orientation, church pastors can still help young people in this way. Pastors are also free to talk about any issues from the pulpit (except for support specific political candidates) without it being deemed hate speech. A church can also refuse to perform a homosexual wedding.
In the marketplace, however, a Christian baker or wedding photographer cannot refuse to bake a wedding cake or take photos for a homosexual wedding. An example of this was that two Christian fertility doctors refused to inseminate a lesbian based on a matter of conscience. The women sued the doctors and won. Courts now work on a rational basis to restrict matters of conscience. They stated that the establishment and free exercise of laws by federal and free institutions did not exempt people from the Unruh Anti-Discrimination Act. It’s rational to the government that anti-discrimination trumps religion. Outside of the church, the culture wants to own you, which is why itâ€™s so important that when we go out, we are as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
Dr. Bill Tam shared about how his church had consulted Alliance Defending Freedom for advice on how to re-write their churchâ€™s bylaws and articles of faith in order to protect them from being sued for discrimination.
Agnes Chiu, Esq. talked about how non-profit religious organizations, para-church organizations, and educational institutions qualify for an exemption from the Fair Employment and Housing Act which makes it illegal for businesses to discriminate against someone based on religion, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, etc. Qualifications for exemption require a religious mission, affiliation with a religious identity, and a 501(c)(3) non-profit tax-exempt status.
In the afternoon session, Josh Wenig, the Worship Arts Director at Chino Valley Community Church, and Dr. Ekron Chen from Logos Evangelical Seminary shared about the pastoral aspects of relating to those in the homosexual community. Agnes Ip closed the time by sharing about how LGBTQ movements are growing in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Josh Wenig shared his own testimony of how he struggled with homosexuality for years and was living the gay lifestyle after college. It wasnâ€™t until he decided to move back to Los Angeles that he gave his life to God. He said that today, though he still struggles with homosexual attraction, he has chosen to live a heterosexual lifestyle because he believes that honors God the most. In regard to how we can reach out to those struggling with homosexuality, Josh had a lot to say. He indicated that those who live the homosexual lifestyle already feel outcasted so we need to be careful not to reinforce that message. Instead, we need to earn the right to hear from that person, which only comes through relationship, and that same rapport needs to be built if they are going to be able to hear from you.
Josh also touched on the subject of how the Samaritan woman and the woman who committed adultery were still living in sin when Jesus approached them. At the end of their encounters with Jesus, however, they were challenged to live a new life. In the same way, we should not push homosexuals away but take the time to know them and share the love of Christ with them. The power for his personal lifestyle change came through a residency program, a counselor he has been seeing for ten years, accountability from church elders and his wife.
Dr. Ekron Chen emphasized that we need to minister to homosexuals because they too are created in Godâ€™s image and that those who are well have no need for a physician but rather those who are sick (Luke 5:31). We must start from balanced teachingâ€”not just negativity about homosexuality but the positives of love, grace and the image of God in both genders. We must care for families whose members have â€œcome outâ€ and learn to restore gently those in the Christian community who openly admit to being gay. Even more, Dr. Chen suggested practicing abstinence in our own lives, just as we are asking them to do.[/toggle]