ROME (Christian Examiner) – Two Southern Baptists were among 28 speakers from 14 religious traditions and 23 nations who spoke this week at an ecumenical conference on marriage at the Vatican Nov. 17-19.
Southern Baptist Convention ethicist Russell Moore was given time to speak Nov. 18, but Saddleback Community Church Pastor Rick Warren was chosen to close out the gathering of about 350 people the next day.
Moore gave a message on the importance of marriage and emphasized the spiritual harm that comes from "jettisoning" the very relationship that represents Christ's relationship with His Church. Warren offered a plan of action and charged the audience to "never give up!"
It was the first Vatican gathering of its size in terms of the broad international and inter-religious scope of the participants. The event was sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also known as the Holy Office, the oldest and highest-ranking of nine administrative congregations of the Curia, through which the Pope conducts the business of the Roman Catholic Church.
Speakers included Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindi, Sikh and Mormon representatives.
The conference was a year in the making, but coincidentally came just a month after a Vatican bishop's council stirred speculation about softening of official Catholic views on marriage, homosexuality and the family.
"We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment," Pope Francis said to open the conference. "This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings. ...
"Social environments like natural environments need protection," he said, later adding that "permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart."
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, also spoke during opening discussions on Monday. He explained "seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected" in the development of man by which we can track the development of the institution of marriage, according to The Catholic World report.
In opposition to the culture of the day, the Old Testament book of Genesis "was saying that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the king of faith under the sovereignty of God," Sacks said. ... "the norm presupposed by that story is: one woman, one man. ...
"What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class," the rabbi added. The ruling class stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy he said. "So the return of monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all. Every bride and every groom are royalty; every home a palace when furnished with love."
Sacks received an extended standing ovation for the brilliance, clarity and beauty of his remarks, according to several media reports. The complete text of his statement can be found here.
Moore spoke on Tuesday, saying people should defend one-man/one-woman marriage for the common good, but also for the sake of the Gospel.
"Marriage is a common grace, and we should speak ... of why jettisoning normative marriage and family is harmful," Moore said, according to an article in Baptist Press. Marriage "is grounded in the natural order, bearing rights and responsibilities that were not crafted by an human state and cannot thus be redefined by any human state."
"There is a distinctively Christian urgency for why the Christian churches must bear witness to these things," he said. Marriage and family are "icons of God's purpose for the universe," and Christianity's teaching of the one-flesh union "points beyond itself to the union of Christ and His church."
But perhaps Warren's last word as the closing message for the three-day conference on Wednesday will be most remembered.
"In Hebrews 13:4 we are given this clear command: Marriage is to be honored by everyone," Warren preached. "Sadly today, marriage is now dishonored by many."
"It is dismissed as an archaic, manmade tradition, discouraged as a career-limiting choice, denounced as an enemy of women, demeaned in movies and television and delayed out of fear that it will limit one's personal freedom," he said.
"Today marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined."
"What are we to do about this?"
Saying there is too much at stake, he urged "The church cannot cower in silence!"
Referencing 1 Chronicles 12:32, Warren reminded the audience the men of Issachar "understood the times and knew what they should do."
Then he offered a plan of action.
AFFIRM GOD'S WORD
"We do not base our worldview on fads or feelings or opinions or political correctness," he said. "We build our lives on the unchanging truth of God's Word."
Reading from Matthew 24:35, Isaiah 40:8 and Psalm 119:89, Warren said truth is enduring.
"I may deny the law of gravity but that doesn't change gravity," he reasoned, adding, "and just because we break God's laws does not invalidate them!"
FOLLOW JESUS' MODEL FOR MARRIAGE
Using Mark 10:6-9, Warren presented five convictions he said "the Owner's Manual on Marriage" gives:
-- "Gender is God's idea! God chose to make us either male or female. Our identity as either a man or woman is far deeper than a sociological construct, a psychological condition or a personal preference. GOD created us male and female."
-- "Marriage is God's idea! He defines it, not us. It's not a man-made idea that we can toss away."
-- "Sex was created for marriage! God created male and female body parts to naturally fit together. That's obvious. And they fit together for a purpose. They create Life! Even if you disbelieve the Bible, every human body, and every living person, is a witness and testimony to God's intended purpose for sex. Sex was not created for recreation, but for the connection of a husband & wife and the procreation of life."
-- "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. There are many other kinds of relationships - but those aren't marriage. And definitions matter."
-- "Marriage is to be permanent. Jesus repeats Genesis in saying What God joins together, no human being should separate. Marriage is meant to last a lifetime."
"Now today," he said, "all five of these truths are dismissed and ridiculed. But a lie doesn't become truth, and wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good just because it becomes popular."
CELBRATE HEALTHY MARRIAGES
Warren said churches should create a culture that lifts up happy marriages, encourages vow renewals, and honors long-term marriages. He also said churches must intentionally teach the benefits of marriage:
-- Children who grow up with a mother and a father are "healthier, happier, and stronger" and more likely to do well in school and less likely to engage in risky behavior.
-- Women who marry and stay married are less prone to depression or being victims of violence, and have higher financial net worth.
-- Broken marriages contribute to a life of poverty for the wife and children.
-- Men who marry and stay married are healthier, live longer and build more financial stability.
PROMOTE MARRIAGE WITH EVERY RESOURCE
"Right now, the church is being out-marketed by opponents of marriage," he said. "The minority view is getting the majority of media attention."
He offered that in battling to save the definition of marriage, Christians have been characterized by what they oppose -- and that it was crucial to get out a positive message.
"Whichever side tells the best stories wins," he said.
But he also said it is necessary to question cultural lies, including indoctrination in the media "that only sex outside of marriage is exciting."
TEACH PURPOSES OF MARRIAGE
Warren staked out the position that "you cannot value something until you understand its purpose."
"Anytime we forget God's intended purpose for of any of His gifts, that gift will be misused, confused, abused, wasted, perverted and even destroyed," he said.
Saying marriage is intended to eliminate loneliness; provide expression of intimacy; grow the human race; raise children; perfect our character; and, most importantly, reflect our union with Christ; Warren said no other concept is as important to understanding the character of God and His intended relationship with us.
"Eph. 5:22-33 explains that marriage is a metaphor! It is a model of the mystery of Christ's love for his bride and body," he said to punctuate his point.
Warren offered much more in the way of illustrations and points to rally conference attendees. In the end he told them "to never give up and never give in!"
"The church cannot be salt and light in a crumbling culture if it caves in to the sexual revolution and fails to provide a counter-culture witness," he observed.
Warren said the church must not be "captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by applause, frustrated by problems, debilitated by distractions, or intimidated by evil."
"We must keep running the race with our eyes on the goal, not on those shouting from the sideline," he counseled, adding, "We must be Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused so that we cannot be bought, will not be compromised, and shall not quit until we finish the race."
In October, Saddleback Community Church reached a milestone in evangelism, baptizing the forty-thousandth adult who has come to know Christ during the congregation's 34 years of ministry.