The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention issued guidelines last week for military chaplains that prohibits them from officiating or attending same-sex marriage ceremonies, or participating in marriage retreats for same-sex couples.
NAMB-endorsed chaplains account for the largest number of chaplains serving in the U.S. military – second only to Catholics – with more than 1,400 (or 18 percent), affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination. Each chaplain is assigned to serve between 500 and 700 troops.
Chaplains who violate NAMB's restrictions to not participate in or conduct counseling, civil ceremonies or retreats for same-sex couples would be at risk of losing their endorsement from the SBC.
According to a letter issued by NAMB, the clarification of the guidelines for chaplains is necessary because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the Department of Defense policy changes that extend benefits to same-sex partners.
"In light of the June 26, 2013, Supreme Court ruling that Section 3 of DOMA, which states 'the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife' is unconstitutional, and the resultant Department of Defense policy changes to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners as spouses, the guidelines clarify the ministry expectations for all military and VA chaplains endorsed by the SBC," wrote Douglas Carver, executive director of NAMB's chaplaincy services.
Carver, who recently spoke with Mike Ebert of NAMB about the guidelines, noted that chaplains who are endorsed by the Southern Baptist denomination have requested guidance as to how they are to respond to changes in the military following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Court's decision on DOMA.
The cultural change, according to Carver, "…is foreign to many military chaplains and we're just challenging them to continue to be men of integrity-walk in boldness and confidence. Don't compromise your faith in Jesus Christ; and continue to minister to the souls of those men and women God puts you in contact with in the military community."
Carver added that because the DoD will be updating its guidelines regarding same-sex domestic partnerships, benefits and marriage, it's imperative that the Southern Baptists also clarify their doctrinal beliefs, and the SBCs expectations of chaplains as they navigate policy changes in the military.
"Marriage, in the eyes of scripture, in the eyes of natural law [and] in the eyes Baptist faith and message, is between a man and a woman," he said, commenting that this doctrinal belief is available for the Department of Defense to review if they wants to know what Baptists believe.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Ron Crews, who served as a chaplain for 28 years and is the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that chaplains are required to adhere to the tenants and doctrine of the denomination that has endorsed their service; and said he's pleased that NAMB has issued its guidelines.
"All chaplains must be ordained and endorsed by a denomination or faith group to serve in the military," Crews explained. "Chaplains must be faithful to the faith tenants and doctrine of their endorser. This guidance makes clear that chaplains endorsed by the NAMB will not be able to participate in same-sex ceremonies or lead in counseling events for same-sex couples because of the NAMB biblical view of marriage."
Despite changes in DoD policies, Crews affirmed his belief that "chaplains should be able to live out their faith even as they serve others to live out their faith.
"Chaplains exist to provide for the religious liberty of service personnel. Chaplains should not be required to compromise their conscience as they serve their country," he said. "Congress passed a 'Right of Conscience Clause' in the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act for just this purpose."
In his letter, Carver reiterates that Southern Baptists believe "all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography are condemned by Holy Scripture as sin; and violate God's biblical standards for sexual purity and are equally destructive to healthy marital relations and Christian social order."
Carver added that the role of chaplains is to provide pastoral care and offer repentance and forgiveness for soldiers who are struggling with these issues. "The first and the primary reason that we have military chaplains is to ensure that our troops have opportunities, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to exercise their religious beliefs and practices." He added that close to 200 religious denominations send chaplains to serve in the armed forces.
According to Crews, other evangelical denominations are joining the Southern Baptists in issuing similar guidelines regarding chaplains' participation in same-sex ceremonies.