the shape of leadership

Religious Freedom Helps Keep the Doors Open for the Gospel

Best practices to protect your church

Kristen Waggoner on July 6, 2022

As Jesus closed His earthly ministry, He charged His disciples with this critical mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This memorable directive serves as the Church’s mission statement. For over two millennia, the body of Christ has spread the gospel, made disciples, and expanded God’s kingdom throughout the world.

While the gospel can advance in environments that embrace freedom or include persecution, the Kingdom, society at large, and individuals all benefit when there is robust religious freedom and free speech — two fundamental rights the United States Constitution and state constitutions protect. These freedoms serve as a bulwark against government tyranny and the foundation for  self-government.

These rights also promote human flourishing. Countries with more religious freedom have less poverty, war and violence. They enjoy more economic freedom, safeguard a free press, and compassionately protect the vulnerable in their midst. These countries also ensure people can freely share the gospel and the beauty of God’s created order.

Governments that prioritize religious freedom also protect the authentic diversity and dignity of citizens. By affirming an individual’s capacity and responsibility to follow his or her conscience, our own government has — imperfectly at times — demonstrated an appropriate restraint that has benefitted people of all faiths and no faith at all.

But not all Americans appreciate the genius and humility built into our Constitution. They’ve embraced the depressing falsehood that Christianity and objective truth claims are merely power plays, designed to sideline others. It’s a worldview that manufactures victims, destroys genuine diversity, and pits neighbors against one another. It’s also a worldview with devastating practical consequences.


Understanding the Threats

Unfortunately, churches and religious organizations face increasing pressure to compromise their biblical principles as activists use law and policy to demand conformity.

Religious organizations face increasing threats to their freedom to minister and operate according to their faith. For example, some governments now compel churches to cover abortion and sex-reassignment procedures in employee health insurance plans. Others prohibit churches from hiring only people of like faith if that faith includes certain beliefs about human sexuality or when life begins.

Religious organizations face increasing threats to their freedom to minister and operate according to their faith.

Government officials increasingly attach clauses to public benefits, programs, licensure, and accreditation schemes that exclude organizations holding Christian beliefs.

And an increasing body of proposed legislation — like the deceptively titled Equality Act — threatens churches’ ability to hire those who adhere to biblical principles.

Many of these challenges come from sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. These laws elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to protected class status akin to race. Proponents claim such policies are needed to stop discrimination, but the laws are often used to target and discriminate against individuals and organizations who affirm biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The fallout is immense.

Christians are justified in seeking protection for their churches and other organizations. But the harms spread much further — including to private citizens with no allegiance to the Christian faith.

To achieve their ends, SOGI laws sacrifice parental rights, free speech, the rights of healthcare providers to prioritize ethical treatment, the well-being of children, and women’s rights to privacy, safety, and equal opportunity. Activists have introduced or passed these laws at all levels of government.

At the federal level, the proposed Equality Act threatens to undermine existing legal protections for people of faith. These proposals mirror SOGI laws already passed at the state level. For example, the Virginia Values Act, enacted in July 2020, imposes fines of up to $100,000 for every time a church expresses biblical beliefs about marriage on its own websites. This law also compels churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their beliefs.

The threats are not hypothetical; officials are already applying similar laws across the country. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has challenged the Virginia law in court.

In Seattle, a faith-based rescue mission is in court for operating according to its biblical beliefs and seeking to hire only employees who will promote its mission to evangelize.

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission has faithfully served the city’s homeless by providing them food, shelter, addiction recovery, job placement, and legal services since the Great Depression. The ministry’s religious convictions and evangelical mission are the foundation for everything it does, including its hiring practices. Thus, the Mission employs only those who share its religious beliefs.

But after a prospective employee sued, testifying he sought to change the Mission’s beliefs, the Washington State Supreme Court held that state law could punish churches and religious organizations for not hiring people who do not share their faith. ADF and Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC, a Seattle firm, represent the Mission.

Every generation will contest freedom, just as it contests power. As Christian leaders, it is our sacred privilege and responsibility to steward the freedoms God has given us for the next generation.

God can and does work through suffering, and of all institutions, the Church should know best the pain of persecution. We expect that our neighbors will sometimes oppose our beliefs and ethics. But we do our children and communities a disservice if we fail to protect the God-given, constitutionally-protected rights of ourselves and others.

A nation that silences the gospel and the teaching of biblical principles will not only undermine its future, but it will also inflict great suffering on families and individuals.

By preserving the authenticity and religious practices of our churches, schools, and nonprofits, we provide genuine diversity of thought and offer a place of safety and restoration for our neighbors who have been harmed by the culture’s prevailing orthodoxy.


Best Practices for Churches

Prudent action is a vital part of stewarding freedom. There are six practical steps your church can take to preserve religious liberty as you make disciples and minister to your community. (These matters are complex, so we recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in religious freedom issues.)

1. Create a statement of faith. A statement of faith is the foundational document for every church. The statement expresses the church’s core religious beliefs and explains why the church holds those beliefs.

A statement not only provides clarification for potential members, but it also serves as evidence of those beliefs if they are questioned in a lawsuit. Adopting a statement of faith makes it more likely a court will conclude a church acted on its well-documented and sincere religious beliefs, rather than an improper motive.

