Alliance Defending Freedom’s General Counsel, Kristen Waggoner, has served local Assemblies of God churches, districts and universities for many years. While continuing as general counsel at ADF, Waggoner will assume a new role: legal counsel to the Assemblies of God. Richard Hammar has faithfully served in this post for 43 years. Hammar will officially retire in March 2022. Waggoner and the ADF team began assisting the AG in December 2021.
GROWING UP IN THE AG
“My husband and I have enjoyed many ties with the Assemblies of God over the years,” Waggoner said. “This Fellowship has helped shaped our view of God, His church, and how we have raised our family. I am honored to continue to use my legal skills to serve the entire AG community in this new way.”
Waggoner indeed has a lengthy connection to the Fellowship. Waggoner’s parents, Clint and LaVonne Behrends, raised Kristen at Columbia Heights Assembly in Longview, Wash., and spent more than 20 years there. Clint was Kristen’s principal at Columbia Heights Christian Academy and has been a licensed AG minister for nearly 50 years.
Clint had a strong and profound influence on his daughter’s life. He urged Waggoner to discover and pursue God’s purpose for her life, reminding her that God calls everyone to do specific good works for His glory.
At an AG summer camp, Kristen sensed a calling to defend religious freedom and religious organizations as an attorney. She has pursued that calling since she was 13 years old.
Waggoner and her husband, Ben, married while attending Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash. Kristen and Ben both received their Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach. Kristen graduated with honors and clerked for Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders before joining a Seattle law firm, where she became partner. Ben has primarily focused his legal practice in the areas of real estate and insurance.
Waggoner remained at the firm for 16 years, during which time she represented hundreds of religious organizations, including Northwest University and the AG’s Northwest Ministry Network, gaining experience in a variety of areas including employment, education, nonprofit, and constitutional law. Waggoner attended AG churches most of her life, including nearly 17 years at Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Wash., where Clint served as school superintendent and associate pastor until retiring in 2019.
FIRST AMENDMENT LITIGATION
Waggoner oversees much of ADF’s work. Alliance Defending Freedom is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life and marriage. It has offices around the world and over 400 employees. In the last 10 years, ADF has won 13 victories at the United States Supreme Court. All of these victories have impacted the freedom of religious organizations such as the AG. Waggoner has taken a lead role in some of the country’s most challenging religious liberty issues and will continue to do so.
Several years ago, ADF launched the Church and Ministry Alliance program, which offers certain legal services to religious organizations as they navigate a more complex legal environment. Local AG churches and districts have benefited from the program, which now has about 3,500 religious organizations as members.
“The right to live out our faith publicly and privately faces significant threats here and abroad,” Waggoner said. “One of America’s greatest contributions to the world has been its commitment to religious freedom and free speech. Not only do these freedoms contribute to us sharing the Good News, but they are closely linked to other fundamental freedoms. Countries that do not have religious freedom experience more poverty, war, and violence and less freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and economic freedom.”
“The loss of these freedoms not only impacts our right to witness, but they cause great human suffering. We must continue to protect the right of the church as an institution and the right of those within the church to express their faith and to live it out in their everyday lives,” she continued.
Of ADF’s 12 Supreme Court victories under Waggoner’s watch, she argued two herself. Waggoner argued successfully before the Court in the high-profile case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decided in 2018. In a 7-2 ruling, justices ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop finding that Colorado was wrong to express hostility towards Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. The precedent has been cited over 1,000 times in legal publications, opinions, and briefs.
She also recently argued and won Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski by an 8-1 vote before the nation’s highest court. That decision, handed down in March 2021, involved student Chike Uzuegbunam’s right to share his faith on the campus of Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college in Lawrenceville, Ga.
LAW AS KINGDOM WORK
ADF’s mission is to keep the door open for the Gospel. Waggoner sees ADF’s role with the AG as a part of this mission.
“We all have a role to play as the Body of Christ whether we’re raising our families in the church, serving as pastors and deacons, and yes, even as lawyers,” Waggoner said. “I’ve been so inspired by the AG’s uncompromising commitment to the beauty and truth of the gospel and to embracing ethnic diversity within our church. As I see it, the legal department exists to help church leaders follow God’s leading while maintaining best legal practices. Not only does this work have eternal consequences, but it also has temporal results by building strong families and promoting human flourishing within the church body.”
Waggoner maintains that American Christians face unprecedented opposition to the gospel, but she is more hopeful than ever.
“The church has and will endure no matter the cultural moment in which we live. And God trusted us enough to choose us to follow Him in this season. That’s inspiring,” Waggoner said. “My hope is that the AG will continue to make disciples who will live out a vibrant faith with great courage and be truth-tellers, those who understand truth and winsomely and compassionately share it in a world where the basic notion of truth is called in question by powerful forces. God goes with us, but He expects us to go.”
Hammar, widely considered an expert in church tax issues, is an advocate for his successor.
“When I thought about who I would want to succeed me as legal counsel, there were very few I felt could do the job,” Hammar says. “But Kristen was one of them — she’s going to do great.”
General Superintendent Doug Clay also is confident.
“In our ever-changing litigious society, it was important to me to get this transition right, to both build upon the foundation of our past left by Rich Hammar and to posture the General Council for our legal future,” Clay says.
Waggoner, who taught from Hammar’s texts for many years while an adjunct professor at Northwest University, says she has enjoyed learning from Hammar over the years.
“Rich has dedicated his vocational life to the Assemblies of God and the broader Body of Christ. His legal writings have helped thousands of churches and religious organizations, if not millions,” Waggoner says. “He has demonstrated that lawyers have a role to play in helping the Church achieve its mission and his love for God and the Church has undoubtedly advanced the gospel. He’s modeled what it means to follow God’s call wherever it leads.”