COGIC Urban Initiatives & Jubilee Network Team Up in St. Louis

COGIC Urban Initiatives & Jubilee Network Team Up in St. Louis as Local police attend Cardinals game with St. Louis youth. Take a look at the video below:

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Memo On Same Sex Ruling

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MEMORANDUM CONCERNING THE RECENT SUPREME COURT RULING ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGES[1]

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court (the “Supreme Court”), by a 5-4 majority vote, issued a landmark ruling[2] making same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states. While the Supreme Court’s ruling clearly requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages from other states, at the present time, it is unclear how the Supreme Court’s ruling affects clergy, churches, religious nonprofits, parochial schools, and other church operated and/or affiliated entities. 

In light of the uncertain impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Office of General Counsel (“OGC”) publishes this Memorandum to provide guidance to congregations and clergy throughout the Church Of God In Christ in regards to their current church policies to ensure that they align with the Church Of God In Christ’s resolution on same-sex marriage approved by the General Assembly on November 10, 2014 (the “2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution”).[3]  The OGC has received numerous queries regarding the impact of this ruling on religious institutions throughout the United States.  While there are no definitive answers at the present time, it is important to recognize that a number of states and their law-making bodies continue to consider legislation that addresses particular exceptions for religious institutions.  In the meanwhile, the OGC publishes this Memorandum to offer guidance to local pastors as churches review their bylaws, policies, practices and other rules, and conform them, if necessary, to ensure that they align with the 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution.

The OGC recommends that you consider the following actions:

A.  CONGREGATIONS

  1. Develop a Building Use Policy that Prohibits the Use of Church Facilities For Same-Sex Marriages and Other Related Activities

Local congregations should adopt a building use policy that prohibits the use of its church facilities to conduct same-sex marriages and other activities related to such unions.  Should your church be challenged on this issue, courts will likely conclude that the greatest constitutional protection under the First Amendment applies to churches that only allow members in good standing to use their premises for weddings or other related activities.  However, such constitutional protection may be diminished or eliminated in the case of churches that rent their facilities to the general public as a revenue-raising activity.  Church leaders should carefully consider the potential downside of entering the commercial marketplace in order to raise church funds.  Thus, churches should avoid advertising their facilities for public use.  Once a church begins to “look like” it is in the business of facilitating public weddings, it may become subject to non-discrimination commerce laws.

  1. Develop a Policy that Limits Weddings, Funerals, and Baby Dedications to Members Only

Local congregations should consider adopting a policy that not only limits weddings, but also funerals and baby dedications to members of the congregation in good standing with the faith and teachings of the Church Of God In Christ.  “Members in good standing” should be carefully defined as members who offer evidence by their confession and conduct that they are living in accord with the faith, teachings and doctrine of the Church Of God In Christ.

  1. Bylaws

Many who are opposed to same-sex marriage are encouraging churches to amend their bylaws or other governing document(s) to insert a provision defining marriage as exclusively a union between one man and one woman.  While such an amendment is not inappropriate, it may be unnecessary, redundant, or ineffective for the following reasons:

First, the governing documents of many religious denominations contain provisions that provide a theological basis for a church’s definition of marriage.  As mentioned above, the General Assembly of the Church Of God In Christ adopted the 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution in November 2014, which prohibits our clergy from performing same-sex marriages and precludes our church facilities from being leased, rented, or loaned for any purpose related to such a union.  Because the General Assembly is the law expressing body of our church and the 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution governs the conduct of our licensed clergy and member churches, amending the bylaws of your local church to reflect the same is not necessary, but optional.

Second, bylaws are rules of internal governance and administration.  Policies pertaining to marriage or other issues are best addressed in a policy manual.

Third, and most importantly, a bylaw amendment adding a marriage policy to a church’s bylaws is no guaranty of protection since it might be ignored by an activist court.  For example, in 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) had properly revoked the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University on the basis of its racially discriminatory practices, even though the university based its practices on biblical grounds that were clearly referenced in its governing documents.[4]  This suggests that bylaw amendments are no guaranty of protection. 

The bottom line is that including a statement in a church’s bylaws defining marriage may be of some help should the church’s tax exemptions be challenged,[5] or if the church is sued for violating a public accommodations law due to its refusal to host same-sex marriages, but it, in itself, is no guaranty of protection.

