ROME: These last three days I have had the good fortune of listening to some of the most powerful voices on marriage, as the permanent union of one man and one woman for the propagation and education of the human race. I am both awed and chastened that these are coming not only from the highest Catholic sources but equally from the other Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths. Until then, I could not imagine the other confessions trying to outdo the Catholics in trying to prevent the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) relativization and redefinition of marriage.
Billed as an international interreligious colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman, and attended by religious leaders and scholars from 23 countries, the forum, entitled “Humanum,” was opened by Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, and featured 33 witnesses and presentors from various different confessions. This came less than a month after the end of the extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which was marked by widespread media hype on a possible seismic change in Church teaching about homosexuality and marriage.
The colloquium drew infinitely less media coverage than the Synod–they deliberately tried to ignore it; but it tried to examine the crisis of marriage at some depth. Sponsored by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, it was presided by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the CDF. He was supported by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the PCPCU, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the PCID, Bishop Jean Lafitte, secretary of the PCF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S. J., and Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Secretary and Adjunct Secretary respectively of the CDF.
Religious leaders and scholars from Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Sikhism, Baptists, Evangelicals and Latter-Day Saints provided the non-Catholic perspective. Across the wide confessional divide, the speakers were uniformly persuasive, but more of the non-Catholic speakers had the assembly standing on their feet in prolonged applause at the end of their addresses.
Most notable were Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, currently Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University, the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, and professor of law, ethics and Bible at King’s College, London; Rev. Dr. Richard Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church, the eighth largest church in the US with a presence in Manila, and in Time magazine’s words, unquestionably America’s most influential and highest profile spiritual leader; Rev. Dr. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Dr. Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, of the Azusa Christian Community, and Director of Harvard’s Seymour Institute for Black Church Studies.
So united were the various faiths in their position on marriage that when news came of the latest violent attack against a Jewish synagogue in West Jerusalem, the president of the Tawasul Center in Cairo, who said he was one of the organizers of the Tahir Square crowd buildup during the Arab Spring, came up before the participants to condemn the carnage and to apologize in the name of his faith.
‘Crisis of human ecology’
In his opening address, the Pope noted that in our day marriage and the family are in crisis. “The culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. The revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, he said, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Referring to the crisis of marriage as a crisis of human ecology, the Pope pointed out that although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been much slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it, he said.
In words reminiscent of St. John Paul II’s exhortation for families to “become what you are,” Pope Francis said the family is neither conservative nor progressive but simply itself. The family is made up of a man and a woman bound in marriage for the rest of their lives, and blessed with children in a fruitful marriage.
In his reflection, Bishop Lafitte explained the magisterial principles which support the sacramental and inviolable nature of marriage. But this has not dampened the LGBT effort to redefine and relativize it.
Describing the family as “the single most humanizing institution in history,” Rabbi Sacks said “the family, man, woman and child, is not one lifestyle among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group.”
For her part, Cooke-Rivers slammed those who have unjustly appropriated the language and mantle of the Black civil rights movement to advance the LGBT agenda. There is no equivalence between the civil rights movement and the circumstances of homosexuals. The attempt to redefine marriage has terrible social consequences, she said, but “God is not mocked. He is the Almighty God and he will advance the plan for conjugal flourishing, and he will use us, if we will let him.”
Both Moore and Warren spoke of the need for a counter sexual revolution and a counter-culture witness that would restore and secure marriage and the family in their rightful places.
Moore said “Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, marriage redefinition and abortion rights, as parts of a sexual revolution that they say can tear down old patriarchal systems, but this is not the case. It empowers men to pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha male, rooted in the values of power, prestige and personal pleasure. Does anyone really believe that these things will empower women and children when we see the wreckage of sexuality as self-expression all around us?”
Warren on the other hand offered a list of what to do—all faith-based—to promote good and healthy marriages. Why should a small minority who would like to redefine marriage claim a bigger space in the media and the public square than the large majority who maintain the right values about marriage? One Spanish lady professor pointed out that important as religion was in understanding the nature of marriage, it is actually a human good that precedes one’s religion and should not therefore be encapsulated within it. The State must be required, in the name of the common good, to protect marriage by enlarging its space in society.
In the last few months, I have been asked with growing frequency to take part in international family conferences. In early September, I spoke at the Kremlin on large families and the future of humanity. In October, I sat in the planning session in Salt Lake City for the 2015 World Congress of Families. From here, I am supposed to join some American and European friends in Stavropol, Russia for a follow-up to the Moscow conference on large families. Some standing commitments in Manila will not allow me to do that, but by next month, I may have to do the international conference on family, marriage and human life with some world legislators in New York.
It is heartening to see the world religions and some sensible governments trying to solve the global crisis of the family and marriage. The lamentable thing though is when you have a stupid government that believes it could please its meddling allies by using “reproductive rights” and the LGBT agenda to attack the Constitution and the inviolable nature of human life, the family, and marriage.