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

The ERLC statement appears to reflect Russell Moore's previous unhelpful criticism of Judge Roy Moore for not complying while he held the office of judge with a federal judge's unconstitutional overturning of Alabama's natural-marriage standard. Russell Moore presumed that state judges (and, indeed any government employees) who could not abide by the ruling of federal judges must resign their position if they are going to protest. According to him, "civil disobedience, even when necessary, cannot happen in their roles as agents of the state." He justified his position by appeal to respect for "the rule of law." But it is precisely the question of what here is "the rule of law" that is incorrectly presumed. What is presumed as "the rule of law" must be argued.

Leftwing judges have overreached their constitutional authority and thus abandoned the "rule of law." Moreover, effective "civil disobedience" can't be engaged in once a resisting official resigns because he/she, upon resignation, is no longer empowered to prevent the "marriage" of persons of the same sex. Lincoln didn't resign as president in order to protest the Dred Scott ruling. He subverted it repeatedly through the powers of his office. We need more political officials standing up and refusing to comply with the ruling, not less. Was it a bad thing for German officials to disregard anti-Semitic laws during Hitler's reign of terror against Jews?

Strangely, in the bullet list of things that Christians should be committed to doing, there is not a single mention of supporting and voting for candidates who will both strive to undo the Supreme Court's rogue decision and fight for our religious and civil liberties. That seems like a rather obvious point to make, especially by an organization of the Southern Baptist Convention that is concerned with politics, and yet it goes completely unmentioned. How are we going to "work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage" if we don't support those politicians who share our values and oppose those who do not? Living godly lives will not alone accomplish that. For example, we need a president who will replace retiring judges who respect the rule of law.

To be sure, the ERLC statement is superior to the reaction of Rod Dreher (a senior editor and blogger at American Conservative) in TIME magazine. I appreciate Rod Dreher's sober estimate of how far matters have deteriorated; I have made similar arguments myself. However, I have done so as a means to awaken Christians to political action, not to discourage them from such. I believe that Rod is absolutely wrong about de-energizing Christians from getting behind political candidates who commit themselves to overturning or disregarding the ruling of the 5 Lawless Justices on "gay marriage." His insistence that "voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now" insures our persecution.

True, elsewhere Rod states, "I'm not suggesting that we give up the fight in the public square. We have to fight for our religious liberty." Nevertheless, that qualifier is irrelevant if Christians are not making it a priority to elect officials who will support the cause of religious liberty and undermine the lawless actions of the Court. By all means let us be realistic. Realism for a long time now has involved the recognition that no Democratic candidate for President will henceforth work to preserve our freedoms, much less seek to chip away at "gay marriage."

Discouraging Christians from voting for Republican candidates that support a male-female prerequisite for marriage is counterproductive. Rod has no crystal ball at his disposal. While there is no guarantee, there remains a chance of change. We can say for certain that there will be no chance if we resign ourselves to political defeat. In discouraging Christians from believing that their votes will have any significant positive outcome, he aids and abets those who would deny us our liberties. It doesn't take any special clairvoyance to realize why TIME magazine, which has been sold out to homosexualism for many years, highlighted as Rod's most important sentence the remark that voting Republican will do little good.

IV. Homosexual Practice as Desecration of the Imago Dei and Affront to Human Dignity

I have concerns about the exhortation that Christians "affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect."

A first problem is adopting the "LGBT" nomenclature, as though doing so were part of this deserving "dignity and respect." The attempt in our culture to reject the term "homosexuals" (compare heterosexuals) is due to its apt description of what is happening: sex with a like or same (Gk. homoios). "Gay" is a euphemistic term that obscures the reality of what is problematic with same-sex activity; it also for most people connotes (falsely) a happy existence in the best sense. Lesbian is similarly non-descript (related to the island of Lesbos). "Transgender" or "transsexual" is a misnomer since there are no true transgendered persons. A male-to-female "transsexual," so-called, is a male, not a female, who is aroused by the idea of being a woman. Reference to a "LGBT" group (at least without quotation marks) is straight from the homosexual activist playbook. It also suggests a reified self-affirming identity as a positive good, which cannot be accepted by the Christian faith.

Another and more important problem is the failure to add that homosexual practice itself dishonors the dignity of the person engaging in it and threatens to mar the image of God stamped on the person (hence the close proximity of being made "in God's image" and being made "male and female" in Gen 1:27).

While animals are also made "male and female," sexual differentiation in their case is not connected to being made in the image of God. Consequently, when animals act in ways sexually that would be unthinkable for most humans, animals are not held responsible by God. Humans are. God's image and human sexual differentiation-and-pairing are uniquely integrated. As Nahum Sarna notes in the Jewish Publication Society commentary on Genesis: "No such sexual differentiation is [explicitly] noted in regard to animals. Human sexuality is of a wholly different order from that of the beast.... Its proper regulation is subsumed under the category of the holy, whereas sexual perversion is viewed with abhorrence as an affront to human dignity and as a desecration of the divine image in man." An attempt at uniting sexually two males or two females would threaten to desecrate the image of God stamped on humans as complementary sexual beings.

This is not to say persons who act out homosexually should not receive our love as human beings in need of divine grace. It is rather to say what must be said in any context in which gross immoral activity takes place: Those engaging in such activity are undermining the dignity of their own creation and desecrating the image of God, which problems the message of the gospel seeks to remedy. To suggest that such activity has no bearing on the dignity of the human creation is inaccurate and ultimately unhelpful. It unknowingly buys into a staple of homosexualist rhetoric, which focuses on the equal "dignity," "worth," and "image-bearing" as a basis for promoting acceptance of homosexual unions.

Our primary motivation for reaching out to people should lie not in ignoring the fact that dignity and image-bearing have been sullied by immorality but rather in recognizing that God wants to reclaim the lost and to reverse what was lost. The story of the prodigal son communicates the point: He is reduced to eating with the pigs, becoming like an animal in giving into his base instincts. And yet his father knows what he was and still hopes for his restoration (Luke 15:11-24).

V. The Need for Secular Arguments against Homosexual Practice

While the statement's stand on remaining faithful to a biblical male-female prerequisite for sexual relations is good, there is no statement providing secular justification for rejecting homosexual practice. Jesus himself pointed the way by hinging his declaration about limiting two persons to a sexual union, whether concurrently (no polygamy) or serially (no remarriage after invalid divorce) on a male-female requirement for sexual ethics. Only the duality of the sexes requisite for marriage can logically establish a duality of number for marriage.

Conclusion: Too Flawed a Statement to Sign or to Treat as a Flagship Statement

In short, I think that there are too many flaws in this statement to make this a flagship statement for Evangelicals regarding the current American Crisis on marriage. I understand that good people will agree to disagree and I (and many others) could be wrong at various points. At the same time I don't think the concerns expressed here should be dismissed or scorned simply because of who put out the ERLC statement or who has since signed it.

That kind of circle-the-wagons approach is not helpful, much less an ad hominem, sarcastic, or retributive response to those offering the critique. If my arguments are wrong, then show where they are wrong. It is just possible that an esteemed group such as this, this phalanx of Evangelical leaders, can learn from others who may have thought about the issue at least as deeply as they have. At any rate, no advance can be made without expressing the disagreement. Hopefully, in mutual engagement iron will sharpen iron.

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

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