B. CLERGY

The November 2014 Same-Sex Resolution prohibits licensed credential holders of the Church Of God In Christ from performing same-sex marriages.  Therefore, the OGC recommends that our clergy:

  1. Refrain from conducting, or engaging in the appearance of, conducting a wedding business for the public; and
  2. Consider limiting your official role in weddings to members of your local congregations in good standing with the faith and teachings of the Church Of God In Christ.  This way, pastors should have some familiarity with the beliefs and/or lifestyle of the couples they are marrying.  We understand that this may appear as a rather brash suggestion, however, until more clarity is provided on the issue, either by your local, state and/or federal legislators, caution should be taken in this area.  As of this writing, we are aware that the state of Texas has enacted the Pastor Protection Act[6] and the states of Kansas and Tennessee are pursing similar legislation.  However, there is much uncertainty in the majority of our states on this issue.  As an additional precaution, or in the alternative, clergy may want to condition their services upon the successful completion of at least one marriage counseling session with you prior to the wedding.  If you choose this option, you should not receive any money until the session is successfully completed by the couple.

C. Tax exempt Status of Religious Schools and churches

A question frequently asked is: Are the tax exemptions of religious schools, churches and organizations jeopardized by the recent Supreme Court ruling?  Possibly.

As discussed above, in 1983, the Supreme Court upheld the IRS’s revocation of the tax-exempt status of a university based on its racially discriminatory practices, even though the university based its practices on an interpretation of the Bible clearly articulated in its governing documents.  The Supreme Court’s ruling in that case suggests that doctrinal provisions in the governing documents of religious schools that are viewed by the IRS or the courts as incompatible with the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry may not be enough to fend off IRS challenges to tax-exempt status.

This same logic could apply to churches based on the Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage as a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.  Some legal experts believe that churches that engage in any discriminatory practices involving sex, sexual identity, or sexual orientation should be denied tax-exempt status. 

D. Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling leaves many unanswered questions.  The OGC will be monitoring developments and will provide you with updates when warranted.  We ask that if you become aware of any proposed or active legislation in your respective states or municipalities regarding this issue that you notify our office at [email protected].

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[1]  This Memorandum contains certain excerpts from Richard Hammar, Supreme Court Decision: Four Common Questions, PE News! (June 30, 2015), available at http://penews.org/Article/Supreme-Court-Decision–Four-Common-Questions/?fb_ref=Default

[2] Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015 WL 213646 (2015).

[3] A copy of the 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution is attached to this Memorandum as Exhibit A.  The 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Resolution reaffirms a previous resolution against same-sex marriage adopted by the General Assembly on April 13, 2004.

[4] Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983).  In Bob Jones, the Supreme Court, in particular, held that the religion clauses of the First Amendment did not prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax exempt status of a religious university whose practices are contrary to a compelling government public policy, such as eradicating racial discrimination.

[5] Please note that churches are tax exempt by law.  Therefore, a church does not need to obtain 501(c)(3) status to be tax exempt.  But once a church obtains 501(c)(3) exempt status, it must abide by the federal code governing such religious nonprofit organizations.

[6] Senate Bill 2065, also known as The Pastor Protection Act, protects houses of worship, religious organizations and their employees and clergy or ministers, from being required to participate in a marriage or celebration of a marriage if it would violate a sincerely held religious belief.

 

Celebrating 75 Years!

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Celebrate Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr.'s 75th birthday! 

COGIC Returns To St. Louis

CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST SIGNS NEW THREE YEAR AGREEMENT TO KEEP LARGEST CONVENTION IN ST. LOUIS

Memphis, TN (July 20, 2015) The Church of God in Christ has signed a new three-year agreement that will keep its largest convention in St. Louis through 2019.

The oldest African American Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), has decided to keep its largest annual convention, the Holy Convocation, in St. Louis, MO. The convention, which has exceeded over 30,000 attendees yearly since coming to St. Louis in 2010, has brought nearly $150 million to the regional economy over the past five years.

Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. says, “The Church of God in Christ Holy Convocation is returning to St. Louis, Missouri and the delegates and leaders of our denomination are excited. St. Louis has been the new home for our largest convention for five years now, and the hospitality that we have received while here has been great.”

Keith Kershaw, COGIC Director for the Office of Convention Planning says, “We have chosen to return to St. Louis through 2019 because we like St. Louis and from every indication, the city likes that we are a part of its convention schedule. As one of the largest, if not the largest convention (i.e. 2010-2013), St. Louis fits our needs and has proven to be a great match.”

The 2015 Holy Convocation is sure to have an overflow attendance. Special guest speakers recently announced include Bishop T.D. Jakes and Bishop Paul S. Morton.

About the Church of God in Christ:
The Church of God in Christ is the fourth largest Protestant religious denomination and the largest African American Pentecostal church in the United States with churches in 63 countries worldwide and an estimated membership of nearly 6.5 million adherents.

Save the Date: Leadership is in Albuquerque, NM!

Be sure to Save the Date, January 18 -21, when Leadership Conference will be in Albuquerque, NM!

God is Already There

Bishop Talbert Swan preaching “He is Already There!”… This snippet will Bless Your Soul!

