NASHVILLE, Tenn. — American Protestant pastors have widely varying standards for when they will and will not perform wedding ceremonies, according to a new survey by Lifeway Research.
The survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors found that a majority (58 percent) will perform weddings for couples they know are living together. Nearly a third (31 percent) will not, and 10 percent are not sure.
The survey, which was conducted in October 2010, also found that only five percent of pastors will not perform a marriage ceremony if the bride or groom has been divorced. The majority (61 percent) will perform a ceremony for a divorced person “depending on the reason for the divorce” while 31 percent will perform a ceremony for a divorced person “regardless of the reason for the divorce.”
“Marriage is a much-debated topic today and we wanted to see how Protestant pastors handled marriage requests,” said Scott McConnell, director of Lifeway Research. “Like the churches they serve, their standards for whom they will perform marriages vary greatly.”
When it comes to cohabitating couples, pastors who consider themselves mainline are more likely to perform weddings then those who consider themselves evangelical.
In response to the question, “When asked to do so, will you perform a marriage ceremony for a couple whom you know is living together?” 68 percent of mainline pastors say yes compared with 57 percent of evangelicals. Twenty-four percent of mainline pastors and 34 percent of evangelicals say no.
A minister’s level of education also reveals differences in pastors’ willingness to perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are living together.
A full 62 percent of pastors with at least a master’s degree will marry cohabitating couples while only 52 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or less will perform weddings for couples living together before marriage. Twenty-nine percent of pastors with at least a master’s degree will not perform such ceremonies compared with 36 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or less.
Mainline and evangelical pastors divide again on the issue of performing marriages for divorced people. In response to the question, “When asked to do so, will you perform a marriage ceremony if the man or woman has been divorced?”:
- 41 percent of mainline pastors say, “Yes, regardless of the reason,” compared with 29 percent of evangelicals.
- 55 percent of mainline and 65 percent of evangelical pastors answer, “Yes, depending on the reason.”
- Only two percent of mainline pastors and five percent of evangelical pastors answer, “No.”
Pastors with graduate degrees (34 percent) are more likely to perform weddings for divorced people regardless of the reason for the divorce than are all other pastors (25 percent). Three percent of pastors with graduate degrees and seven percent without will not marry divorced people.
Pastors with a bachelor’s degree are the most likely group to perform weddings for divorced people depending on the reason for the divorce (71 percent).
For this research study the phone survey sampled randomly selected Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called and responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample of 1,000 phone interviews provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.