We’ve posted before about the Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church (in Michigan) because they had a rule that members had to be Christian. The rule had been in place for decades — it initially said members also had to be white — but the pressure was on to change the by-laws after a lawsuit from the Bay View Chautauqua Inclusiveness Group.
Long story short, with their backs against the wall, the Association voted to rescind the Christian-only rule nearly a year ago. Good news, right?! Not entirely. There were still problems with the by-laws. For example, the rules said the governing board had to be majority-Methodist and the Christian-only rule could always be overturned in the future.
Beyond that, the Inclusiveness group offered evidence in court that showed how Bay View’s president, Jon Chism, urged membership committee chair Stan Sutton to keep the Christian-only rule in place by way of a loophole. Chism said Sutton’s group “must step up as the gatekeeper of Bay View’s Christian culture” by having new membership protocols that included making people sign a mission statement that listed the Methodist Church’s principles, disclose their faith, and sit through an interview.
In short, they wouldn’t have the Christian-only rule in writing, but they would do everything in their power to make sure potential members knew this was a Christian community. If, say, a Muslim family wanted to join, they might be discouraged by all the Christian hurdles they’d have to overcome to feel welcome there.
Today, the two sides announced a consent decree — a settlement that doesn’t suggest guilt on one side — allowing the federal government to “oversee the association’s transactions with prospective homeowners for five years.” If a judge approves the agreement, the Bay View Association says it won’t require a Methodist-majority board and would no longer take members’ religious views into account when considering their membership.
Applicants for membership will no longer require support of Bay View’s mission but under the compromise, applicants “Agree to respect and preserve the history and values of the Association: To enrich the human experience for individuals and families within Bay View and the surrounding community through a seasonal program of religious, educational, cultural and recreational opportunities, in a manner consistent with Christian values.”
Christian values, at this point, has no meaning. Anything’s a Christian value if someone says it is. So it covers just about everything.
Bay View Association will also pay out $75,000 in attorney’s fees to the other side. (But they’re not guilty. Not at all.)
The plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit said in a joint statement: “We are pleased with the results and joyfully look forward to putting this lawsuit behind us all. It was a last resort for our group, and one we reached for only after we had exhausted every other opportunity. Our message has always been one of tolerance, inclusion and love for one’s neighbor, and we know that Bay View will be stronger than ever as it aligns with federal and state law.”
It took long enough to reach that compromise but everyone will be better off because of it.
(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Dave for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)