by Rob Schwarzwalder
April 28, 2015
In a somewhat unusual alliance, “35 religious leaders representing Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal, Orthodox and Mormon churches” have issued an “Open Letter … to All in Positions of Public Service” concerning same-sex marriage. As noted by Religion News Service, Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area also signed the letter.
Among the signatories are National Association of Evangelicals president Rev. Dr. Leith Anderson; the Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone; Archbishop of San Francisco; Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod; Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore; Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Here are two excerpts from the document:
“The redefinition of legal marriage to include any other type of relationship has serious consequences, especially for religious freedom. It changes every law involving marital status, requiring that other such relationships be treated as if they were the same as the marital relationship of a man and a woman. No person or community, including religious organizations and individuals of faith, should be forced to accept this redefinition …
“The well-being of men, women, and the children they conceive compels us to stand for marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We call for the preservation of the unique meaning of marriage in the law, and for renewed respect for religious freedom and for the conscience rights of all in accord with the common good.”
There is much to commend here. Christians who believe in the Bible’s unalterable teaching that marriage exists as the union of one man and one woman should always and often be articulating publicly this truth, and doing so in the irenic manner of this letter.
With that said, this “open letter” is, perhaps, so “open” as to be innocuous: Addressing no one in particular, I fear it will have the effect of shouting out of a window on a stormy day. Additionally, although it mentions this week’s oral arguments on same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court, it nowhere calls on the Court to rule against mandating that all 50 states accept the redefinition of marriage being demanded by the advocates of such. The letter’s omission of calling on the Supreme Court to decide this issue consistent with the Constitution and the natural law tradition (supported by Protestants and Catholics, in sometimes different but still important ways, alike) seems rather odd.
The letter does raise an important question: What of the fear that the law could require churches, synagogues, and mosques to hold, and the clergy who lead them to perform, same-sex wedding ceremonies?
At present, legal protections exist, but churches need to be aware of them and also how to protect themselves from potential litigation. That’s why the director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, Travis Weber, has written a new FRC Issue Brief, “How are clergy protected from being forced to perform same-sex marriages?”
At the same time, FRC’s allies at the Alliance Defending Freedom have drafted “Seven things All Churches Should Have in Their Bylaws,” which lists how church bylaws can protect religious institutions from potential litigation with respect to same-sex marriage and related matters.
I applaud the signatories of the “Defense of Marriage” for issuing this letter, even though its potency seems modest given its rather amorphous audience. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in June, people who believe the Bible will keep on standing for Scripture’s truth and doing so with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.