Evangelical pastors, chaplains and churches face increased questions and pressures about ministry to couples in relationships that we do not consider biblical. The Pastoral Letter on Marriage Relationships Ministry is a brief epistle of pastoral advice for ministry practitioners. It is not a treatise on the theology of marriage or a critique of recent cultural practices but a common baseline for all evangelical clergy seeking compassionate but biblically faithful ministry to couples and individuals.
Dear Fellow Evangelical Clergy,
Recent cultural trends and legal changes in marriage, families, relationships and sexual behavior have raised new challenges in our practice of pastoral ministry. As evangelical Protestant pastors who are committed to the Bible as our rule of faith and practice, we seek guidance in dealing with these challenges. The following list of principles is to build a framework for making decisions in pastoral ministry.
1. All human beings are created in the image of God
Genesis 1:27 establishes the essential and eternal value of humankind as creatures of God and therefore always due appropriate dignity and respect. Even when we do not agree with other persons’ beliefs or behaviors we affirm that they are made in God’s image and must be treated as such. As pastors we lovingly relate to those whom we serve even if we disagree with their beliefs and refuse to condone their behaviors. We continually minister to align them with God’s creative design for their lives.
2. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman
From the opening of the Bible in Genesis 2:24 to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:5-6, the definition of marriage is a covenantal union of one man and one woman. We firmly hold to this biblical, historic and widely held understanding of marriage. It is our responsibility to teach this biblical doctrine and to promote strong, healthy, biblical marriages. We do not recognize living together, same gender couples or multiple partner relationships as marriage or as an equivalent to marriage.
3. As Americans we exercise our First Amendment rights
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” As pastors, chaplains and other clergy persons we exercise our constitutional right to practice our religion within the scope of the definition of marriage as a covenantal union between one man and one woman.
4. Pastoral ministry to those who are not married
We seek to minister to all persons, including those who have or intend to have relationships we do not recognize as marriage, but we do so as ministry to persons and not to couples. We do not condone or ratify relationships that are unbiblical alternatives or substitutes for marriage. If ministry programs may be reasonably construed to condone, ratify or promote such relationships as marriages or equivalents to marriage we may choose not to participate or not to include these persons (or, in the case of military chaplains who cannot perform service as a matter of belief and conscience to “provide for” personnel seeking service by directing them to other resources provided by the military branch). This may include but is not limited to pre-marital counsel, marriage ceremonies, marriage enrichment programs and marriage reconciliations.
5. Mutual support in ministry conviction
When government, institutional or cultural pressure is exerted on fellow clergy to compromise biblical teaching, doctrinal beliefs or ministry standards, it is appropriate and necessary for us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity.
Specific situations will introduce new questions and sometimes difficult decisions in the implementation of these principles. This calls us to further study of the Bible, personal prayer for wisdom and collaboration with our ministry colleagues and ecclesial agencies.
May God bless you as you minister to others in the Name of Jesus Christ,
National Association of Evangelicals