Rev. Dr. Bill Bouknight is a retired United Methodist minister, a member of the Memphis Annual Conference. He was educated at Duke, University of Edinburgh- Scotland, and Yale Divinity School. He served churches in South Carolina for 28 years. From 1994 until 2007 he served as Senior Minister of Christ UMC in Memphis, TN. Currently he is a part-time Associate Director of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church.
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One of the issues that the United Methodist Church’s 2016 General Conference will have to confront is the very real possibility that in the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage decision by the Supreme Court) local churches may face lawsuits or government action designed to force them to perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Recently the Iowa Civil Rights Commission declared that prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity “sometimes” apply to churches. In 2012 a New Jersey administrative-law judge ruled that a religious organization closely associated with the United Methodist Church “wrongly denied access to its facilities” for a same-sex wedding.
With same-sex marriage now recognized as a constitutional right, and in light of Oregon’s awarding a lesbian couple $135,000 in damages for “emotional, mental and physical suffering” after a Christian bakery refused to bake their wedding cake, pastors and church leaders are anxiously seeking assurance from their insurance companies that they are protected. At least one insurance company—Southern Mutual Church Insurance Company—which serves more than 8,400 churches, has indicated that there is no coverage if a church is sued for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding. Their vice president of underwriting, David Karns, said on July 1: “The general liability form does not provide any coverage for this type of situation…we do offer Miscellaneous Legal Defense Coverage. This is not liability coverage, but rather expense reimbursement for defense costs. There is no coverage for any judgments against an insured.”
The 2016 General Conference will decide whether the United Methodist Church will continue to honor the biblical definition of marriage or accept the revised version dictated by the Supreme Court and our secular culture. If the UMC decides to remain true to its moral and spiritual heritage, it must give guidance to local churches on how to avoid ruinous lawsuits.
(Some of the above is based on an article by David French in NATIONAL REVIEW.)