NASHVILLE (BP) -- New guidelines from the North American Mission Board prohibiting Southern Baptist military chaplains from officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies and counseling same-sex couples reflect the Southern Baptist Convention's most basic understanding of separation of church and state, Russell D. Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in an online video dialogue Sept. 19.
Moore's dialogue with Andrew Walker, the ERLC's director of policy studies, came after several former military chaplains and a group of atheists criticized the new guidelines. Some said SBC chaplains should resign because they would be unable to fulfill their duties among all service members.
Moore, however, noted, "We have liberal Baptist groups who for many, many years have talked about religious liberty and separation of church and state now saying we need an established religion that says the sexual revolution is now codified and the government ought to enforce it.
"What essentially is happening is we're calling for the separation of church and state, to be able to say chaplaincy isn't a subset of the military," Moore said in the dialogue posted at the ERLC website. "Instead, what the military is doing -- having chaplains -- is to enable people in the military to freely exercise their religion. It is not just a post of some kind of American civil religion. That is why we don't just have a vague, generic, least-common-denominator chaplain."
It is also why Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, Jews and Muslims have military chaplains, Moore said.
In addition to prohibiting participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies and counseling same-sex couples, NAMB guidelines now include explicit statements that Southern Baptist chaplains will practice ministry in light of the biblical definition of marriage as "the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime," as described in the SBC Baptist Faith and Message.
The guidelines also state 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."
Finally, Southern Baptist military chaplains are 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."
NAMB guidelines acknowledge that Southern Baptist 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" while treating all others with dignity, respect and Christ-like love.
(For the Baptist Press story Aug. 30, "NAMB guidelines for military chaplains updated to address same-sex unions," click here.)
Walker said in the video dialog that NAMB found it necessary to offer a more precise statement of its chaplaincy guidelines in a "post-DOMA" world created by the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.
"We're very concerned about our chaplains offering a proper witness -- a Christ-like witness -- that respects all individuals in the military but also holds firm to Southern Baptist doctrine," Walker said.
Walker also said there is "nothing condemning about the regulations." But not everyone agrees. Read More