Evangelicals and Catholics on the Protection of Marriage

Released November 26, 2003

For the past ten years an unofficial enterprise known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a collaborative fellowship of convinced Roman Catholic and Evangelical leaders and theologians, has labored to identify and affirm central truths of the Christian faith.  We recognize that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, striving together for the faith once for all handed down to the saints and called as individuals to speak from and to our individual communities concerning matters of common conviction.

In no small part this effort has been made necessary and urgent by the continuing drift of American culture into moral relativism and neo-paganism. In view of the growing crisis, Evangelicals and Catholics Together believes that Christians across confessional divides must reclaim their identity, seek unity where possible with their brothers and sisters, and resoundingly affirm their common convictions against competing worldviews.

Our first document, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," was issued in 1994.  In it we found, despite doctrinal differences, that as we are brothers and sisters in Christ we share important truths and a common worldview.  This paper was received with considerable media attention and no small amount of controversy.

In 1997 we issued a second paper, "The Gift of Salvation," in which we discovered, despite the profound differences that have separated our communions for centuries, that we could affirm the central truths of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our third statement, in 2002, "Your Word is Truth," reported progress and convergence in our understanding of the relation between Scripture and tradition.  

During the year past we were able to deal with a range of issues involving the communion of the saints as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and Scripture, published in our 2003 paper, "That They May Be One."

This subject led us inevitably to the Christian call to holiness, upon which we have been reflecting and deliberating for the past year.

It is providential, we believe, that we are engaged in a discussion of what it means to serve a holy God and to share in His holiness at a time when the most serious cultural crisis threatening marriage and the family, sacred institutions ordained by God, is thrust upon us by ecclesiastical confusion and judicial fiat.  We feel compelled at this time to make a public appeal directed, in the first instance, to our faith communities, and, in the second, to public officials who make decisions of grave consequence for the right ordering of our society.

First, our own faith communities must recognize that we bear heavy responsibility for the current crisis.  For too long Christians have ignored the call for holiness and Biblical obedience, tolerating easy divorce and marital infidelity.  Source data suggests that the behavior of Christians in these areas is only marginally better than that of non-Christians in our society.  Thus we have done much to damage the institutions we are sworn to uphold. As a result, our credibility in speaking to the world in defense of the institutions of marriage and the family has been weakened.

Happily, the truth of the created order and the moral law recognized through the centuries by all societies is not diminished by our sin and inadequacies.  The created order is true despite the fallible ways of the creatures who inhabit it.

We thus call all Christians to repent for our obvious failures and disregard of the Biblical mandate.  We humbly urge our brothers and sisters to renew their commitment to the holy state of marriage and to marital fidelity.  We must, as one Body, reaffirm the plain teaching of Scripture, that marriage is a divinely ordered union before God of one man and one woman for life.  All other unions of persons, claiming to have rights and privileges pertaining to marriage, but failing the basic definition thereof, are in fact not marriages.  For the sake of Biblical faithfulness and the good of civil society, such unions cannot be given the title of marriage. This understanding of marriage that must be upheld is shared by Muslims and Jews. Virtually all cultures in the world have recognized this understanding as necessary for moral and social order and human flourishing.

Second, we speak to the culture in which we live, and especially to the magistrates, who are charged with restraining sin and preserving order in God’s creation.  We believe it is your duty to recognize and uphold moral order held sacred by the faith communities of our culture and proven prudent by the accumulated wisdom of centuries of human experience.
The radical idea of marriage as any arrangement individuals choose, which is being proposed in the courts, must be resisted by every legal means available.  Such resistance in no way reflects an insensitivity to the needs of homosexual persons. Christians, of all people, must respect the rights of homosexuals, and exercise compassion toward them, as to all persons.  But such needs can and should be met in a nondiscriminatory fashion without redefining marriage in name or in practice.

Marriage as the union of man and woman is recognized by all cultures, pagan as well as those informed by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Eastern religions. It has proven the essential institution for satisfying the human need for intimacy, propagating the human race, and serving as the first school of instruction and character development of children.  This is why unique benefits and incentives have historically been provided to marriage.  To make these incentives no longer unique would say the institution is no longer necessary to fulfill its unique function.  Marriage would be diminished, even discouraged, more than is already the case.  To call everything the family is to call the family nothing, and to destroy the very idea of family as the pillar of society.  This would not only offend holy God; it would be the height of folly, the act of a culture bent on self-destruction.

We therefore call on public officials who are Christian to act consistently with the teaching of their faith, and upon all public officials at every level to defend the institution of marriage, as traditionally understood, as essential to the right ordering of society.

If, as it appears, the courts have foreclosed remedies through the political process, shockingly nullifying the exercise of self-government, then the only remedy remaining would seem to be a constitutional amendment that protects marriage in name and in practice.  It is disingenuous to say, as some political leaders have, that they are committed to defend marriage but are unwilling to support measures necessary to that end.
This issue transcends partisan politics even as it does denominational allegiance.  It is an issue of the utmost urgency. To fail to act is to make a mockery of the deepest religious convictions of 90 percent of Americans, to turn against the natural order affirmed by 3000 years of recorded human experience, and to risk incurring the judgment of Him who created marriage and calls upon us to guard it vigilantly.

Charles W. Colson

Fr. Avery Cardinal Dulles

Dr. Timothy George

Fr. Thomas Guarino

Dr. Kent Hill

Dr. Frank James

Rev. T. M. Moore

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

Dr. Thomas Oden

Reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship. © 2003 Breakpoint: www.breakpoint.org.