BGCT chaplains won’t wed gay couples

Texas Baptist chaplains cannot perform same-sex marriages but are otherwise permitted to provide pastoral care “shaped by the Bible and Baptist tradition.”

By Bob Allen

Military chaplains endorsed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas cannot officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies, according to new guidelines announced Oct. 9.

According to a news release, the Texas Baptist Chaplaincy Relations Office issued guiding principles to its endorsed chaplains regarding same-sex issues in the wake of the military repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The guidelines remind chaplains they must follow military regulations but are also bound by guidelines set forth by their endorsing agency. The BGCT, which has endorsed about 200 military chaplains, has adopted resolutions declaring homosexual behavior sinful and removed congregations that teach the contrary.

“Texas Baptist chaplains will always conduct themselves in a way that complies with our Texas Baptist belief that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman,” the guidelines read. “Our ministry practices must adhere to these biblical standards and historical principles irrespective of any civil law to the contrary.”

bobby smithBGCT chaplaincy director Bobby Smith wrote chaplains in February 2012 about then-proposed changes to military regulations concerning personnel who are openly gay.

“As previously stated to the Armed Forces Chaplain Board and to the Department of Defense, Texas Baptists have a long tradition of stating policy, based on Biblical standards, about sexual behavior” the letter said. “The following statement has been voted upon by Texas Baptists in their annual meeting on several different occasions: ‘Texas Baptists affirm the Biblical sexual ethic of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness and affirming the Biblical image of marriage as the union, before God, between a man and a woman.’”

“Therefore, we require our chaplains to adhere to those standards themselves, to refrain from performing services that would violate the spirit of that statement and to refrain from sharing in worship services or wedding ceremonies or other programs with other chaplains who are in violation of that policy,” Smith continued.

The Southern Baptist Convention said in August that chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board “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.”

Roman Catholics imposed similar rules, requiring that no Catholic priest or deacon be forced to witness or bless the union of same-gender couples. The same goes for marriage retreats that are open to same-sex couples.

The Catholic policy allows priests to participate in ceremonies that include gay military, as long as they are not forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of gay marriage. It also addresses military funerals.

“While the tradition of the Catholic Church always tries to find reasons to bury the dead, a priest may not be placed in a situation where his assistance at a funeral for a Catholic would give the impression that the Church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships,” the Catholic guidelines say.

Chaplains endorsed by Texas Baptists can still minister to gays, but not in ways that encourage behavior contrary to Texas Baptist beliefs.

“Texas Baptist chaplains want to do a Jesus type of ministry where we love people and address their sin in a caring manner,” Smith said in the press release. “We are Texas Baptist ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are seeking to have an authentic, caring Christian ministry where we reflect the light, love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.”

Texas Baptists began endorsing chaplains in 2002, after Southern Baptists required their chaplains to endorse the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 2000. Unlike Southern Baptists, Texas Baptists will endorse ordained women. They also do not disqualify candidates who are divorced.

Not all of the chaplains reside in Texas. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is also the official endorsing agency for Churchnet, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri formed in 2002.

This summer Southern Baptist leaders rebuked a NAMB-endorsed chaplain for attending a same-sex wedding ceremony conducted by a fellow Air Force chaplain at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst joint military base near Trenton, N.J.

Air Force Chaplain (Col.) Timothy Wagoner apologized to NAMB officials, saying it was never his inent “to embarrass or misrepresent Southern Baptists, whom I have faithfully served for 30 years as a pastor and military chaplain.”

Wagoner later resigned from his endorsement by Southern Baptists and in July was endorsed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Jim Pope, the associate for military chaplaincy for CBF, told ABPnews in August that he agreed with how Wagoner handled himself at the June 23 wedding ceremony and notified all CBF military chaplains they should attend such ceremonies even if they aren’t officiating at them.”