“The Two Shall Become One Flesh”, the most recent statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together, seeks to explain what marriage is and why it matters for the church and for society today.

The Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative has been controversial through the years. Because these signers do not represent all evangelicals or all Catholics, some have dismissed the relevance of these statements, while others have warned of ecumenical compromise, whether evangelicals diminishing the importance of sola Scriptura and justification by faith, or Catholics diluting their church-centered, sacramental view of salvation.

For the purposes of this blog, I want to bypass the ongoing debate about ECT and comment on their newest statement on marriage. I’ve already seen several sensational news headlines about this statement (“evangelicals and Catholics unite to condemn gay marriage as worse than divorce,” etc) that miss both the tone and the substance of what Christians over the centuries have believed about marriage. So, let’s get past the misleading headlines and dig into the substance of this statement.

Starting with King Jesus

“The Two Shall Become One Flesh” begins where a Christian summary of marriage ought to start, with Jesus. The authors quote the words of King Jesus as He pointed us back to God’s creational intent for marriage:

In the Gospel of St. Mark, the Lord Jesus teaches that “from the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.'” He then declares a great and beautiful truth inscribed in creation: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8).

From the start, the statement makes clear that we bear witness to the reality of marriage; we are not the inventors of this institution. If asked why we will not alter the definition of marriage, our response must be, “We can’t. We didn’t define marriage to begin with. We received it. We have no authority to make it something else.”

Marriage as Revealed and Reasonable

Next, the statement demonstrates how the reality of marriage is both revealed and reasonable.

As Christians, it is our responsibility to bear witness to the truth about marriage as taught by both revelation and reason—by the Holy Scriptures and by the truths inscribed on the human heart.

Because marriage is revealed, not invented, it precedes the state.

Marriage is the primordial human institution, a reality that existed long before the establishment of what we now know as the state.

This is an important point to make, and the implications of switching the order become clearer as the statement goes on.

Complementarity for the Common Good

Christians care about marriage because a healthy marriage culture contributes to the common good. Unfortunately, the institution has been weakened in recent decades by the sexual revolution, expressed in these all-too-common realities:

  • widespread divorce
  • the dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births
  • the casual acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation
  • a contraceptive mentality which insists that sex has an arbitrary relation to procreation.

Even though the institution has been damaged, marriage continues to be, by definition, complementary, and it testifies to the way God created us and ordered our desires:

Maleness and femaleness are essential components of our unique dignity as human beings created in the image of God, for through these realities we participate in the divine creativity and its fruitfulness. Thus, from a Christian point of view, sexual union must be approached with reverence and in recognition of its intrinsic potential for new life.

Marriage creates “one body,” a new reality, ennobling the sexual union of a man and a woman by ordering it toward a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family, and the community as a whole.

Temporary marriages, prenuptial agreements, and an easy-divorce culture are subtle redefinitions of marriage. On the permanence of marriage, there remains disagreement between evangelicals and Catholics, and yet all agree on God’s original design and intent:

In the union created by marriage, the Lord affirms, we participate in the power of God’s everlasting love. Though the dissolution of marriages is treated differently in various Christian churches, we together confess that marriage was originally ordained by God to be ­indissoluble.

The Current Marriage Crisis

The statement provides a lengthy section that mourns the decline of marriage. Instead of blaming the world for current woes, the signers of this statement implicate Christians – both evangelicals and Catholics – in the decline. We have participated in and contributed to marriage’s demise. It is only here, after explaining what marriage is and how it has declined that the signers begin to discuss the current crisis:

By redefining marriage to allow a union between two persons of the same sex—Spouse 1 and Spouse 2—a kind of alchemy is performed, not merely on the institution, but on human nature itself. In such a world, the distinction between men and women is denied social recognition and marriage is no longer a unique bond uniting male and female. It becomes an instrument created by the state to give official status to the relationship between two generic human beings.

In these circumstances, what the state defines as marriage no longer embodies God’s purposes in creation. 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.

What follows is a robust, creational understanding of Christianity that directly counters the pseudo-Gnosticism of our current culture, expressed most clearly in the false and damaging notion that we can create our gender identity with no regard to biological reality:

We are today urged to embrace an abstract conception of human nature that ignores the reality of our bodies. Human beings are no longer to be understood as either male or female. Our culture encourages us to exalt our personal desires and choices over the created order. Instead of freely accepting God’s gift, we seek to dominate (and even alter) nature, constructing our own moral truths. The result is a deceptive pseudo-freedom that degrades our ­humanity. Genuine freedom is found in ­obedience to God’s order: in freely choosing, as a matter of grace and moral habit, what is good and what makes for true beatitude.

In the above paragraph we find the stark distinction between the world’s understanding of “freedom” and the Christian understanding of “freedom.” Next, the statement lays out the impending deconstruction of the family:

To sustain the fiction of same-sex marriage, the natural family must be deconstructed. Birth certificates will no longer list “father’s name” and “mother’s name” but “Parent 1/Parent 2,” a change already made on certificates issued in some jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage. In this brave new world, 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. And if a “family” is anything I want or choose it to be, the corrosive individualism that already leaves too many people lonely and disconnected in twenty-first-century Western society is intensified.

Not only is our loneliness and disconnection likely to increase, so also will state intervention. Many today give tacit approval to same-sex marriage under a “live and let live” mentality. This mindset fails to take into consideration how “expanding” marriage is actually a redefining of and deconstructing of true marriage altogether. Severed from its true meaning, the false definition of “marriage” will be rigorously enforced by the state and the family will be affected:

Because the male-female difference must be erased to make way for same-sex marriage, the procreative potential of the male-female union must be set aside as well. A child’s parents are whomever legal documents designate as Parent 1 or Parent 2—or, as California documents now allow, Parent 3 or Parent 4. Thus, children are exposed to the risk of coming into the world as strangers, in which the biological ties that form the natural family are arbitrarily broken. The law no longer recognizes the primordial, complementary natural roles of mother and father. The natural family as the fundamental context defining where we have come from and who we are is set aside. The family becomes a creation of the state, and where the family is a creation of the state, children become, in important legal respects, the property of the state.

The Nobility and Courage of Dissent

So what does this cultural trend mean for the church and our society?

When society systematically denies the difference between male and female in law and custom, our fundamental dignity is diminished, the image of God within us is obscured, unreality becomes legally established, and those who refuse to conform are regarded as irrational bigots. Further, as same-sex couples are granted the right to marry, they will inevitably assert a “right to children” as well. But children are a gift, not a right.

Furthermore, the church will be effectively exiled from the public square:

It is increasingly difficult to affirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being ruled outside the boundaries of reasonable public conversation. And once opposition to same-sex marriage is judged to be discriminatory, no institution that declines to substitute unreality for reality will remain unaffected.

The church’s role in this society becomes one of dissent and rebuilding. First, dissent:

We must say, as clearly as possible, that same-sex unions, even when sanctioned by the state, are not marriages. Christians who wish to remain faithful to the Scriptures and Christian tradition cannot embrace this falsification of reality, irrespective of its status in law.

Secondly, rebuilding:

All Christians and men and women of good will must work to rebuild the culture of marriage and live lives that attest to the joy and beauty of marriage.

The statement ends with a call for Christians to bear testimony to King Jesus, for the good our society and the glory of God:

We encourage our fellow Christians to stand firm in obedience to Christ, for that ­obedience is the most compassionate service we can offer society. In doing so, we must strive to heal the wounds of a confused and broken culture, to foster human flourishing, and to honor the God who ­created human beings in his own image, male and female.