Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, “if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond space-time tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?” ― Charles Stross link
I had to post this! The quote TGC article and its recommendations are going to pushed next week at TGC's conference.
Recently, I did a search on church membership covenants/contracts and realized that this website is one of the few which actually is raising questions about this current push to have members sign these things. What don't they want you to know?
YOU ARE SIGNING (OR HAVE SIGNED)A LEGAL DOCUMENT!
Yes, I know this is shouting but everyone who is being asked to sign these contracts/covenants or has already signed one needs to know the intent of these agreements. They are not some loosey goosey "let's all pray for one another" agreement. They are designed to prevent the church from getting sued when they discipline you.
This morning I saw a post at The Gospel™ Coalition website called 5 Actions Churches Should Take in a Changing Legal Culture.
At first I thought this was going to be limited to the concern that churches would be forced by the government to perform same sex marriages. In fact that is how the article started off. But, the following got slipped in further down in the article.
This advice will be given at next week's TGC conference.
Download the free Protecting Your Ministry resource, or visit booth 109 at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Orlando, April 13 to 15, to grab a hard copy and enter to win one of six $500 gift certificates to the conference bookstore.
The post is written by an attorney and she is in the business of protecting churches, not individuals.
Christiana Holcomb is litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom in its Scottsdale, Arizona, office. Holcomb specializes in protecting the freedom and autonomy of churches and ministries.
She strongly recommends that churches adopt a written membership policy.
Carefully read her advice.
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.
Let's review what she said.
- Unite is a nice word for signing on the dotted line.
- If you unite, you agree to the church's authority over you.
- If you unite, the church has legal protection to apply church discipline.
- There is no definition for what violations church discipline is instituted; merely the procedures to do so.
- Corollary: They can discipline what ever they darn well please and they do so in many churches.
- There should be procedures for rescinding church membership.
- Corollary: That means they can also NOT rescind church membership.
The final point is the most important for all to understand in this entire essay. They can tell you that you are not allowed to resign your membership until ….whatever.
A church does not have to give you any say or vote in church practices.
Do you understand this? Let me say it another way. A church can do whatever they darn well like in the way of discipline and they do not have to listen to your disagreement or concerns, whatsoever. You are merely a silent sheep who gives money to the church. Do not think a *plurality* of elders will give you protection. Elders become elders by agreeing with the pastors in the vast majority of churches.
TWW recommends that potential members of churches carefully consider if they are willing to give away legal protection and their freedom by signing these covenants. This blog has highlighted story after story of poorly applied and abusive church discipline. We are currently sitting on a huge story of a well known, TGC linked church that applied church discipline in a shocking manner. We hope to be able to tell the story within the next 2 weeks.
How to get out of a previously signed covenant.
You may be able to get out of a covenant/contract by following the advice in this TWW post. We are still working on a resource page on this matter since we seem to be one of the few sources educating church goers of this concerning trend.
Once again, you are signing a legal contract no matter what cutesy, spiritual name they apply to it.
Here is a brief excerpt from that post!
The Membership Covenant
Did you know that most churches consult attorneys to draw up these covenants? Are you aware that they were developed, not for purposes of sweet fellowship, but to protect the church in case an angry church member sues them? Did you know that some angry church members are actually justified? For those of you who have signed such a document (Dee has and has successfully gotten out of one), were you advised that you were signing a document that had been vetted by lawyers? (Dee was not). An open and honest church should advise unsuspecting potential members of this fact and encourage them to seek similar advice.
How to Resign
Three years ago, I spoke with a nationally well-known attorney who informed me that the only power that churches have is the ability to throw members out of the church. They can do that with very little recrimination. But, they could have some legal trouble announcing a member's supposed "sins" to the full church if said member employs the following procedure. What we are about to discuss has been “run by” legal experts. However, TWW states categorically that this should not be taken to mean it is an official legal position. Please seek advice of an attorney for an authorized opinion.
- Resign your church membership prior to the all-church announcement. Better yet, before harsh discipline is applied.
- Keep your lips sealed.
- Do not tell anyone that you are going to take the following action. You do not want Sally Sycophant (we all know a few of these) to run to the pastors and report this, giving them an opportunity quickly schedule the all church gossip session.
The Letter: (We give special thanks to ARCE, who knows a thing or two, for sending this format to TWW.)
1. Send the following letter, return receipt requested (and tracking, in case the Post Office lets them have it without returning the card).
2. Put the return receipt number on the heading of the letter (you can get the form with the number at the PO, before typing the letter).
3. The format
To the pastors and administrators at ____________ church.
This letter is notice that I am not longer a member [attendee] at _______________ church, effective with the date of this letter.
As a non-member, I am no longer subject to any of your discipline as of (date on letter). After (date on letter), any publication, notice, or speaking about me by any church staff or recognized church leader is no longer authorized by me.
Any negative remark or statement about me, any encouragement that people shun me, or any action other than deleting me from your records will be evaluated for possible legal action for libel or other tort claim against the individuals involved and the organization.
If any one asks about me, refer them to me, any other action may result in a tort claim against you.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. You must desist from any act that may harm my reputation or me or come between me and other persons of my acquaintance. Legal action may ensue.
Sending this letter and the aftermath
- You must mail the letter on the date on the letter and they will not receive it for a couple of days thereafter.
- Keep a copy, print out the tracking showing when it was delivered, keep the green card or, if it is refused, the returned letter (they are legally responsible for the content if they refuse it).
- Document any response or any failure to comply. If they (leadership or staff) call, listen but do not talk, except to say “I disagree” if they make a false statement about you.
- Document the conversation.
- Go to an attorney if they proceed to trash your reputation or that of your business.
- Do not respond by trashing the organization.