A [conservative] CHRISTIAN
DECLARATION ON MARRIAGE
Background of the statement:
It is normally impossible for the various sections of Christianity to reach a
consensus on anything. Conservative Protestant, liberal Protestant, Roman
Catholic and other Christian denominations, disagree on essentially everything,
from abortion to physician
assisted suicide; from the death penalty to equal rights for homosexuals.
Even agreement within Protestant denominations is
usually impossible. But, somehow, representatives of the major divisions of
Christianity in North America were temporarily able to agree on a marriage
statement on 2000-NOV-14. 1 It was signed by:
||Bishop Kevin Mannoia, president of the National Association of
Evangelicals, representing conservative Protestant denominations.
||Bishop Anthony O'Connell, chairman of the Committee on Marriage
and Family Life, of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops,
representing the Roman Catholic Church.
||Dr. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of
Churches, (NCC) representing 36 mainline and liberal Protestant
denominations and Orthodox churches. He later withdrew his name.
||Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC)
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, representing the Southern
Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
The project was initiated by Kevin Mannoia of the NAE.
The writers emphasized that "marriage is a holy union of one man and
one woman," established by God. It brings benefits to the individual
couple, to churches and to the wider culture. The framers of the document are
concerned about a number of developments related to marriage in the U.S.:
||a high divorce rate.
||an increase in couples living together before marriage or with no intent
to eventually marry.
||an increase in births outside of marriage.
||a decline in the marriage rate.
||"a diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying."
They call on the churches in America to provide:
||"Prayer and spiritual support for stronger marriages.
||Encouragement for people to marry.
||Education for young people about the meaning and responsibility of
||Preparation for those engaged to be married.
||Pastoral care, including qualified mentor couples, for couples at all
stages of their relationship.
||Help for couples experiencing marital difficulty and disruption.
||Influence within society and the culture to uphold the institution of
They call on churches to cooperate locally by developing policies and
programs aimed at increasing the marriage rate and reducing the divorce rate.
The statement involves efforts only by Christian groups. There was no mention of
inter-religious effort involving non-Christian religious groups or the
involvement of secular
groups. "A summit of church leaders is being planned to emphasize the
importance of marriage and mobilize local church participation." 2
This will apparently be restricted to Christian leaders only.
At a press conference, Dr. Land of the SBC took the opportunity to attack
committed unions that are widespread in North America and which exist outside of
marriage. He said: "By their very nature, broken marriages and
counterfeit alternative relationships such as cohabitation and same-sex unions
fail to impact and benefit society in the manifold ways that society is blessed
by intact, committed heterosexual marriages." In an apparent reference
to suggestions by others that marriage be expanded to include gays and lesbians, he
asserted that the institution of marriage is "under severe assault."
He quoted data from the U.S. Census which indicate that between 1970 and 1998:
||The number of children living with unmarried couples rose 665%.
||The rate of non-marital births increased 224%.
||The number of single-parent families rose 190%.
Collapse of the agreement:
In a very rare show of unanimity among all major Christian groups, the
statement was issued on 2000-NOV-14. It only survived for three days. On NOV-16,
Dr. Edgar issued a letter to the delegates to the NCC's General Assembly. He
explained that the purpose of the statement was to "support Christian
men and women in marriageespecially in our 'disposable society...' "
There is unanimity within the NCC to advocate equal civil rights for gays,
lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons in most matters. However there is
no consensus on whether these individuals should be allowed to enjoy the
basic human right of marrying the person that they love and are committed
There has been a lack of consensus among the NCC's 36 denominations over the
recognition of same-sex, monogamous, committed relationships, both within the
churches and by the government. Dr Edgar commented: "I would not want
this statement to be misconstrued as if it were an oblique comment on same-sex
unions. Even more importantly, it would be unconscionable if support for married
couples, so desperately needed today, were to be twisted into a weapon that can
be used to attack gays and lesbians, their families and friends and all in our
churches who love and care for them...In our dangerously fragmented society, I
regret and will resist any attempt to interpret support for one beleaguered
segment of society as an attack [on] another." 3
Three days after the statement was issued, Dr. Edgar withdrew his name as a
supporter and co-author. 1 On NOV-17, he expressed "concern
that a statement meant to support married couples is being misused to attack
gays and lesbians." In a letter to the other signatories, he wrote:
"A number of the NCC member communions interpret the document more as a
condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage," he
said. "The fact that the declaration omits mention of same-sex unions is
taken by some as proof that all of the signatories disapprove of such unions."
