The prohibition against an Adventist minister performing the wedding ceremony between an Adventist and a non-Adventist has long been church practice. This tradition has assumed the force of policy even though it has never been officially voted.
For many years the only statement with any kind of "authority" was found in the old Minister's Manual. "Ministers should not perform the marriage ceremony of believers with unbelievers, because this is expressly contrary to the teaching of the church"(1977 ed.,p. 120). The Minister's Manual is a departmental guide, not an official pronouncement of the church. So where does one find the requirements and teachings of the church? Normally in the Church Manual, but the Church Manual is silent on this subject.
The revised Minister's Manual (1992) clearly explains (in 778 words what took 22 words in the previous manual) the dangers that may occur in a mixed marriage. It presents strong biblical and Ellen White evidence for taking this stand. It is a serious matter with eternal consequences when two people unite their lives in marriage yet begin with fundamental differences in religion.
Since the church has never voted an official position, some felt that a statement ought to be placed in the Church Manual as well. A statement was brought to two Annual Councils. Each time people who were uncomfortable with an absolute statement argued for exceptions, and each time it was referred back for further study. At the 1993 Annual Council in Ban galore a statement was read to the council stating that in light of previous discussion no action be taken to place a statement in the Church Manual. The chair added that the counsel given in the Minister's Manual was sufficient.
In the discussion that followed, one person indicated that the Minister's Manual is advisory, not authoritative. That caused a minor sensation. "That could not be the case," said some. "If it is the case," said others, "then we definitely need a statement in the Church Manual." One division president argued for a very strong statement that would re peat what the Minister's Manual said. Another division president said we should not be too hasty. In his division the women members far outnumber the men members. In many cases if a woman wanted to marry she would have to marry a non-Adventist. Should she be denied the privilege of an Adventist minister performing the wedding ceremony because of demo graphics?
Another division president added that in some countries marriages could be conducted only by ministers or priests. Would we want a Buddhist priest to conduct a marriage service for an Adventist? As a result of this discussion the council selected a committee to recommend a statement for the Church Manual (see sidebar; this statement will be acted upon at the 1995 General Conference session).
Law and compassion
The statement softens the current Minister's Manual prescriptive that "Adventist ministers should not perform the marriage ceremony of Adventists with non-Adventists" (p. 246) to a strong recommendation: "the Seventh-day Adventist Church strongly discourages marriage between a Seventh-day Adventist and a non-Seventh-day Adventist, and strongly urges Seventh-day Adventist ministers not to perform such weddings (italics supplied)."
It is much easier to write an absolute statement. Everyone knows the boundaries. A practice is either right or wrong. Unfortunately, absolute statements often encourage finding ways to fulfill the letter of the law while violating its spirit. Examples include: pushing people to be baptized before they are ready so they may have an Adventist wedding; re fusing to marry someone who may have left the church years ago but never had their name removed from the church rolls.
The Bangalore statement clearly delineates the ideal and makes it clear that church members should not expect their pastor to marry a couple when they come from different religious backgrounds. At the same time it allows for cultural adaptations.
This statement, for the first time, emphasizes the importance of premarital counseling. Ministers should not marry any couple with whom they have not counseled or who have not had some other minister counsel with them. Ministers should not perform the marriage ceremony if they feel that the couple are incompatible. The minister may refuse to marry two Adventist young people because after counseling them he or she believes that God cannot bless that marriage. Just because two people are Adventists does not mean they are ready for marriage.
Differences in religious belief should be only one of the criteria we use when deciding when it is appropriate to marry a couple. We have a solemn obligation to lift high the standards of God's Word. What a responsibility rests upon us. Ministers should never perform any wedding that they believe is violating the principles of God's kingdom. Let us continue to teach the principles so important for a happy marriage.