Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.” It’s a sign of our strange times that such a statement made headlines around the globe in November 2014, even though Pope Francis was only stating a conviction which most people on the planet share.
The pope was addressing a gathering of religious leaders and scholars from around the world who had been invited to the Vatican to explore what their diverse faith traditions teach about marriage and “the complementarity of man and woman.” Several Plough contributors participated in the summit, which included Catholic, Evangelical, Anglican, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu delegates.
The aim of Humanum: An International Interreligious Colloquium was to shore up a vital institution that has experienced decades of decline. Yet despite a host of problems threatening marriage today, the tone remained remarkably upbeat. As participant Russell Moore said, “We stand and speak not with clenched fists or with wringing hands, but with the open hearts of those who have a message and a mission.”
Presenters for the most part steered clear of controversy surrounding attempts to redefine marriage, focusing instead on a more fundamental challenge: how religious communities can encourage and support strong marriages and families. Organizers intended the conference to serve as a catalyst for increased cooperation among those who recognize marriage as a cornerstone of healthy families, communities, and societies. Highlights follow.
Jonathan Lord Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom:
“Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. And that’s a way of thinking about culture also. Does it put things together or does it take things apart? What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history.…For a whole variety of reasons…almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.”
Johann Christoph Arnold, Bruderhof pastor and author of Sex, God, and Marriage:
“Children and young people desperately need to see role models who prove with their lives that faithful marriage is one of the most wonderful ways one can serve humankind. But married couples standing alone aren’t enough. We need strong faith communities to sustain and support them.…Marriage is more than a private contract between two people. God did not have in mind merely the personal happiness of separate individuals, but the establishment of God-fearing relationships in a communion of families under his rulership.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:
“All of us in this room share at least one thing in common. We did not spring into existence out of nothing, but each one of us can trace his or her origins back to a man and a woman, a mother and a father.…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.”
Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church:
“You see, truth is still truth, no matter how many people doubt it. I may deny the law of gravity, but it doesn’t change gravity. And just because we break God’s laws, does not invalidate them. A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good just because it’s popular.”
At the close of the event, Eugene and Jacqueline Rivers delivered an affirmation by those assembled, ending with these words:
“For marriage is no mere symbol of achievement, but the very foundation – a base from which to build a family and from there a community. For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter. It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate.”