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Union University Department of Political Science

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Moore Speaks on Rediscovering a Marriage Culture

May 6, 2013

Friday night, Russell Moore, the President-Elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke on “Rediscovering a Marriage Culture” at the Salt and Light Conference held at Union University.  He said that many evangelicals today support traditional marriage but they fear that they will be compared to George Wallace standing in the school house door.  Over the past ten years, we have seen opinion toward same sex marriage change dramatically, especially among young people.  This change confirms many people’s belief that support for same sex marriage is an idea whose time has come and that this proves the adage that the arc of history bends toward justice.  For these reasons, many evangelicals are leery of taking strong stands in favor of defending traditional marriage because they will be rejected by future generations for standing for something unjust.  However, Moore believes that the debate is important because marriage is both more resilient than we think and more imperiled.  He then discussed the ways that evangelicals have viewed traditional marriage and which approach is best.

First, the moral majoritarian idea is that evangelicals stand with the silent majority of Americans politically and culturally. This view, based on Nixon’s Silent Majority that supported winning the war in Vietnam, thinks that counter-culture will not win because it does not reflect society now or in the future.  These people look at the fact that most states affirm traditional marriage and thus believe it will continue to be supported without much effort.  However, Moore thinks the flaw in this belief is that younger people are more progressive and polls consistently show this generation to be more supportive of libertine lifestyles. Over the long term then, states will eventually support same sex marriage. Instead, he believes that marriage is not defined by majority vote.  Rather, states recognize marriage because they have to because of the important role that families play.  For example when we ask who is responsible for children, everyone would say parents.  Thus, the state would have to create something like marriage if it did not exist.

Second, Moore discussed the moral libertarian position.  He said that evangelicals tend to go from one extreme to another.  People who grew up in traditional and legalistic churches tend to favor churches with more contemporary services and a greater emphasis on grace.  Those who grew up in churches in chaos like the order provided by traditional churches.  With churches being at the forefront of social issues over the past thirty years, many are reacting against that political involvement and claiming that we can hide in the opposite corner and avoid dealing with issues like same sex marriage by just focusing on the Gospel.  Moore’s response is that we did that with divorce and look how that turned out.  The simple fact is that culture change affects church members.  People thought that Christians would not be affected by no-fault divorce and now many churches deal with couples that get divorced for non-scriptural reasons.  Moore said that we can’t be conscientious objectors from the culture wars and say we must focus only on the Gospel.  This would be like saying we love you and here is the Gospel but we won’t feed the poor, visit those in prison, take care of those less fortunate, etc.  It is not an either/or proposition but a both/and.  We can preach the Gospel and support traditional marriage and the two reinforce each other.

Third, Moore argued for engaged communitarianism as the preferred position for evangelicals.  This position understand marriage in the light of the Gospel and we can use natural law and Scripture to make our argument.  From the Gospel perspective, we can turn to Ephesians 5 and see that marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. Therefore, marriage is a living, on-going picture of the Gospel in action as marriage dramatically re-enacts the gospel message and promotes human flourishing by sacrificing for and supporting the other.  Furthermore, we sometimes miss the point of churches being involved in marriage in the first place. At most marriage ceremonies, we ask if people object to the marriage and to “speak now or forever hold your peace.” But why?  The idea is that the church wants to make sure that a couple has a right to be married.  Moreover, the couple makes vows in front of a church because the members promise to hold the couple accountable for the vows they take. We have missed this idea and churches need to return to it to restore marriage to its rightful place.

Moore ended by saying that we need to treat homosexuals as people made in God’s image and sinners just like us.  If we do this, we can engage those who disagree with us in winsome ways and have more opportunities to win people to our side.  Finally, he said that we need to be optimistic about the fighting for traditional marriage because we need to remember that God has already won.  Standing for God’s beliefs should encourage us that we will all succeed because the true arc of history bends toward Jesus. 

A video of his presentation can be seen at http://new.livestream.com/uu/saltandlight