Congratulations to COGIC’s Own Brother Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., Hyattsville, Maryland

We would like to take a moment to congratulate our own COGIC Brother Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., Hyattsville, Maryland for being honored by the White House as a Faith Leaders for Climate “Champions of Change”!  Please see the White House Office of Communications Press Release Below.

DOJ Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

 

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of Communications

 

White House Honors Faith Leaders for Climate “Champions of Change”

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, July 20th, the White House will recognize twelve people of faith as “Champions of Change” for their efforts in protecting our environment and communities from the effects of climate change. These Champions have demonstrated clear leadership across the United States and around the world through their grassroots efforts to green their communities and educate others on the moral and social justice implications of climate change. The program will feature remarks by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visit >www.whitehouse.gov/live<  on Monday, July 20th at 2:00 PM ET.  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit >www.whitehouse.gov/champions<. Follow the conversation at #WHChamps.

Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., Hyattsville, Maryland

Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, is a Church of God in Christ Elder and community activist. The Hip Hop Caucus is a national non-profit and has been building support for the climate movement among cultural influencers and celebrities. This work led to the launch of People’s Climate Music and the first ever climate album called HOME (Heal Our Mother Earth). After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Reverend Yearwood established the award winning Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign where he led a coalition of national and grassroots organizations to advocate for the rights of Katrina survivors.  A national leader within the green movement, Lennox has been successfully bridging the gap between communities of color and environmental issue advocacy for the past decade.

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U.S. Department of Justice

A Center of the White House Office of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships

www.ojp.gov/fbnp

First-Ever Live Stream of Musical

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Bishop Blake’s Town Hall Meeting: “I Can See You Now”

Join Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. at the International AIM Convention for this Town Hall Meeting.

Supreme Court Decision on Same Sex Marriage…

A Pastoral Letter to the Saints of the Church of God in Christ
From Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr,:

“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:11-12).

On today, the 26th of June 2015, the majority of the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that has made same-sex marriage legal in all of the states of the Union. The Court made its decision based on its reading of the United States Constitution. Today, the Church of God in Christ reaffirms its long-held position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, basing our decision firmly on the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible teaches marriage to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Christians, we are called to proclaim and practice this doctrine. Our ultimate trust is in God and not in any court or government. We trust God. So, I write to you, saints of God, as a stranger and pilgrim in our contemporary society.

We understand even better now why the Bible calls Christians “strangers and pilgrims” in the world (I Peter 2:11). It is clearer now why Jesus instructed us to be in the world but “not of the world" (John 17:15-16). In fact, today’s Supreme Court decision is just another legal law that makes the holiness message even stranger to our society. While the moral landscape of our society has definitely shifted, we know that the Bible is yet right and God still reigns.

In a democracy such as ours, we are to be ruled by laws. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we have found ourselves at various junctures unable to find a biblical basis for key legal laws that govern our society. It is a fact that the United States of America has now added same-sex marriage to a list of legal rights which adults may exercise but the Church of God in Christ does not practice, including: gambling; the production, distribution, selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages; the practice of the smoking of tobacco; the purchase of pornography; and the securing of abortions. In the states that permit the recreational use of marijuana, we opt not to exercise the right to use that drug. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we refuse to exercise these particular legal rights, understanding the Bible as calling Christians to holiness. We are not called to panic nor be anxious; we are called to live a holy life. We are called to live a Christian life as commanded by the Bible; we are called to be in the world but “not of the world." We are called to trust God.

Love is central to a life of holiness. The Bible is clear that Christians are called to love all people. We must resist the temptation only to love those who think like us. Regardless of the personal religious convictions and moral choices of people, we are called to love. We are not commanded to agree with them on all topics. The Bible commands us to love (Matthew 22:39). We are also called to recognize the legal rights of all citizens, regardless of the legal moral choices that they make.

Living in a pluralistic society, clear legal rights have been granted to all citizens. We must remind everyone that our government grants the Church of God in Christ and other religious organizations the legal right for each of us to express our religious convictions, as well as to live out our doctrinal and moral teachings. It also grants us the right to co-exist with those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from ours. More importantly, we believe the right to religious freedom is a God-given right. We call upon the U.S. government aggressively to protect and preserve the right of religious freedom for all Americans.

As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we are indeed living in and “Called to Minister and Witness to a Deeply Distressed and Troubled World.” The church must prepare to receive wholeheartedly and minister effectively to people seeking the biblical understanding of marriage, a biblical Christian lifestyle, and the uncompromising gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us speak the truth with conviction and with care, with patience and with love. Let us proclaim the gospel with courage. Let us embrace our calling to live as strangers and pilgrims in society. Let us live the holy life with boldness. Let us witness unashamedly to the power of the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

About the Church of God in Christ:

The Church of God in Christ is one of the oldest Pentecostal denominations in the world and the 4th largest Protestant group in the United States, with churches in 63 countries worldwide and a membership of nearly 6.5 million adherents.

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