An Interreligious Statement in Defense of Marriage: Media’s Response

An Interreligious Statement in Defense of Marriage: Media’s Response

The statement on marriage issued by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, ECT, last March in the US did not attract the extensive media coverage that it deserved, especially when compared to the media hype prompted by the Supreme Court decision on June 25.

A decision which grants homosexual marriage the status of an “individual right”. ECT’s 5,000 word document entitled “The Two Became One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” published by First Things , defends marriage based on human nature and Christian teaching. It further reflects on current society in which, based on statistics, marriage is in crisis at the risk of all.

Statement’s Content: A Defense of Marriage

ECT , an ecumenical coalition founded in 94’, began marriage-related discussions after the Supreme Court’s decision (June 2013) permitting federal government to recognize same-sex marriage. Their statement contains the fruits of those discussions.

The document opens with a defense of marriage which, according to ECT, is based on reason as much as Revelation. While the two faiths groups admit to disagree on points of divorce and contraceptives, they unanimously affirm “marriage is a stable union based on the complementarity of man and woman” knowable through “Holy Scripture and the truths inscribed on the human heart.” Tracing Scriptural passages, marriage is described as a new reality in which the two become ‘one body’, “ennobling the sexual union of man and woman by ordering it toward a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family, and the community as a whole.” In reference to the sexual union, ECT accentuate its spiritual-moral dimension, today generally approached as merely physical-biological, failing to recognize its intrinsic potential for new life. Biblically, the spousal union represents Christ’s love for his Church, and God’s for creation. Citing various Christian teachers, such as St. Augustine, Martin Luther and others, marriage and family is stressed to have existed not only prior to the state, but also is the very foundation of a ‘just society and stable society.’ Thus, a flourishing marriage culture is intrinsically bound to the good of society. This conclusion, however, is not simply hypothetical, but a reality in fact taken up later in the statement: declining marriage culture threatens society.

Recent statistics show marriage and the family are in crisis. The statement highlights grave consequences this crisis has had on society, and will have if the situation persists. 50 years ago, for instance, over 70% of young adults married and 90% of children lived with natural parents. Today, barely 50% of adults marry and less than 2/3 of children live with natural parents; not to mention a rapidly declining birth rate and increasing live birth abortions. No one goes unscathed: “Everyone suffers from the current crisis in marriage, but some more than others.” Most startling is a growing class divide, backed by statistics on divorce, illegitimacy and criminal records. Instead of facing this reality, however, there is a push to step further away. Such is implied as regards same-sex marriage: “Today we are urged to embrace an abstract conception of human nature that ignores the reality of our bodies . . . our culture tells us to exalt our personal desires and choices over the created order.” Beyond exalted, those desires are handed to the State to be given ‘legal status.’ Those desires, even further, have brought us to a place in which, “the family – the institution on which our social order rests – is being redefined as a socially constructed unit, constituted by our sovereign will, not by nature itself.” In this new state dynamic, children then become a legal aspect, property of the state. Statistics aside, media hype was sparked by the following: “An easy acceptance of divorce damages marriage, widespread cohabitation devalues marriage. But so-called same-sex marriage is a graver threat because what is now given the name of marriage in law is a parody of marriage.” While divorce and cohabitation still acknowledge a basic reality – physical-biological qualities indicate ‘man’ or ‘woman’– same-sex marriage denies it. Moreover, while the former recognize a dissolution or rejection of marriage, the latter is trying to supplant it, redefine it, and claim it, even pushing for status in law. Understanding marriage “as a covenant between man and woman . . . fully consummated in consensual sexual intercourse open to procreation,” it seems apparent same-sex ‘marriage’ poses the graver threat.

Media Coverage: “The Graver Threat”

The statement received both Catholic and secular media attention. Thus, as imaginable, the coverage diversified greatly. Not intending to be exhaustive, and always with exceptions, below highlights general media tendencies regarding the statement.

First, many articles – headed by titles – concentrated on the ‘graver threat’ statement, or the call of Christians to reject this ‘parody’ of marriage. For example, titles ran: “Top Catholics And Evangelicals: Gay Marriage Worse Than Divorce Or Cohabitation” (Religion News Service, also in Huffington Post and Crux); “Top Catholics, evangelicals say gay marriage is worse than divorce or cohabitation” (Christian Post); “Catholics, evangelicals urge rejection of gay marriage” (Washington Post). As the main focal point, articles largely glossed over the majority of the statement’s content. Current societal crises which, based on statistics, are pressing and permeate all society, were largely dismissed. Two articles that addressed more directly the defense of marriage appeared in the National Catholic Register and Newman Society.

In addition, media coverage generally distinguish ‘high-profile’/ ‘top’ Christians – those signing the article – and the Christian majority. Polarizing the two gave a sense of conflict and lack of consensus among Christians. For instance, Religion News Service explained: “A high-profile alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants is set to issue a sweeping manifesto against gay marriage . . . It reads like a declaration of war, but in a battle that even many conservatives see as a lost cause. Increasing numbers of Christians, like the rest of society, are more tolerant and accepting of gays and lesbians.” Washington Times, on the other hand, after noting the 50 Christian leaders who signed, stated: “ Numerous religious organizations, churches and coalitions support gay marriage, and there is even a group called Not All Like That that offers Christians a place to say that they, unlike other Christians, believe in gay marriage”.

Finally, worth note, the interreligious statement did not pass unnoticed by the LGBTQNation (a gay oriented newspaper). Naturally, they found it discriminatory, as well as a last attempt to save a sinking ship.

By way of summary, while media coverage appeared ‘accurate’ in all it cited from the statement, its ‘adequacy’ may have been wanting: a lot unsaid, and that said, out of context. The news was not the unity of Catholics and Evangelicals in this crucial moral issue, but the assumed divisions among their congregations.