The Wedding Band, Ellen G. White, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church


APPENDIX C—The Wedding Band and the SDA Church Manual

The first edition of the SDA Church Manual was published in 1932. Subsequent editions were issued in: 1934, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1967, 1981, and 1986. The SDA Encyclopedia notes that minor revisions were made in the editions of 1934 and 1940, and a major revision occurred in the edition of preceding the publication of the article on “Church Manual” in the 1976 Revised Edition. WBEGWSDAC 17.29

In 1946 the General Conference Session voted that all further revisions of the Church Manual must be approved in advance by the GC in world session. At the next quadrennial session (1950) major changes were approved, and published in the edition of 1951. Since the GC Session of 1958 it has become standard practice to publish an updated edition of the Church Manual in the year following each session (quadrennial through 1970, quinquennial since). WBEGWSDAC 17.30

Through the years there have been only two statement relating to the wedding band which have appeared in various editions of the Church Manual, if my research is correct and complete: WBEGWSDAC 17.31

1. Ring Ceremony: From the first edition of 1932 through the edition of 1942 there was no section in the Church Manual on “Church Standards” (as there has been since 1951), but Section X dealt with “Marriage.” This statement (which included a section on divorce) covered parts of seven pages in the editions of 1932, 1934, 1938, 1940, and 1942. The last portion of the first section on marriage cited an “Autumn [now Annual] Council” action from 1925, which was worded: WBEGWSDAC 17.32

“Resolved, That in the marriage ceremony simplicity be observed, and that some simple formula as that in the ‘Manual for Ministers’ be used; also that we look with disfavor upon the ring ceremony, and upon our ministers officiating at the marriage of believers with unbelievers or with those not of our faith.”—Autumn Council Actions, 1925, pp. 12, 13

[This statement appears on p. 175 of the editions of 1932, 1934, 1938, and 1940, and on p. 187 of the 1942 edition, with no change of text between 1932 and 1942. (The next edition was published in 1952.)]

2. Marriage Ring: With the major revision of the Church Manual in 1951, the compilers devoted an entire chapter to “Standards of Christian Living,” one section of which dealt with “Dress.” It consisted of a statement of seven paragraphs, the fifth of which reads: WBEGWSDAC 17.33

“In some countries the custom of wearing the marriage ring is considered imperative, having become, in the minds of the people, a criterion of virtue, and hence is not regarded as an ornament. Under such circumstances, we have no disposition to condemn the practice.”

[This statement appears on p. 202 of the editions of 1951, 1959, and 1963; on p. 212 of the editions of 1967 and 1971; on p. 225 of the edition of 1976; on p. 222 of the edition of 1981, and on p. 146 of the edition of 1986, with no change of text between 1951 and 1986.]

To summarize, then: only two statements have ever appeared in the Church Manual from the 1st edition of 1932 through the latest edition of 1986: (a) from 1932 to 1951 the church said, simply, “we look with disfavor upon the ring ceremony;” and (b) from 1951 to 1987 it declares “we have no disposition to condemn” the wearing of a wedding band by SDA church members in such countries where the custom is “considered imperative.” (The determination of which country is which is wisely left to the individual church member by the church.) WBEGWSDAC 17.34

Therefore, when arch conservative opponents of the wearing of the wedding band by SDA Christians today affirm “The Church Manual has been changed,” they are right…and wrong. A change was indeed made 36 years ago, from a statement which discouraged the performing of ring ceremonies at SDA weddings, to a recognition that cultural differences must be recognized by the world church in determining the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a member’s wearing a wedding band. But it is important to note that this change (a) is not one of recency, as some critics allege, nor (b) was it a reversal of an alleged earlier proscription against SDA’s wearing wedding bands, as these critics also alleged. WBEGWSDAC 17.35

If the various editions of the Church Manual contain other references to the wedding band than those cited above, their respective Tables of Contents fail to indicate the page upon which the statement is to be located, nor were they detected in a rather exhaustive search of each edition which the statement examined individually. WBEGWSDAC 17.36

I have yet to find any statement in any edition of the Church Manual which prohibits or even discourages the wearing of a wedding band by an SDA Christian in any country, although it seems reasonable to infer an unspoken discouragement from the statement on ring ceremonies and the statement that approves of the wearing of a wedding band in cultures, where it is deemed necessary. WBEGWSDAC 17.37

Roger W. Coon
Ellen G. White Estate
Washington, D.C.
November 29, 1987