He apologized for having signed the document without first adequately consulting
with the 36 member communions of the NCC. 4
According to the Atlanta Journal, Kevin Mannoia, the individual who had
initiated the negotiations leading to the joint
statement, was "very disappointed." The committee had initially
agreed that the statement was to be "about marriage, not about
homosexual relationship." Mannoia said. "There was no
conversation nor any printed comments that were in any way derogatory to persons
practicing homosexuality." 6
According to Maranatha Christian Journal, "Dr. Richard Land of
the SBC said that he had been more surprised that Edgar had signed the
statement in the first place than he had been that he later changed his
mind. 'I thought either he was a bolder leader than I previously thought,
or he was out of touch with his constituency.' " 6
Mark Cowan, a correspondent for Focus on the Family stated that "After
much hoopla and promises of future cooperation, the current head of the
National Council of Churches has decided he cannot stand by the
traditional understanding of marriage. 7
According to Focus on the Family, Kevin Mannoia, the president of the
NAE, said that Edgar's about-face has caused a breach of trust concerning future
collaborative efforts with the NCC. 7
Impact of the NCC withdrawal:
According to Maranatha Christian Journal, "The about-face by
the general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC) is likely
to set back what had been growing hopes for stronger ties between
evangelical and mainline groups. Later at the NCC meeting, the
organization agreed to press ahead with talks with Roman Catholic and
evangelical leaders about forging closer ties. Edgar said that his change
of heart about the marriage declaration 'should in no way be seen as a
weakening of my commitment to building the larger ecumenical table about
which we have talked.' " 6
About the document:
There appear to be three changes to the Christian Declaration that might have made
it more acceptable to the mainline and liberal denominations within the
||As written, it discusses only heterosexual marriages. It contains no
mention of homosexual partnerships or civil unions. By ignoring
homosexual committed relationships, some feel that the document denigrates
those partnerships. Some might feel that the statement reduces
homosexuals to a sub-human status, and makes them more vulnerable to
verbal and physical attacks. It is clear that with the current
conservative/liberal division within
Christianity over the nature of minority sexual orientations, that
no definitive statement could be made of homosexual committed
relationships that was agreeable to all parties. Dr. Land of the SBC
stated in a subsequent press conference that these partnerships are
"counterfeit." He and the two other religious
conservatives on the committee might have objected to any mention of
homosexual relationships, fearing that this might legitimize their
existence. Meanwhile, many within the NCC regard gay and lesbian
committed partnerships as structures that are parallel to and
equivalent to marriage; to ignore them is to denigrate
||The statement is also silent about committed, monogamous
heterosexual partnerships that exist in preparation for (or in place
of) marriage. For at least the past decade, most heterosexual couples
in North America who marry have first gone through a period of living
together -- a form of trial marriage. There are also some heterosexual
couples who have chosen to remain together for many decades without
having been married. They have raised a family and maintained an
intimate, monogamous and loving relationship. It could be argued that
their unions make significant contributions to society. The document
refers to spouses growing "in love of one another."
It talks about "the procreation, nurture, formation and
education of children." It refers to couples "loving
one another (John 13:34), forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32),
confessing to one another (James 5:16), and submitting to one another
(Ephesians 5:21)." Marriage is seen as bringing "spiritual,
physical, emotional, economic, and social benefits not only to a
couple and family but also to the Church and to the wider culture."
It can be argued that these factors are also present in long-term
"living together" relationships. Yet, they too were not
mentioned. Again, some feel that to ignore them is to denigrate
||The statement discusses the role of Christian denominations and
local ecumenical church networks in the promotion of marriage. But it
does not recognize any role that non-Christian or secular
organizations might play. Again, it might have been difficult to
obtain a consensus on this point. Christians
have a wide range of beliefs about other religions: some consider
them to be faiths which promote alternative routes to God; others
consider them to be forms of Satanism.
There are some lessons that might be gained from this failed attempt to
obtain a Christian consensus on marriage:
||Differences of belief among conservative, mainline and liberal
denominations within Christianity might make a Christian consensus on
marriage impossible to achieve.
||Joint statements on almost any major social problem may also be
impossible to develop.
||Perhaps, observers could be invited to attend any future attempt to
craft joint Christian statements on marriage. Individuals from
homosexual rights groups, representatives from non-Christian
religions, observers from secular and religious organizations which
promote families, and individuals who have chosen a living together
relationship rather than marriage might have been able to contribute
useful material to the committee, and have helped them to avoid
pitfalls. Alternatively, the document could be submitted to such groups
and individuals for review before it is edited into its final form.
||Adding a preamble to this statement might have avoided some of the
criticisms that the document received. It could have state frankly
that the report deals solely with heterosexual marriage. The wide
diversity of beliefs within Christianity prevents the writers from
reaching a consensus on any aspects of homosexual or heterosexual,
committed, non-marital relationships. Such a preamble might have saved
this document. It might have prevented a Christian statement on
marriage from becoming a conservative Christian statement on
Related essays on this web site:
The text of the statement is online at: http://www.ncccusa.org/news/2000GA/marriagedec.html
News Summary Archive, 2000-NOV-14, ReligionToday at: http://www.religiontoday.com/Archive/
"NCC General Secretary, in a letter to the Council's Assembly,
warns against inappropriate use of 'Marriage Declaration'," at: http://www.ncccusa.org/news/2000GA/marriage.html
"Edgar removes name from 'Christian Declaration of Marriage',"
" 'Christian Declaration on Marriage' voices religious leaders'
concerns," at: http://www.baptistpress.org/Archive/BaptistPress/
"Stand on marriage set back by co-signer's withdrawal,"
Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-NOV-20, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00b/20001120d.htm
Mark Cowan, "NCC removes endorsement from marriage statement,"
Focus on the Family, 2000-DEC-6, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0014001.html
Copyright © 2000 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-NOV-20
Latest update: 2001-JUN-30
Author: B.A. Robinson