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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Stewarding legal matters

Interplay between church and state is confusing

Perhaps especially in a national election year, we Christians are reminded that, as Augustine, Martin Luther and others have taught, Christians live in two realms—one under the reign of gospel and the other under the rule of law. By baptism and faith in Christ, we already are citizens of the heavenly eternal realm of God. Yet we remain global citizens of this world and voter-citizens of a nation, state and local municipality.

A fundamental principle upheld in the U.S. since our founding is that of “separation of church and state.” Most federal, state and local laws that apply to all other institutions in the community must also be obeyed by a congregation or church agency. Yet there are some exceptions based upon the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which both affords more latitude and imposes greater restrictions on the church.

Unlike other employers, for example, congregations may “discriminate” on the basis of religion in calling and hiring for pastoral and other positions where a faith stance is critical.

Whereas in the past church leaders might have only rare occasion to consult an attorney, these days seeking competent legal advice may occur with some frequency. While in some matters hiring a lawyer is essential, consultation with other experts can often procure needed advice and information regarding sticky matters, frequently at no cost. Many local private or public child-protection staff, for example, can advise pastors on laws pertaining to child abuse and their reporting responsibilities.


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April issue

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