This week, Pope Francis welcomed an ecumenical (“Humanum”) gathering discussing the significance of the complementarity between men and women for our lives and the future of marriage and the family. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, was among those in attendance. In an interview with National Review Online, he shares some insights on the discussions — including the warm welcome a number of evangelicals received there.
Q: What did you think it important to be at this Vatican conference that just wrapped up?
A: There has probably never been another gathering like this — and may never be again. The invitation from the Vatican and the support and presence of Pope Francis himself meant that this event was able to attract an all-star cast of both speakers and attendees. It was a unique opportunity to network with the leaders of the pro-family movement around the world.
Q: This complementarity point may seem so basic to some and so archaic to others. Why should it be a point of discussion and reflection and perhaps even celebration at this point in history?
A: For me, this goes back to what brought me into the marriage movement when I passed the Covenant Marriage law in Louisiana. Some want to say that efforts on marriage are driven by a dislike for certain people. That is simply not true as is evidenced by the fact that a number of us were working on the issue of marriage before same-sex “marriage” was an issue. The complementarity of man and woman is at the heart of what we are for, and provides an overarching explanation from a positive perspective of why we believe what we do about such topics as the definition of marriage and family, the importance of mothers and fathers, and human sexuality.
Q: Did anything surprise you from the presentations from Catholics?
A: It did not surprise me at all, but I was reminded again how much of the rigorous intellectual and academic work on these issues has been done by Catholic thinkers. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller’s presentation the first day was very thought provoking, and Sister Prudence Allen and Rev. Jean Lafitte gave valuable presentations based on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Q: Did anything surprise you about how evangelicals were received or about the interactions there?
A: Apart from the pope, almost all of the standing ovations were received by American evangelicals! Jacqueline Cook-Rivers of Boston spoke powerfully about how family breakdown has devastated the African American community. Pastor Rick Warren shared a list of very practical steps we can all take to promote the family.
Q: What did you/do you make of Pope Francis, who you heard speak Monday?
A: Pope Francis is somewhat soft-spoken and has a radiant smile and a heart for conciliation — but it is clear that these qualities should not be equated with a lack of firmness in upholding the truth about the family. His statements that the family is not an ideological construct but “an anthropological fact” and that “children have a right to a mother and father” could hardly be clearer — or more welcome. His closing challenge to the upcoming generation was especially encouraging: “It is important that they do not give themselves over to the poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern: this must be done.”
Q: Was anything said there that did not quite dawn on you before?
A: We heard from speakers from several different faith traditions that I was not very familiar with, such as Sikh, Taoist, and Jain representatives. Yet despite the dramatic differences in theology between them and the Judeo-Christian tradition with which we are most familiar in the U.S., all testified to the importance of the complementarity of the sexes.
Q: Was anything discussed that you wish could be heard on mainstream media be a matter of more widespread discussion?
A: The complementarity of man and woman is not just a theological concept. There is an abundance of scientific evidence of both the biological and psychological uniqueness and complementarity of men and women. Yet the media simply ignores this evidence because it conflicts with the politically correct attacks upon masculinity and femininity.
Q: It seems difficult if not near impossible these days to talk about men and women and marriage without sounding like you’re excluding those who are attracted to the same sex. Is it in fact an impossible task?
A: I believe this is why the focus of the colloquium was on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman.” It is not that religious groups or groups in society are excluding particular individuals; it is that those who reject such complementarity are essentially excluding themselves from this divine and natural reality.
Q: When you talk about a natural order, isn’t there a danger of making it seem some are unnatural? That could seem the case with those with same-sex attraction and those who are not married.
A: When it comes to marriage it is contrary to nature.
Q: It still escapes a lot of people why same-sex marriage is a threat to any man and woman’s marriage or marriage itself. If marriage and family are in crisis, why not open it up to more?
A: The crisis in marriage has grown in proportion to the degree to which society has allowed it to deviate from what it was designed to be, a life-long monogamous relationship between one man and one woman.
Q: That question I just asked you sounds like one from the past. Same-sex marriage is a reality in many states. Why keep arguing with the march of history here?
A: Rick Warren gave the best answer to that, when he said, “It is not important to be on the right side of culture or the right side of history; it is more important just to be on the right side!” Those who think history is on the side of same-sex “marriage” are not taking a long enough view. Male-female relationships will always be uniquely important to the future of society, and a policy that attempts to deny or obscure that fundamental truth cannot last, because those who want to redefine marriage are on the wrong side of reality.
Q: Do you give advice about what to say if this comes up over Thanksgiving or Christmas?
A: Pass the gravy.