Church bylaws should be reviewed annually even in routine seasons, but 2020 showcases why the review should include assessing items for the “what if,” said Jim Swedenburg, director of the office of Cooperative Program and stewardship development for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
For instance, do the bylaws allow for church administrators to make decisions without a vote of the church in times of emergency?
In a recent webinar for church leaders sponsored by SBOM, Swedenburg, along with state missionaries Mike Jackson and Lee Wright, shared tips on “Dealing with Documents in Days of Difficulty.”
Wright, coordinator of the SBOM office of church compensation services, noted “Robert’s Rules of Order (11th edition) does have a ‘motion to ratify.’ This asks for congregational approval of previous action, such as emergency spending, reopening facilities or calling staff.”
Though he normally doesn’t advocate for that procedure, Wright said many churches have had groups, such as deacons or the personnel committee, make quick decisions in the past few months in the absence of congregational business meetings.
“It’s a good idea to present [these motions] when business meetings resume,” Wright said.
Swedenburg said the Robert’s parliamentary guidelines do allow for electronic meetings with “simultaneous communication” as long as that option is included in the church’s bylaws.
“What this means is that participants need to be able to hear and to respond,” he said. “This could be done with a conference call or video conference. Zoom allows participants to call into a meeting if they don’t have a computer or a smartphone, but email would not meet the requirements of ‘simultaneous communication.’”
Swedenburg said his office is happy to receive bylaws from churches for quick review and comments before the church consults an attorney. He also has policy samples to share with interested congregations.
Handling the pastor/staff search process during the COVID-19 pandemic also has been difficult in recent months.
Jackson, director of the office of LeaderCare and church health, said the typical weekend meeting for the congregation to greet the prospective pastor is often not possible now due to coronavirus concerns.
“Pastors build on relationships in ministry, and this typically begins during the call process, so we are disadvantaged under the current situation,” Jackson said.
Another area that has surfaced during the pandemic is thinking about how documents are worded.
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision June 15 declaring that longstanding non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law covers “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” religious leaders wondered how it would impact religious freedom.
The ruling was an interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in response to three anti-discrimination cases brought before the court, Swedenburg explained.
“Title VII forbids sexual discrimination in hiring but doesn’t mention sexual orientation discrimination,” he said. “The new majority ruling accepted precedent from the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and stated that sexual orientation and gender identity is a protected class.
“There are some serious unanswered questions, which may be defined by lower court action, [but] Title VII applies to organizations with 15 or more employees, so the majority of Alabama Baptist churches won’t be affected by the initial ruling.”
Swedenburg said some in society label churches as “hate groups” due to biblical faithfulness, which can be disturbing to the Church.
“We’re not hate groups and must always respond in love,” he declared. “But we also must protect our congregations in our hiring practices. Now we need to be more specific in job descriptions.
“What we must do is point to our core beliefs, as in ‘The Baptist Faith and Message 2000,’ and explain lifestyle expectations for those we bring on board for leadership.”
The SBOM provides resources outlining sample bylaws and policies for churches wanting to implement policies to match the church’s core beliefs.
Those resources are available at alsbom.org/safe.
For more information about any of these topics, call 800-264-1225.