By Mike Ebert
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has issued new guidelines for Southern Baptist military chaplains in light of the U.S. military’s recognition of same-sex marriage. The guidelines reiterate Southern Baptist doctrine and the expectation that SBC chaplains will not participate in or attend wedding ceremonies for gay members of the military.
“Our chaplains want to uphold the authority and relevancy of Scripture while continuing to serve in a very diverse setting,” said Doug Carver, the retired Army major general who leads NAMB's chaplaincy efforts. “We believe these updated guidelines will help them do that while still sharing the love and the hope of Christ with everyone.”
The updated guidelines are being issued in response to the military's repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the U.S. Supreme Court's abolishment of the Defense of Marriage Act.The U.S. military requires all chaplains to be endorsed by a recognized denomination. NAMB serves as the endorsing entity on behalf of Southern Baptists.
The guideline updates address four specific areas:
Doctrine — Chaplains will be expected to conduct their ministry in harmony with Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. “All ministries regarding human sexuality will reflect the historic, natural and biblical view of marriage as God's lifelong gift of ‘the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.’”
Pastoral care — The document reminds chaplains that Southern Baptists view all sexual immorality as sin that violates God’s biblical standards for purity and that “Responsible pastoral care will seek to offer repentance and forgiveness, help and healing, and restoration through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ's sacrificial gift of love on the cross.”
Restrictions — The guidelines state that “NAMB-endorsed chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union, assist or support paid contractors or volunteers leading same-sex relational events, nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off of a military installation, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing. This biblical prohibition remains in effect irrespective of any civil law authorizing same-sex marriage or benefits to the contrary.” Chaplains are also prohibited from participating in jointly-led worship services “with a chaplain, contractor or volunteer who personally practices a homosexual lifestyle or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”
Pluralism — The guidelines acknowledge that SBC chaplains serve in a pluralistic setting but expect, under U.S. Department of Defense guidelines, that the rights and freedoms of chaplains will be protected so they may “preach, teach and counsel in accordance with the tenets of their denominational faith group and their own religious conscience.” In addition, chaplains are expected to “Treat all service members, regardless of rank or behavior, with Christ-centered dignity, honor and respect while assisting the institutional leadership in its religious mission requirements and responsibilities as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
“We are confident that our chaplains are already conducting their ministries with sound doctrine and in accordance to Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” Carver said. “These guidelines simply provide clarification on specific issues and give our chaplains the freedom and protection for their ministry. We are also obligated to communicate to U.S. military officials about the expectations we have for our chaplains.”
NAMB president Kevin Ezell expressed support for SBC military chaplains and emphasized the need for Southern Baptists to remember them in prayer.
“For many members of our military—especially those deployed around the globe—our chaplains are the the only pastors they have. That’s why it is so important that they uphold sound doctrine while showing everyone the love and forgiveness Jesus offers. We all need to be committed to praying for them in these challenging days.”
Mike Ebert writes for the North American Mission Board.