Church refused property insurance over gay-friendly stance

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A Protestant church in the US state of Michigan has been deemed too risky for property insurance because of its denomination’s support for gay rights.

The West Adrian United Church of Christ, a small church in Adrian, Michigan which has weathered controversies since it was established in 1836.

It was turned down by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana, because of its national governing body’s approval of gay marriage and the ordination of homosexuals, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Marci J. Fretz, a regional underwriter for Brotherhood Mutual, one of America’s largest insurers of religious institutions, wrote in a letter to the church last summer: “Based on national media reports, controversial stances such as those indicated in your application responses have resulted in property damage and the potential for increased litigation among churches that have chosen to publicly endorse these positions.”

Churches and other policyholders have sometimes had their coverage revoked in the past in response to specific acts of violence or property damage related to social or political tensions.

Some churches in the South reported cancellations after a wave of arson attacks in the mid-1990s, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Many of the incidents occurred at predominantly black churches in the South.

But the West Adrian United Church of Christ may be among the few such institutions denied coverage because of fears about a destructive backlash against its stance, rather than in the aftermath of an incident.

Its pastor, the Rev. John Kottke, told The Wall Street Journal he knows of no acts of violence or threats against his church, its congregation of fewer than 200 members, or its parent organisation, the United Church of Christ.

Mr. Kottke says he filled out a questionnaire from Brotherhood Mutual in hopes of getting a better insurance deal for the church, after one of its members referred him to an agent representing the company.

The church, located in southeastern Michigan between Ann Arbor and Toledo, Ohio, has been insured for years without any problem by Safeco Corp.

Brotherhood Mutual spokeswoman Mitzi L. Thomas, an assistant vice president said: “Every insurance company is in the business of assessing risk.

“Some insurance companies will take on a risk and other insurance companies may not want to take on that risk.”

Ms. Thomas didn’t have any examples of violence attributable to a church’s support for gay clergy or same-sex marriage.

She added, however, that disputes over gay marriage and clergy have led to splits in other churches and congregations, resulting in costly litigation.

Insurance regulators for Michigan and Indiana said the company was within the law in such underwriting decisions.

Insurers generally can set their own underwriting criteria and decide who or what not to insure, as long as they don’t violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws or other specific prohibitions.

United Church of Christ, formed in 1957 by a merger of the New England Congregationalist churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, is known for its history of social activism.

It ordained its first openly gay pastor in 1972 and affirmed support for same-sex marriage with a resolution at the General Synod, its governing body, in 2005.

Of 5,700 United Church of Christ churches, 700 have publicly stated that they are “open and affirming” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. West Adrian isn’t one of them.

“As far as we know, this is the first time one of our churches has been denied an insurance quote because of their denomination’s affirmation of gay and lesbian people,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, communications director of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland.

“We don’t have any information that would say our gay-affirming churches have more destruction to their property.”