Churches May Face Risk of Lawsuits

Bill Bouknight on July 10, 2015

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.

UMVoices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational concern.  IRD/UMAction does not necessarily endorse every view expressed by UMVoices contributors, nor do UMVoices contributors necessarily endorse every view expressed by IRD.


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.)


  1. Comment by MarcoPolo on July 13, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    I sincerely hope that any (same-sex) couple will seek a Church that is open to ALL marriages, and not demand Officiants or facilities from those Churches that still hold to archaic tenets. There are plenty of Episcopal Churches.
    No offense intended, but it seems that Time is determined to force evolution upon ALL.
    Let the schism begin!

  2. Comment by ken on July 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    They better hurry, the Episcopagans won’t be around much longer. They’re on the road to extinction, and good riddance. Apparently gays are not big donors. Drive the heteros away, and you drive the money away too – that was pretty dumb, lefties!

  3. Comment by MarcoPolo on July 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Heteros don’t need to leave a church that welcomes ALL peoples (ie: LGBT). They might realize their congregations could be more expressive, better dressed, more sincere, and certainly less judgemental.

    Personally, I think a schism is inevitable, but that shouldn’t be over something that is as natural as being one’s self, whether that’s being Gay, or being Straight!

    You don’t find Churches that ONLY preach the Old Testament (Synagogues not inferred). So why do New Testament Churches claim that Jesus was dead set against Gays? I was taught that LOVE was the main tenet of Christianity. And I manifest that for ALL my fellow human beings. Too bad some Christians and their Churches can’t understand that.

  4. Comment by jjgrndisland on July 14, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    I think everyone knows that the goal was never “marriage equality,” the goal was to have the legal means to go after orthodox Christians.

  5. Comment by MarcoPolo on July 20, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Why would anyone want to “go after” orthodox Christians?
    Marriage Equality has nothing to do with enabling predatory actions against the Church. It is for providing equal opportunity, and treatment of ALL married couples across the board.

  6. Comment by Brad F on July 20, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Two Christians were fined $135,000 for upsetting two lesbians.

    That would qualify as “going after Christians.” Your hate for Christians is so intense that you would support anything gays do to Christians.

  7. Comment by MarcoPolo on July 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    I won’t pretend to know all the details of that particular case, but I’d suspect that their defense attorney was a slacker, and they’re seeking further litigation. That truly was a sad judgement!

    I’m not hateful of, or to, Christians, and I’m not sure why you would accuse me of such. I do however, understand being fair in all my dealings, and that would include supporting Equality for all American citizens. ‘Seems like something Jesus would espouse!

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