A group of conservative evangelical Christians has published a manifesto in defense of marriage, and in opposition to the LGBTQ attempts to redefine human sexuality. With a short preamble and fourteen brief articles, the concise credo is known as “The Nashville Statement.”
And it is already raising a brouhaha among progressivists, who hate anything that stands in the way of the homosexual agenda and the current delusions its culture warriors are attempting to impose on America.
But this is not a news story on the brouhaha. It is, rather, my own little assessment of the statement.
In brief, as far as it goes, it does well, but it does not go far enough. There are two glaring omissions, which reveal at least two Achilles heels on the subjects of marriage, family, and human sexuality. (Yes, I know the whole point of an Achilles heel is that there is only one of them — symbolizing a singular vulnerable spot sufficient to bring down the hero — but the Evangelical vulnerability on this question is at least twofold, and deep.)
First, the statement says nothing of the sacramental nature of Matrimony. That is no surprise, given that most Protestants do not believe marriage is a sacrament. Yes, it refers to the marital union as “covenantal,” but a covenant is not necessarily a sacrament. When one does not see Christian Matrimony as one of the seven sacraments established by Christ as visible signs of the invisible grace they signify, one has opened the door to the destruction of that union.
Second, the teleology of marriage is not at all mentioned. Teleology is the study of purpose or “ends” (τέλος, telos is Greek for end, purpose, or goal). When we do not sufficiently appreciate the purpose of a thing, we do not sufficiently appreciate the thing itself.
In its first article, the Statement defines marriage as “a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” There is a lot that’s good here, but in calling it procreative, the Statement does not say that the primary purpose of Matrimony (its τέλος) is the begetting and rearing of children, which omission makes it unclear whether the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act itself may be divorced.
But what is clear is that, in the thinking of most Evangelicals (and probably of most of the signatories) the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage may most certainly be separated, because, by and large, they allow the use of contraception, in complete contradiction to the moral code of historical Christianity.
Dr. James Dobson, one of the Statement’s signatories, heads up an organization called Focus on the Family. We learn from an article in the National Catholic Register that, while some prominent Protestants are rethinking the question, Dr. Dobson does not have a moral objection to the use of contraception:
According to Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family, “We are not opposed to married couples using contraception. Dr. Dobson’s personal interpretation of Scripture does not lead him to believe that the prevention of pregnancy is morally wrong.”
Personal interpretation. There’s the problem.
When contraception is allowed, the marital act between husband and wife becomes lowered in its dignity to a mere erotic pastime. The contraceptive mentality, which essentially divorces the primary purpose of the marital act from sensual pleasure, is hedonism. There is little that separates that hedonism from that most perfectly contraceptive hedonism the Statement is meant to oppose: homosexuality.
I know that some Protestants (and Catholics!) will choke on that last statement. They are asked to consider calmly that Pope Paul VI now looks like something of a prophet for predictions he made in Humanae Vitae concerning the bad effects of contraception on society, including that its use would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” (See here, here, and here for some “told you so” articles defending these predictions.) Included in that lowering of sexual morality is the widespread acceptance of homosexuality.
The Statement makes no mention of children. The words “child” and “children” do not appear in it. Yes, the word “procreative” is used in connection with the nature of marriage, and one gets the idea that the signatories are all for having children. That’s something of a given. I know I need to cut them at least that much slack. Dr. James Dobson, mentioned above, does defend the family, so I am not attempting to read an “anti-child” or “anti-family” message into the statement. But the failure to mention children in the context of a Statement on marriage is a major and very revealing omission. It says something about the confused teleology of the Statement’s authors.
One last point: If marriage is “covenantal” and “lifelong,” why do the signatories of the Nashville Statement not oppose divorce and remarriage as does the Catholic Church? Probably because, as I mentioned in my first point, above, they do not value marriage as a Christian sacrament. They are still, to this extent, attempting to live in the Old Testament dispensation.
Let us pray that the Protestants who signed this statement will see the full truth about Holy Matrimony — and also about that of which this great sacrament is an image: the unique union that exists between Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Catholic Church.