On Friday, when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Evangelicals issued a statement on their belief and teaching that marriage is between a man and woman. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. We talk about marriage and its future. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Same-sex marriage is legal in the United States. Why are you protesting?
Russell Moore: I dissent from same-sex marriage because I don’t think the state creates marriage, and I don’t think the state should try to re-engineer it. The state recognizes something that exists already in nature — the unique union that is the family. Marriage is in the common good because it connects generations to one another and is the place not only where children come into existence but where they are connected to both the male and the female aspects of our common humanity, in their mother and father. When marriage becomes a shifting and elastic legal fiction, unhinged from both biology and tradition, we tend to lose sight of marriage altogether.
Lopez: Why was your Evangelical statement important to issue?
Moore: Our statement is a signal that the community of born-again Christians stands together and stands right where we always have. Some have looked to the sort of professional Evangelical dissidents — those who want an Evangelical marketing base in which to peddle mainline Protestant shibboleths — as a sign that Evangelicals are caving. Evangelicals aren’t caving, and won’t. The Biblical texts are clear, and Scripture is the sole final authority for us. Moreover, we’re a gospel people, commissioned to carry the good news of redemption everywhere. If we refuse to call people to repentance when a sin is too fashionable to call sin, we’ve nothing left to say. Being gospel people, though, means more than just conviction. It also means kindness. We love our gay and lesbian neighbors and wish them no ill. We’re not angry or panicked or outraged. The world around us has been fallen since Eden. Our mission is too important to leave this issue to those who scream at unbelievers for the sake of venting outrage. We want to carry good news.
Lopez: How does this do damage or disrespect your marriage with your wife?
Moore: It doesn’t damage my relationship with my wife. That’s not my worry. My worry is that a society that treats every romantic or sexual union as marital won’t long know how to recognize the uniqueness of marriage. We’ve already seen that with the divorce revolution, the idea that children just need a generic “parent” rather than a mother and a father.
Lopez: What’s your best advice to pastors?
Moore: My advice to pastors is not to panic. They say we’re on the wrong side of history. We’ve been on the wrong side of history since a.d. 33. The future was the Roman Empire. Then the future was the French Revolution. Then the future was scientific materialism. Then the future was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. And yet here stands the old gospel of Jesus Christ — still saving sinners like us. Pastors must learn to articulate what we previously could assume. We cannot count on the culture to do pre-evangelism for us — teaching people “values” while we taught them the gospel.
We must frame life in terms of the gospel and the community of the kingdom, the church, in ways similar to what the first-century church had to do in Ephesus and Corinth and Rome and Antioch. And we also cannot get into the sort of angry culture-warrior mode that those who disagree with us might be in right now. Those who disagree with us aren’t our enemies. Many of them will be, by God’s grace, our future brothers and sisters in Christ. No one expected serial killer Saul of Tarsus to be the missionary force to the nations. Jesus does unexpected things.
Lopez: What’s your best advice to parents?
Moore: Parents cannot shelter their children from this. Our silence simply communicates that we are scared. We have nothing to be scared of. We should tell our children what the culture is doing, and then we should ground them, from their earliest years, in what the ancient wisdom of Christ tells us about what it means to be men, what it means to be women, what it means to be families. We must also make sure that we teach empathy for those who disagree with us, by showing our children that all of us, ourselves included, are fallen and in need of God’s mercy.
Lopez: What’s your best plea to people celebrating this ruling? Why should you not be considered a bigot?
Moore: I understand why my gay and lesbian neighbors are celebrating this ruling. Most of them truly believe that this will expand marriage to include them and that they now will have what their parents and grandparents had. I disagree, because I don’t think the power of marriage is in the word but in the sign. Marriage requires sexual complementarity because God designed it to signal the union of Christ and his church through a one-flesh covenant. I think my neighbors are going to be disappointed, ultimately.
As for bigotry, I’m not all that worried about whether people think we’re bigots. I’m worried that we not be bigots. There are some — including some who name the name of Christ, sadly — who have been harsh and condemnatory. That should not be the case among us. We represent the One who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
What I would say to those who think this is bigotry is to ask them to examine the core convictions of the orthodox Christian religions — Evangelical Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy. We hold to what Jesus taught us, in continuity with the prophets before him, the apostles after him, and two millennia of Christian witness ever since. To ask us to give up our sexual ethic is to ask us to find a different Lord and a different Christ. Where else can we go? We believe that we follow the One who has the words of life. If we have to choose between social acceptance and Jesus, we’ll choose Jesus.
Lopez: It would seem that this cannot be reversed. So how do you teach a traditional view of marriage in this environment? How do you make the proposal?
Moore: I’m a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. There is no reversal for marriage and family redefinition anytime in the foreseeable future. I believe, though, that the sexual revolution is unsustainable. To use Pope Francis’s language: It is built on an ecology that won’t hold. Think of how rapidly laissez-faire sexuality is shifting even now. I don’t think marriages (or “marriages”) will skyrocket now. I think after an initial burst of marriages, marriage will decline across the board, as it has in Europe. That’s bad news for children and for society. But if we keep lit the light to the old paths, we can be the people who can love and heal the refugees from the sexual revolution, those who seek a different way. I believe marriage is resilient. We should look to preserve what Walker Percy would call “love in the ruins.”
Lopez: What does a “a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper” look like?#related#
Moore: The first step to protecting religious liberty is to articulate what we believe and why. Natural law is not enough. We must tell the truth about how sexuality and marriage are at the very core of our beliefs — our beliefs about the picture of the gospel, about the nature of sin and judgment, about the ministry of the church, and so on. Many of those on the progressive left believe that we will simply “get over” our beliefs if they just “nudge” us through the coercion of the state. We won’t, and we can’t. We gladly render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we won’t outsource our consciences to Caesar — not now, not ever.
Lopez: What are you grateful for?
Moore: I am grateful that I get to live and minister in this time. I believe in the sovereignty of God, so I believe that God decided that I would be born, and born again, right now in this moment. Who am I to begrudge the mission field he’s given me? There’s never been a better time to be alive and sharing the good news of redemption through Jesus Christ. We have for this culture what we’ve always had for every culture — the sign of Jonah, the sign of a crucified and resurrected Messiah who welcomes all who will repent and believe in him (Matt. 12:39–40). That’s good news.