Man, Woman & the Mystery of Christ by Russell D. Moore

Department: Communiqué

Man, Woman
& the Mystery of Christ

An Evangelical Protestant Perspective
by Russell D. Moore

The following is an address given by Dr. Moore at the Vatican Colloquium on Marriage and the Family on November 18, 2014.

I am thankful to Pope Francis, Cardinal Müller, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the opportunity to address you today.

Poet Wendell Berry responded to the technological utopianism of naturalistic scientism with an observation that I believe frames the entire discussion of what it means to affirm the complementarity of man and woman in marriage. His observation was that any civilization must decide whether it will see persons as machines or as persons. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have meaning and purpose and dignity, but with all of that we have limits. If we see ourselves as machines, then we will believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power and our ability to reshape even what it means to be human.

This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the controversies every culture faces about the meaning of marriage and of sexuality. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus of Nazareth put it, "male and female" from the beginning, or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, and our generational connectedness represent something of who we are designed to be, and thus place on us both limits on our ability to recreate ourselves and responsibilities for those who will come after us?

Those of us at this gathering have many differences. We come from different countries, sometimes with tensions between those countries. We hold to different religions, sometimes with great divergences on what we believe about God and about the meaning of life.

But all of us in this room share at least one thing in common. We did not spring into existence out of nothing, but each one of us can trace his or her origins back to a man and a woman, a mother and a father. We recognize that marriage and family are matters of public importance, not just of our various theological and distinctive ecclesial communities. Since marriage is embedded in the created order and is the means of human flourishing, it is not just the arena of individual human desires and appetites. We recognize that marriage, and the sexual difference on which it is built, is grounded in a natural order bearing rights and responsibilities that was not crafted by any human state, and cannot thus be redefined by any human state. It is no accident that questions of marriage and family bring such heated debate, since our consciences, and our very being, testify that these matters are of critical importance for how we shall live.

The Purpose of the Cosmos

As an Evangelical Christian, I come to this discussion with concerns about the common good and human flourishing, but beyond these merely natural goods I have an even deeper concern for what I believe to be the purpose of the entire cosmos: the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of us must stand together on conserving the truth of marriage as a complementary union of man and woman. But I would add that, with that, there is a distinctively Christian urgency for why the Christian churches must bear witness to these things.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus that the alpha and omega of the universe is personal, that the pattern and goal of the universe is summed up in what he called "the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 1:10). One key aspect of this unveiled mystery is that the family structure is not an arbitrary expression of nature or of the will of God. Marriage and family are instead archetypes, icons of God's purpose for the universe. When the apostle appealed to the Genesis 2 account of the creation order, explaining why a man leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife, and that they become one flesh (Eph. 5:31), he wrote of something that every human being can see, even without divine revelation. After all, human cultures have died out for a variety of reasons, but no human culture has died out because the people therein forgot to have sexual intercourse. The drive toward marital unity is powerful, so powerful that it can feel as wild as fire. In Paul's Christian theology, this universal truth is because the one-flesh union points beyond itself to the union of Christ and his Church.

Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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