VATICAN CITY (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist told international religious leaders Tuesday (Nov. 18) at the Vatican they should defend man-woman marriage for the common good, but Christians also must champion it for the sake of the Gospel.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), provided an evangelical Protestant viewpoint on the complementarity of man and woman during the second day of a Vatican-sponsored colloquium on marriage. About 350 religious, academic and civil society leaders from 23 countries gathered at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church for the Nov. 17-19 event.
Speaking to representatives of at least 15 religions, Moore said he joins them — despite their theological differences — in recognizing that marriage and family constitute “a matter of public importance,” yet he possesses “an even deeper concern” — the Gospel of Jesus.
“All of us must stand together on conserving the truth of marriage as a complementary union of man and woman,” Moore said, according to his manuscript, which he reportedly followed closely in his remarks. Marriage, and the “sexual difference on which it is built, is grounded in a natural order bearing rights and responsibilities that was not crafted by any human state and cannot thus be redefined by any human state,” he said.
Yet “there is a distinctively Christian urgency for why the Christian churches must bear witness to these things,” Moore told the assembly.
Marriage and family are “icons of God’s purpose for the universe,” he continued, adding Christianity teaches that the “one-flesh union points beyond itself to the union of Christ and His church.”
“Our neighbors of no religion and of different religions do not recognize a call to Gospel mystery,” he said. “Marriage is a common grace, and we should speak, on their own terms, of why jettisoning normative marriage and family is harmful.”
But as a Christian, Moore said he also is impelled to speak of “the conviction of the church that what is disrupted when we move beyond the creation design of marriage and family is not only human flourishing, although it is that, but also the picture of the very mystery that defines the existence of the universe itself — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“With this conviction, we must stand and speak not with clinched fists or with wringing hands, but with the open hearts of those who have a message and a mission,” he said.
Moore was one of two American evangelicals to speak at the colloquium. Megachurch pastor and popular author Rick Warren also spoke Nov. 18. Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist church in Southern California.
Warren, who spoke on the “What Must We Do?” told the Orange County Register, “It’s great to be with leaders from different streams of Christianity from all over the world.” The paper quoted him as saying, “Although we have some differences, we all love Jesus Christ and we all want marriages and families to be healthy and strong.”
Pope Francis spoke Nov. 17 during the opening session of the conference. The pope affirmed the biblical, traditional definition of marriage; the complementarity of the sexes; and the need for children to have a father and a mother. “Complementarity,” which refers to the unique roles of men and women in marriage and a variety of other contexts, is “at the root of marriage and family,” the pope said.
In his address, Moore said a husband and a wife exist as “one flesh, cooperation through complementarity.”
God created human beings as “male and female identities that correspond to one another and fulfill one another,” he said. “We are not created as ‘spouse A’ and ‘spouse B,’ but as man and as woman, and in marriage as husband and as wife, in parenting as mother and as father. Masculinity and femininity are not aspects of the fallen order to be overcome, but are instead part of what God declared from the beginning to be ‘very good,'” he said in a reference to Genesis 1:31.
A man, Moore said, is made “to be other-directed, to pour himself out for his family. Headship in God’s design is not Pharaoh-like tyranny but Christ-like sacrifice.”
The sexual revolution celebrated in Western culture has not resulted in freedom, he told the assembly.
“The sexual revolution is not liberation at all, but simply the imposition of a different sort of patriarchy,” Moore said. “The sexual revolution empowers men to pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha-male, rooted in the values of power, prestige and personal pleasure.”
This sexual revolution “cannot keep its promises,” he said. “People are looking for a cosmic mystery, for a love that is stronger than death. They cannot articulate it and perhaps would be horrified to know it, but they are looking for God. The sexual revolution leads to the burned-over boredom of sex shorn of mystery, of relationship shorn of covenant.”
Christians must reject the call by many to speak in “more generic spiritual terms” on these issues, Moore said.
“To jettison or to minimize a Christian sexual ethic is to abandon the message Jesus handed to us, and we have no authority to do this. Moreover, to do so is to abandon our love for our neighbors.”
Christians, he said, will speak “with the confidence of those who know that on the other side of our culture wars, there’s a sexual counter-revolution waiting to be born, again.”
The full manuscript of Moore’s address is available here.
The colloquium came at a time when marriage as a permanent union of only a man and a woman is threatened, especially in the United States: Recent judicial rulings have set the stage for same-sex marriage to be legal in 35 states; the percentage of American adults who have never married is at an all-time high; and cohabitation and divorce are problems in the culture and the church. In addition, the religious freedom of Americans who decline to provide their services for same-sex weddings based on their convictions increasingly is threatened.
Other speakers during the colloquium included:
— N.T. Wright, popular Christian author and professor at the University of St. Andrews.
— Charles Chaput, Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia.
— Jonathan Sacks, professor at both New York University and Yeshiva University and former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the United Kingdom.
Among the speakers were representatives of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism and the Sikh religion.
Watch highlights of Moore’s comments here: