Military chaplains from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will not be allowed to perform, attend or support the weddings of gay couples, even if they are held away from military installations, the agency which commissions religious leaders has confirmed.
The Defense Department made the announcement in August that the special leave of seven days for service members in the US, or ten days for members stationed abroad, will be available if they are more than a hundred miles from one of the thirteen states or the District of Columbia which currently allow equal marriage. A number of other benefits, including health care and survivor benefits have also been opened up, and came into effect on Tuesday.
The decision was made following the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down. It had federally defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB), an arm of the SBC, released the guidelines for Southern Baptist military chaplains, in a letter dated 29 August from Doug Carver, Executive Director of Chaplaincy Services, and Keith Travis, Endorsing Agent for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“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 US military officials about the expectations we have for our chaplains,” said Carver
The guidelines apply to NAMB affiliated chaplains, and says that they cannot conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, bless such a marriage, or perform counselling before a same-sex couple gets married.
It goes on to prohibit Southern Baptist chaplains from supporting same-sex events, including retreats or relationship training if participation “gives the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing,” whether they are on or off a base.
“This biblical prohibition remains in effect irrespective of any civil law authorizing same sex marriage or benefits to the contrary,” the guidance states.
It continues that chaplains are “free to lead or participate in a worship service” as long as the service isn’t with a chaplain, volunteer or contractor who “personally practices or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”
They 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,” the guidance notes.
Those in violation of the policy could have their affiliation with the board revoked. The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest number of active military chaplains, with 439 active-duty and 268 Reserve chaplains from the SBC, according to the Stars and Stripes report.
Around 140,000 active duty military service members identify themselves as Baptists, and about 13,000 say they are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The US Department of Defense issued a statement in response to the SBC’s guidance, saying it “respects, places a high value on, and supports by policy the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to have no religious beliefs. The department does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.”