A nation that silences the gospel and the teaching of biblical principles will not only undermine its future, but it will also inflict great suffering on families and individuals.

Because of its importance, the statement of faith should appear in the church’s constitution or bylaws.

One of the many benefits of being affiliated with the Assemblies of God is that your constitution or bylaws should already include our “16 Fundamental Truths,” which meets this recommendation of adopting a statement of faith. The Assemblies of God also provides recommendations for General Council affiliated church governance minimums.

2. Create statements on marriage and sexuality. Issues concerning marriage and sexuality now regularly confront church leaders. Churches are receiving requests to use their facilities for same-sex ceremonies or to endorse those views by admitting individuals into church membership who reject the biblical sexual ethic.

Issues involving gender identity are also on the rise. How will your church respond, for example, if a man wants to join a women’s prayer or support group? Or if a male student identifies as a female and wants to room with females at a church camp? These issues deserve serious consideration before the situation arises.

Given these and other issues, it is important that churches develop a clear statement on marriage and sexuality. The Assemblies of God has position papers on these topics — “Homosexuality, Marriage, and Sexual Identity” and “Transgenderism, Transsexuality, and Gender Identity” — that churches can adopt or use as references to create their own statements.

Such statements may exist within a statement of faith, but churches can also adopt these statements as separate policies provided the religious basis for the beliefs are clearly articulated.

3. Create a statement on the sanctity of human life. Churches should consider adopting a statement about the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. This helps your church declare God’s truth that life is precious and worthy of preservation and protection.

A statement like this also reminds employees and volunteers of their commitment to the sanctity of life as they serve in your ministry.

The Assemblies of God has a position paper on this subject, “Sanctity of Human Life: Abortion and Reproductive Issues,” that local congregations can adopt or use as a reference to draft their own statement to include in a policy.

4. Create a statement of final authority for matters of faith and conduct. It is impossible to anticipate every doctrinal dispute a church might encounter, and it’s important for churches to respond in a legally defensible way. So each church should identify (1) the source of religious authority for matters of faith and conduct, and (2) the final human interpreter of that source for the church.

This statement makes clear that authority resides in a designated individual or group (e.g., pastor or board of deacons) authorized to speak for your ministry and state its position on any disputed issue. Ultimately, this type of statement should provide a catch-all to cover unforeseeable threats that might arise in the future.

5. Create clear job descriptions that incorporate your church’s statement of faith and code of conduct. The First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have long protected a church’s ability to hire “coreligionists,” individuals who share the same faith or beliefs.

Although this coreligionist principle is under attack, the Supreme Court recently solidified the ability of churches to make employment decisions regarding their ministerial employees without government interference. We still recommend churches create written job descriptions for each employment position.

God is our faithful Provider, and we are to be good caretakers of His provision — including our religious freedom and free speech rights.

Job descriptions should explain how each position furthers your church’s religious mission, what the religious responsibilities of the position include, and what qualifications are necessary for the role.

Additionally, as Christians or coreligionists, we are not called merely to believe the gospel; we are called to act on it as we abide in Christ. So the qualifications section of each job description should require the employee to affirm your church’s statement of faith and to abide by your church’s code of conduct.

Some Christian ministries have lost the freedom to select employees who live consistently with their faith because they hired individuals who did not share their fundamental beliefs or ethics. Don’t let that happen to your church.

6. Create a facility use policy. Churches can strengthen their religious liberty protections and, ultimately, their mission by adopting a facility use policy that outlines the religious nature of the building and prohibits uses that conflict with the church’s beliefs.

A facility use policy should provide clear evidence of the church’s beliefs and practices regarding use of its property and why certain practices or activities are not allowed on the premises. It should apply to all facility uses, whether it is a long-term or one-time use, by members or non-members, or for a fee or gratuity.

Churches that charge outside organizations to use their facilities should do so at less-than-market rates. Even when charging less-than-market rates, churches are at greatest risk when they allow commercial or for-profit entities to use church facilities. Churches should seek legal counsel before making such commitments.


Freedom to Serve

God is our faithful Provider, and we are to be good caretakers of His provision — including our religious freedom and free speech rights.

To best protect your church and steward religious freedom, remember the “3 C’s: winsomely communicate what your church believes to your congregation and your community, prepare written core documents identifying your beliefs and religious practices, and consistently apply those documents.

God is the Author of freedom, and we ultimately find freedom in Christ. Religious freedom in this country is a secondary and temporary blessing, but it is not unimportant.

Religious freedom allows us to share more readily the story of our ultimate freedom from the burden of sin and that helps others.

As Christians, we should eagerly embrace religious freedom as a gift from God because it is good for humanity, it helps us better serve God and others, and it furthers our mission, which is helping keep the doors open for the gospel.


The information in this article should not be construed as legal advice. For specific questions or to obtain legal advice or sample documents, we recommend becoming members of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Church Alliance. For more information, visit or contact Alliance Defending Freedom at 1-800-835-5233.

This article appears in the summer 2022 issue of

Don't miss an issue, subscribe today!

Trending Articles

Advertise   Privacy Policy   Terms   About Us   Submission Guidelines  

Influence Magazine & The Healthy Church Network
© 2024 Assemblies of God