Russell Moore's ERLC Posts a Flawed 'Evangelical Declaration on Marriage'

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

Russell Moore's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has posted a flawed "Evangelical Declaration on Marriage" entitled "Here We Stand." While I appreciate the effort at getting evangelical leaders to declare affirmation of a male-female requirement for marriage, I think that every evangelical leader who signed this (and there are already quite a few) signed a statement that errs at some points and gives the wrong advice at others.

(Photo: Robert Gagnon)Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

This is not an attack on those who have already signed the document. Doubtless, many signed simply because it does contain a number of good statements. For example, the first paragraph states, "We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot"; and the second paragraph affirms strongly Jesus' own affirmation of marriage as a male-female union. Nor should my comments be construed as a personal attack on any formulators of the statement or an accusation of doctrinal heresy. However, substantial disagreements or concerns exist about the content of the statement that I hope my friends can hear with some degree of openness.

So here are at least five problems that I see with the statement.

I. The Necessity of Godly Outrage as a Moral Force

I believe the unnamed author(s) of the document (presumably primarily, if not exclusively, Russell Moore, especially this Washington Post article by Moore) erred in claiming that Christians should not express outrage at this decision: "Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus." When I read the document, this statement jumped out at me more than any other. Apparently, I wasn't the only one for whom this was the case. Christianity Today highlighted that remark above all others (in apparent approval, unfortunately).

Jesus expressed outrage at sin repeatedly in his ministry. The cleansing of the temple is a fairly concrete case in point. So too his "brood of vipers" lambasting of the Pharisees. Most would see outrage in his indictment of Galilean cities: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades" (Luke 10:13-15 par. Matt 11:21-24).

John the Baptist too expressed outrage by criticizing publicly Herod Antipas for taking his brother's wife and so violating Levitical incest law. Paul certainly expressed outrage in his comments on tolerance for the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5. So did John of Patmos in Revelation when he compared the Roman Empire and its emperors to a harlot and a disgusting 7-headed beast rising from the sea, a puppet of the dragon that symbolizes Satan; and likewise symbolized the provincial imperial cult leaders as a blasphemous beast rising from the earth.

When I talk about outrage, I'm not talking about hating anyone but rather a holy outrage against injustice that motivates believers to take action. For decades the church has been overly passive about the liberties of their children being taken away and naive about the enormously negative impact of the imposition of acceptance of homosexual relations. Given the outrage expressed by Jesus, Paul, and every prophet, to claim (as this document does) that outrage against injustice is antithetical to trusting in God's promises is absolutely false and just plain silly. Everybody understands the concept when one is talking about outrage against economic exploitation, racism and abuse of women.

Friends, if this were the Supreme Court attempting to restore the Dred Scott ruling, would it be unchristian to express "outrage"? This is not a tea party. Democracy and liberty in America have been struck the greatest body blow in our lifetime. The action of the five lawless justices will have enormous negative repercussions for the church corporately and Christians individually. And outrage at egregious immorality is not antithetical to love. This action by the "Lawless 5" will harm many, especially those who experience same-sex attractions. We should have a godly outrage toward that.

In my view, although the statement polarizes outrage and faith (implicitly also love), the real polarization is between outrage and "niceness." In other words, the statement perpetuates the myth that if we were just a bit nicer, we wouldn't be persecuted so much. David French puts it well in a recent article:

"Christians often strive to be seen as the 'nicest' or 'most loving' people in their communities. Especially among Evangelicals, there is a naïve belief that if only we were winsome enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough, the culture would welcome us with open arms. But now our love ... is hate. Christians who've not suffered for their faith often romanticize persecution. They imagine themselves willing to lose their jobs, their liberty, or even their lives for standing up for the Gospel. Yet when the moment comes, at least here in the United States, they often find that they simply can't abide being called 'hateful.' It creates a desperate, panicked response. 'No, you don't understand. I'm not like those people — the religious right.' Thus, at the end of the day, a church that descends from apostles who withstood beatings finds itself unable to withstand tweetings. Social scorn is worse than the lash."

II. Panic No, Alarm Yes

While it is true that believers should not "panic," I think that the statement should also be stressing that many in the Church until now have been insufficiently alarmed by what is transpiring. A response of alarm can stimulate prayer and action. A comparison of Jesus and his disciples at Gethsemane makes clear that it was Jesus who was rightly alarmed while the disciples slept a sleep of ignorance. Jesus was not a masochist and neither should we be. Those who are not alarmed for their children are uncaring parents.

Far from Christians being too outraged and too panicked over the last two decades, many Christians, especially among 'elite' evangelicals, have exhibited a dearth of outrage and alarm, so as to appear reasonable to the broader culture. Many elite evangelicals have contended that the homosexualist push in the country was only one of many issues to consider in elections. Many still live in that denial, even after the SCOTUS decision. The last thing evangelicals need is another statement from elites that outrage and alarm are antithetical to trust in God (see "Sleeping at Gethsemane").

III. Treating the Supreme Court Decision as Outside the Rule of Law

The document also seems to imply (wrongly, in my view) that Paul's remarks in Romans 13 mandate that Christian political leaders should not treat the ruling of the "5 Lawless Justices" as the rogue decision that it is by disregarding compliance with the ruling. "We commit to ... respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage" (Rom. 13:1-7). Do they think that Jesus "respected" Herod Antipas when he called him "that fox," which was not a compliment? Or that John of Patmos respected the Roman officials threatening Christians over emperor worship when he depicted them as the minions of Satan?

Romans 13 is about whether believers should pay taxes at all to a non-Christian government. Paul wrote it during a time when Nero was not yet a nutjob. Paul in Romans 13 does not mandate compliance with a branch of the government that violates our own Constitution in such a manifestly blatant manner. The Lawless 5 violated the Constitution in their extreme hubris. Their decision deserves no credence now, even before replacement of the rogue Justices. The Lawless 5 should be denounced by all as meriting impeachment.

As Princeton's Robert George recently noted, "The Republican Party, the Republican Congress, and a future Republican President should regard and treat the decision just as the Republican Party, the Republican Congress, and the Republican President — Abraham Lincoln — regarded and treated the Dred Scott decision. They should, in other words, treat it as an anti-constitutional and illegitimate ruling in which the judiciary has attempted to usurp the authority of the people and their elected representatives. They should refuse to treat and regard it as a binding and settled matter. They should challenge it legislatively and give the Supreme Court every opportunity to reverse itself."

As Prof. George also observed twelve years ago: "In office, Lincoln gave effect to his position against judicial supremacy by consistently refusing to treat the Dred Scott decision as creating a rule of law binding on the executive branch. His administration issued passports and other documents to free blacks, thus treating them as citizens of the United States despite the Court's denial of their status as citizens. He signed legislation that plainly placed restrictions on slavery in the western territories in defiance of Taney's ruling."

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon).