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Q&A: Why do ministers perform marriages between members and nonmembers?

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Why do ministers perform marriages between members and nonmembers?

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Thank you for your question about "Courting Compromise: Myths About Dating Outside the Church" (May 2003, page 16). Apparently, there’s a misunderstanding about what the UCG is doing, and we welcome the opportunity to clarify this important issue.

From your letter it seems that you see a contradiction between the article and the fact that some UCG ministers perform marriages between one of our members and a nonmember. The true picture is that we are working together. We’re using United News as one of many ways to communicate the values to which we hold as an organization. What the article said to unmarried members is based on the official teaching of the Church, including every elder of the GCE.

The United News article is part of a united effort to educate our unmarried membership and encourage everyone in the direction that will benefit them the most. In addition to educating people through publications, our pastors and elders teach the same approach in sermonettes, sermons and counseling, as well as in private conversations. By all of those methods, we strongly advise our members to choose to marry in the faith.

But, what are we to do with one who wants to be a member of the UCG, who, after receiving our strongest recommendations to the contrary, is determined to marry someone who is not a member? Our leadership has given this matter serious and prayerful consideration. A task force was commissioned to produce a study paper on the subject, which we distributed to all of our elders to receive a multitude of counsel. God sometimes gives us only principles on issues, instead of commandments. We determined after much study that God gave us a principle in this matter, not a commandment. The consensus we reached was that marrying outside the Church is ill-advised, but there’s no scriptural basis for us to discipline a member who chooses to do so (that is, no scriptural basis for us to refuse to perform the marriage or to put the member out of the Church).

We leave it up to the individual elder asked to perform the ceremony between a member and a nonmember to decide if he will perform it. In some situations, it promotes the relationship between minister, member and nonmember spouse.

We assure you that we clearly advise everyone of the potential problems he or she faces in marrying outside of the Church and that we recommend against it. And, we would not officiate at a marriage in which the attitude of the member is defiant against authority. But, if he or she is subject to God and respectful of our counsel but expresses that he or she is willing to live with the consequences, we’re left with a decision. Do we perform the marriage in a spirit of love, respecting the member’s difference of opinion and hopefully establishing a relationship with the nonmember? Or, do we refuse to perform the ceremony, potentially hurting our relationship with both the member and the nonmember?

What would Christ have us do? It’s not an easy decision. It’s a weighty challenge to be a faithful minister of God, teaching people what we believe is the best way for them to live and yet continuing to serve them when they make unwise choices. Yet, there are many examples in the Bible of God continuing to work with His people, in spite of the fact that they chose not to fully follow His advice. These examples encourage us to realize that we sometimes need to do the same.

It is our standard procedure that all of the above take place before any marriage ceremony. It may seem on the surface that the ministers were not in agreement with what you read in the United News article, for you would not know all that went on in the counseling process before the marriage.

I hope this clarifies that the entire UCG ministry is in agreement on this issue. We solicit your prayers for God to give us the wisdom that we need to serve Him and His people.